29 June 2017

Oriana Fallaci - journalist

Writer known for exhaustively probing interviews

Oriana Fallaci interviewed politicians and leaders from around the world
Oriana Fallaci interviewed politicians and
leaders from around the world 
Oriana Fallaci, who was at different times in her career one of Italy’s most respected journalists and also one of the most controversial, was born in Florence on this day in 1929.

As a foreign correspondent, often reporting from the world’s most hazardous regions in times of war and revolution, Fallaci interviewed most of the key figures on both sides of conflicts.

Many of these were assembled in her book Interview with History, in which she published accounts of lengthy conversations, often lasting six or seven hours, with such personalities as Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Yasser Arafat, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Willy Brandt, Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Henry Kissinger and the presidents of both South and North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Others she interviewed included Deng Xiaoping, Lech Wałęsa, Muammar Gaddafi and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

She seldom held back from asking the most penetrating and awkward questions. Henry Kissinger, the diplomat and former US Secretary of State, later described his meeting with Fallaci for a piece published in Playboy magazine as "the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press".

During her interview with Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 she called him a “tyrant" to his face and attacked the chador – the full-length cloak she was obliged to wear for the interview – as representing “the apartheid Iranian women have been forced into after the revolution” and described it as “a stupid, medieval rag”.

Henry Kissinger described his encounter with Fallaci as "disastrous"
Henry Kissinger described his encounter
with Fallaci as "disastrous"
Fallaci’s stance on many political issues related to her background. Her father, Edoardo Fallaci, a cabinet maker in Florence, was a political activist opposed to the dictatorship of Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Despite her youth – she was only 10 when the conflict began – she supported her father’s cause during the Second World War by joining the anti-Fascist resistance movement, Giustizia e Libertà.

One of the tasks assigned to her was to smuggle a gun concealed in a basket of food into the Pitti Palace, where the Jewish writer Carlo Levi, author of the 1945 book Christ Stopped at Eboli, was in hiding.

She later wrote: “Whether it comes from a despotic sovereign or an elected president, from a murderous general or a beloved leader, I see power as an inhuman and hateful phenomenon ... I have always looked on disobedience toward the oppressive as the only way to use the miracle of having been born.”

As well as a child fighter against the Fascists, Fallaci also displayed precocious talent as a journalist, becoming a special correspondent for the Italian paper Il mattino dell'Italia centrale in 1946, when she was just 16.

Her work as a war correspondent began in earnest 20 years later.  Beginning in 1967, she worked as a war correspondent for a number of newspapers and magazines, covering Vietnam, the Indo-Pakistani War, the Middle East, and South America.  During the 1968 massacre of students at Tiatelolco in Mexico, she herself was shot three times.

Fellaci in the chador she was told to wear to interview Ayatollah Khomeini
Fellaci in the chador she was told to
wear to interview Ayatollah Khomeini
Fallaci won many awards for her work and was also honoured by the Italian state, the city of Milan and the Council of Tuscany, where she kept a home even while living mostly in New York, for her contribution to Italian culture.

Later in her career, she attracted controversy for her writings on Islamic fundamentalism, which she regarded as a threat which was the equal of Fascism in her youth.  She accused European politicians of not taking the threat seriously.

Two books, The Rage and the Pride and The Force of Reason, sold more than a million copies in Italy alone but Fallaci was criticised for using language that was extreme and for appearing to demonise Muslims in general, although a number of legal actions against her failed because the state ruled that she was protected by freedom of speech laws.

Fallaci died in Florence aged 77 in 2006, having suffered from lung cancer.  Although a smoker all her life, she claimed she developed the disease after being exposed to smoke from oil wells torched on the orders of Saddam Hussein while she was reporting from Kuwait in 1991.

She was buried at the Cimitero Evangelico agli Allori in Florence alongside family members and close to a memorial to Alexandros Panagoulis, a former Greek resistance fighter with whom she formed a relationship in the 1970s but who was killed in a mysterious road accident, which Fallaci claimed was an assassination by remnants of the 1960s Greek military junta.

Fallaci's tomb at the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori
Fallaci's tomb at the Cimitero
Evangelico degli Allori
Travel tip:

The Cimitero Evangelico agli Allori is situated between Florence and Galluzzo Certosa, a town about five kilometres outside the city centre. It was in 1860 when the non-Catholic communities of Florence could no longer bury their dead in the English Cemetery in Piazzale Donatello. Apart from Fellaci, it houses the remains of the British writer and aesthete Sir Harold Acton, the American sculptor Thomas Ball and Alice Keppel, the mistress of the British monarch King Edward VII.

Travel tip:

Florence’s Palazzo Pitti – the Pitti Palace – was originally built in the second half of the 15th century by Filippo Brunelleschi for Luca Pitti, but was unfinished at his death in 1472. The building was purchased in 1550 by Eleonora da Toledo, the wife of the Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, and became the official residence of the family. It was expanded in 1560 by Bartolomeo Ammannati. More work was carried out in the 17th century by Giulio and Alfonso Parigi, giving the building its present day look.

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