Oriana Fallaci: The Journalist Named Courage
She was brave. She was fearless. She was a revolutionary who wasn't afraid to ask the questions nobody else dared to, and was also strong enough to have her own opinion. She was her own. She was wise. She was passionate, and yet so vulnerable in the times they tried to break her. She was Oriana Fallaci, one of the most popular journalists of our time.
She was born in Florence in 1929. Her warrior's spirit was apparent in her early years, when she was in the War with her father on the side of the Italian Partisan movement, "Giustizia e Liberta". Then, for the first time in her life, she faced all the brutality of real life in the period of war. She wasn't shot then, but at the time of demonstrations in Mexico in 1968, she was shot three times. She was dead, at least in the witnesses' eyes, but one priest saved her when he saw her breathing, after they had already brought her to the morgue. She had a burning desire to live, and that wasn't the end of her. She fell in love with journalism when she was only sixteen. She wrote her first article on a piece of paper from her notebook.
She began her career during the war period when she wrote for the L'Europeo newspapers. Ever since, her love for this profession was stronger than anything else. Between offspring and journalism, she chose the latter, and was judged by everyone else. However, deep down, she wanted a son, and penned the book A Letter to My Unborn Child due to her deep unfulfilled desire. She feared that she would give birth to a girl, and she would be unable to protect her from humiliation, abuse, and potential sexual predators. On the other hand, she believed that she would bring up a male child more easily because she would teach it how to fight for itself, by itself, in the world that was cruel. She hoped that her son would be good, fair, and rough only to those unrighteous and violent. She didn't want him to stand to take orders from anybody.
"My child, I'm trying to explain to you that being a man doesn't just include having a tail in the front. It means being a character." Those were her words, honest as always, and a bit provocative. She didn't hesitate to watch her writing and she was special because of her unfiltered work. The original name of this book is Lettera a un bambino mai nato and it sold millions of copies, because in it, Oriana didn't just write about her fears, trepidations, love towards an imaginary child, but she also wrote about morality, individuality, and responsibility. With that book, she showed she wasn't just a great journalist, but also an equally successful writer.
She provoked admiration because of her male energy, but the other part of her was feminine. She easily wrote articles and enjoyed preparing for the people she would interview. She believed in herself, was self-confident, and wasn't superficial. People waited on her interviews for months. However, she never wanted to be someone's editor, she just wanted to write, not just for the money, because that would mean to her she wrote by request and that she was in a deal with a publisher.
She spoke to almost every world leader, but Josip Broz Tito refused to be interviewed by her. She mostly wrote and worked in the period from the 1950s to the 1970s, and during that time, nobody wasn't even close to her in that profession.
"I've always loved life. He who loves life doesn't need to adapt, isn't submissive and despises every attempt of control. He who loves it always stands by the window, with a rifle in his hand, ready to defend it. The conformist who lowers his head and obediently executes commands isn't a human being", she often said.
She talked with Yasser Arafat, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and Gaddafi. She was the first western woman who spoke to the leader of the Islamic revolution Ayatollah Khomeini. The interview was interrupted when she took off her burqa. She couldn't take wearing it like in medieval times.
"I have to ask you a lot of questions concerning the burqa, for example, which I'm forced to wear while talking to you, and which you force upon Iranian women. By the way, how do you even swim with it?" she asked Khomeini.
"None of that is your problem, our customs don't concern you. If you don't like the Islamic clothes, you're not obliged to wear them, because they were made for young women and polite ladies", responded Khomeini angrily.
"That's very nice of you to say, so I'm taking these stupid medieval rags off of me this instance", furiously responded Oriana, after which their conversation was interrupted.
She also lived to hear King Mohammad Reza Pahlavi say that she was on the "white list" of his heart, but on the "black list" of his government. For the people of politics, she said they were bastards who decided the fate of the lives of others. While she made an interview with Yasser Arafat, she described his looks in great detail. She wrote about his lush moustache, short stature, small hands, thick feet, enormous thighs and hanging stomach.
"He almost doesn't have cheeks and a forehead, it's all one big mouth with fleshy lips, conspicuous nose and hypnotizing eyes", is just one part of her description of the former Palestinian leader.
She reported on the wars in Vietnam, Pakistan and Lebanon. Her stories were deep, truthful and shocking. She was in South America, Asia and the Middle East. She spoke to the Arab leaders as her equals, and was described in the book called Inshallah, which caused quite a disturbance. Many disliked her because of her different view on both the world and life, but they also feared her and respected her. She spoke of her books as if they were her babies, but she hated writing novels, because she enjoyed interviews and reports more. The struggle with editors was harder than the struggle of reaching a statesman for her. The editors shortened her texts and she often felt that when someone removes a part of her text it is as if someone took a part of her own self. She didn't like to be denied her freedom and space in the newspapers and refused to be standardized.
She often considered life as a death penalty of its own. She even received a one year ban from writing. She didn't like being interviewed, she hated elections (she said that Berlusconi was an idiot) and she despised people without a political stance. She remained known for her typewriter and a dangling cigarette. She wrote in a Spartan manner. Writing from 8 o'clock in the morning to 6 or 7 o'clock in the evening with little to no breaks for eating or resting. She slept badly in the night and was tense, grumpy and dissatisfied if she didn't write the intended amount of text she had planned. She even ignored holidays because of writing, and also got sick and lost weight because of nonstop work.
She never married, but she only loved one man, Alekos Panagoulis, a greek poet and political activist. He died in a car accident in 1976 under suspicious circumstances and Oriana took it very hard. The same year she lost the man she loved, she also lost a child that she had with him.
During her career, she wrote for many respectable newspapers like The New York Times, The Times, The Washington Post, and after 9/11, she wrote columns for the Italian papers Corriere della Sera. She lived in New York when she found out that she had a terminal illness, which inspired her to do an interview with herself. It was published as an addition to the same newspapers.
"I accepted to do this interview because I know that death draws near. Medicine has said it sentence - I can't and won't get better". This was her answer on why she had accepted to interview herself. She was convinced that Saddam Hussein was the reason of her illness and that she fell ill by inhaling poisonous gases created when Iraq burned the Kuwaiti oil wells.
Her last interview was for the New Yorker. Just a few days before her death, she returned to her hometown Florence, by an airplane sent for her by Silvio Berlusconi, the man she insulted so many times in her articles. She died at the age of 77 and was buried in her hometown with the highest state honors, next to her life partner Alekos Panagoulis, and with her army watch she never took off.