Orianna Fallaci, Woman of Valor

by Norman Berdichevsky (April 2013)


Orianna Fallaci (1930-2006) is one of three outstanding women journalists and writers who were lionized as heroines of the Left, only later to be rejected, scorned and attacked as traitors to the cause of feminism. The other two were Sigrid Undset and Pilar Rahola - see New English Review, "A Forgotten Heroine of the Norwegian Resistance" (August 2012) and "Pilar Rahola, Woman of Conscience" (July 2012). This triumvirate constitutes the final chapter in my book – The Left is Seldom Right (New English Review Press, 2011).

Like Undset, Fallaci took part in the Resistance during World War II and was awarded a certificate of valor from the army. She was an atheist but with a deep understanding and appreciation of Italy’s Catholic heritage.  Her father, Edoardo Fallaci, a cabinet maker in Florence, was a political activist who struggled to end the Italian fascist regime while she was a teenager.

Hers was one of the most passionate voices of the 20th century and she refused to compromise her convictions for the sake of some immediate gain in her career as a journalist. In a 1976 collection of her works, she commented that:

“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.”

She absorbed this outlook, integrated it into her journalistic career and never allowed herself to be cowed into submission in order to curry favor with the powerful. She acquired the title of the “greatest political interviewer of modern times” with good reason. In her powerful best seller, The Rage and the Pride, Orianna explains the magnificent courage of her mother that set an example she followed as daughter to her dying day. The war years also toughened her - her father was almost executed by a firing squad yet her mother was able to shame and defy the Fascist commander, warning him that he would pay in hell for his crimes.

She tells the remarkable World War II story of what lengths her mother went to in order to save her father.  After learning of his arrest, she went looking for him from prison to prison in Tuscany and located him at the interrogation center of the Fascist regime where the commander, a major Mario Carità, disdainfully told her, “We are holding him and tomorrow in the morning at six your husband will be executed so, Madam you can dress in black. We waste no time with trials.”

After a moment’s hesitation and stillness, her mother lifted her arm with her index finger pointing at the Major and replied, ”Major Carità, tomorrow morning at six, I will do as you say and dress in black, BUT if you are born from the womb of a woman, tell your mother to do the same, BECAUSE your day will come very soon.” To make the story short and sweet, Orianna’s father was released and the major’s final day came very soon indeed.

In The Rage and The Pride, written in a trancelike state of continuous work for two weeks with almost no food or sleep, Orianna Fallaci produced a work to rival Zola’s J’accuse. Many pages are lacking paragraph indentations and grammatical errors were left where they lay on the page to convince the reader that this was an immediate reaction from the heart.

She recalls how her father slapped her when, as a 14 year old, she began to cry while in a shelter during a heavy aerial bombardment. He gave her the admonition after directly staring into her eyes that … "A girl does not, must not, cry."

“I am not saying this because I want to look like I am like Rambo, or that I don’t care. That’s stupid,” she said. “It’s my temperament. When you have been born in a war like me, living in a war as a child, when you have been in wars as a war correspondent all your life - trust me! You develop a form of fatalism; you are always ready to die. And when you love your own freedom as much as I do, you don’t bend to the fear to be killed, because otherwise you do nothing - you go under the bed and you stay hidden 24 hours.”


Beginning as a Journalist

Fallaci began her career in journalism during her teens, becoming a special correspondent for the Italian paper, Il mattino dell'Italia centrale in 1946. She briefly intended to become a doctor but soon realized that writing and journalism were her true calling. She wrote a crime column for an Italian daily but was soon promoted to carry out assignments interviewing prominent personalities in the areas of politics and culture.

Beginning in 1967, she worked as a war correspondent covering Vietnam, the Indo-Pakistani War, the Middle East, and South America. Later while covering the Mexican student uprising (1968 Tlatelolco massacre), just prior to the Summer Olympic games, she was beaten, dragged by her hair and shot three times by police. She dared make critical remarks of Mexicans in an interview with the New Yorker magazine,  and as a result, discovered that this was considered a cardinal sin by the main media – a white European daring to “insult” a third world nation!

In what was her most famous 1972 interview with Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger, she managed to get him to admit that he viewed himself as "A cowboy astride his horse in the Wild West." an image transferred to the scene of international relations. Kissinger later noted with dismay that the Fallaci interview was "the most disastrous conversation I ever had with any member of the press."

During her lifetime, Fallaci realized with growing fear and disgust the growing strength of the Muslim community in Italy that had been enabled to distort and take cynical advantage of Italian democracy aided by the unthinking support of the political Left. Like both Sigrid Undset and Pilar Rahola, Orianna came to develop an admiration for the Jewish people and their struggle for survival against terrible odds. This alone would have made her an outcast among many in influential Leftwing circles who turned her into their favorite target. Her devastating attacks on many so called iconic celebrities, notably Jane Fonda whom she threatened to "kick Jane Fonda in the ass and spit in her face for lying about her coverage of the Vietnam War and betraying the confidence of American POWs" was hailed by critics of Hollywood’s ever more leftward drift. The ignorance of a large part of European and American youth regarding the crimes of Communist and Muslims regimes (see"‘Hollywood’s Intentional Ignorance of the Crimes of Communist and Muslim Regimes," New English Review, February, 2013), made her an easy target.

She was made to pay the price of ostracism by much of the Left who trumped up accusations of anti-Arab "racism" to demean her record, her pro-American sympathies, and concern for the survival of European civilization as well as her fervent support of Israel. Shortly before her death, she described how …”Since 9/11 the whole of Europe has become a “Niagara Falls of McCarthyism” – with the new Grand Inquisitors of the Left persecuting and victimizing all others while Europe’s own Judeo-Christian civilization is regarded by many of its so called intellectuals as 'a spark of a cigarette' – gone.”

For many years, Fallaci was a special correspondent for L'Europeo and Epoca magazines. Her immediate reaction to the attack on the twin towers in Manhattan on 9/11 was The Rage and The Pride (La Rabbia e l'Orgoglio, initially a four-page article in Corriere della Sera, the major national newspaper in Italy). She saluted American ideals as the supreme political achievement of Western Civilization. In a Wall Street Journal interview in 2005, she said that Europe was no longer Europe but "Eurabia,” a term that is now part of the political lexicon.

“The point is not winning or losing,” she said. “Of course, I want to win. The point is to fight well with dignity. The point is, if you die, to die on your feet, standing up. If you tell me, ‘Fallaci, why do you fight so much? The Muslims are going to win and they’re going to kill you,' I answer to you, ‘Fuck you - I shall die on my feet.'"

During her 1979 interview with Ayatollah Khomeini, she openly called him a "tyrant" and took off the chador she had been forced to wear in order to interview the “supreme leader” and after listening to him explain that this Islamic dress code is only for “Muslim young women and respectable ladies,” she replied, ”This is very kind of you, Imam, since you tell me that, I'm going to immediately rid myself of this stupid medieval rag. There!”

For a number of years, she maintained dual residences in New York and in a house she owned in Tuscany, while lecturing at the University of Chicago, Yale, Harvard, and Columbia University.

She also had an affair with Alexandros Panagoulis, who had been a major figure in the Greek resistance against the 1967 dictatorship, and who had been severely tortured and imprisoned for his (unsuccessful) assassination attempt on the dictator, Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos. 

Her writings have been translated into 21 languages including English, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Urdu, Greek, Swedish, Polish, Hungarian, Hebrew, Croatian, Persian, Slovenian, Danish and Bulgarian. Orianna Fallaci died on 15 September 2006, in her native Florence, from lung cancer. She had been a lifelong heavy smoker. She is buried in the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori in the southern suburb of Florence, Galluzzo, alongside her family and a stone memorial to Alexandros Panagoulis.

Muslim organizations in Europe attempted to sue her for"‘defamation of Islam" and "racism," two charges that loom over journalists everywhere. In November 2002, a Swiss judge issued an arrest warrant for violations of article 261 of the Swiss criminal code and called for the Italian government to either prosecute or extradite her.

Italian Minister of Justice Roberto Castelli rejected the request, simply claiming that the Constitution of Italy protects freedom of speech. Nevertheless, in spite of this official Italian support, Adel Smith, president of the Union of Italian Muslims, issued a charge against her that "some of the things she said in her books are offensive to Islam." As a result, Fallaci was ordered to stand trial in Bergamo in December, 2005. In her reply, she wrote accusing the judge of having disregarded the fact that Smith had called for her murder and defamed Christianity.

Fallaci twice received the St. Vincent Prize for journalism (1967, 1971), the Italian awards, the Bancarella Prize (1970), Viareggio Prize (1979), the Prix Antibes, (1993), the Ambrogino d'Oro, in 2005, the highest recognition of the city of Milan as well as the Annie Taylor Award for courage from the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, awarded annually to people who have demonstrated unusual courage in adverse conditions and great danger.

Just prior to her death, the President of the Italian Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, awarded Oriana Fallaci a Gold Medal for her cultural contributions (Benemerita della Cultura). Her poor state of health prevented her from attending the ceremony. She replied in an acceptance speech…."This gold medal moves me because it gratifies my efforts as writer and journalist, my front line engagement to defend our culture, love for my country and for freedom. My current well known health situation prevents me from traveling and receiving in person this gift that for me, a woman not used to medals and not too keen on trophies, has an intense ethical and moral significance."

More than any female political figure, she deserved the traditional Hebrew accolade Eshet Chayil (A Woman of Valor). "Eshet Chayil" is a twenty-two verse poem. It is supposed to be the work of King Solomon and concludes the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 31). It is a hymn customarily recited on Friday evenings, after returning from synagogue and singing "Shalom Aleichem" and before sitting down to the Shabbat evening meal. The poem has an acrostic arrangement in which each of the 22 verses begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order. It praises the woman of valor as energetic, righteous, and capable and is a fitting tribute to Orianna Fallaci. We all miss her.

Norman Berdichevsky's latest book is The Left is Seldom Right.

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