About two years ago, I read Kate Adie’s fascinating autobiography The Kindness of Strangers, in which she describes how she got involved in the BBC and her fascinating experiences as a foreign correspondent reporting from Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Tiananmen Square, Iraq and Sierra Leone. In many ways, Adie embodies the essence of stereotypical Britishness: calm under adverse circumstances and focused on getting the job done without fuss. This strong personality made her universally respected in her field.
I did not know, until discussing radical Islam with my Italian flatmate and another friend of mine, also Italian, that Italy has its very own answer to Kate Adie. In fact, the woman in question, Oriana Fallaci, was a generation older than Adie and, unlike Adie, actually participated in fighting during World War II.
Fallaci was born to Socialist parents in 1929 and was a partisan fighter during the war. Reflecting on this period later, Fallaci said: “…I have always looked on disobedience toward the oppressive as the only way to use the miracle of having been born.”
While still in her teens, Fallaci became a journalist writing for an Italian paper. In 1967, she began her career as a war correspondent, working in Vietnam, India, Pakistan, the Middle East and in South America. Glamorous, tough and beautiful, Fallaci quickly gained notoriety for her coverage of various high-profile conflicts across the globe. In Mexico, whilst covering the Tlatelolco Massacre preceding the 1968 Olympics (held in Mexico City), Fallaci was shot three times, dragged down stairs by her hair and left for dead by Mexican forces. In a profile of Fallaci, The New Yorker described her former support of the student activists as having “devolved into a dislike of Mexicans”:
The demonstrations by immigrants in the United States these past few months “disgust” her, especially when protesters displayed the Mexican flag. “I don’t love the Mexicans,” Fallaci said, invoking her nasty treatment at the hands of Mexican police in 1968. “If you hold a gun and say, ‘Choose who is worse between the Muslims and the Mexicans,’ I have a moment of hesitation. Then I choose the Muslims, because they have broken my balls.”
Fallaci became famous for her aggressive and provocative style of interviewing which baited the subjects into answering question very badly. In a 1972 interview with Henry Kissinger, he agreed that the Vietnam War was “a useless war” and afterwards, Kissinger described the exchange as “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press.”
Fallaci retired in the 1980s, moved to New York and lectured in various universities including Chicago, Harvard, Yale and Columbia. However, after the 9/11 attacks she came out of retirement and published what is by far her most famous work: The Rage And The Pride. In the book, she heavily criticised Islamic extremism and Islam in general, warning that Europe was too tolerant of Muslims, writing “sons of Allah breed like rats”. The Rage And The Pride and the two other books that followed to form a trilogy were all bestsellers in Italy and across Europe, selling in excess of 1.5 million copies. You can read The Rage And The Pride here.
Fellaci was a life-long smoker and died of lung cancer in 2006.
This compilation of interviews with Charlie Rose is a terrific glimpse of a woman whose writings and opinions caused as many to hate her as to love her (skip to 9:15) . In Italy she is a folk hero of sorts. It’s easy to see why. I just wish I’d heard of her before now.