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Oriana Fallaci: Let Us Now Praise Famous Women

magazine tells us, “The death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini has sparked protests in Iran. Amini was arrested for breaking the country’s law that requires women to cover their hair with a headscarf and she later died while in police custody. Since Amini’s death, women and girls in Iran have been removing their headscarves as a form of protest. Now, all eyes are on Iran, with some equating women’s removal of their headscarves to the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

Oriana Fallaci, were she alive, might have been in the midst of the protests.

Fallaci, pretty much forgotten by postmodern journalists, was a Florentine. The vital center of small “r” republican resistance to autocratic regimes before and throughout the Renaissance was Florence, Italy, the home of Dante Alighieri, the author of the Divine Comedy and, let it never be forgotten, the modern Italian language.

Fallaci turned to journalism in the 1960s and was likely the most feared interviewer in the business.

Henry Kissinger confessed that his Fallaci interview was “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press." Fallaci teased from Kissinger an explosive admission. The Vietnam war, Kissinger said in the interview published in Playboy in 1972, was a "useless war." And he described himself as "the cowboy who leads the wagon train by riding ahead alone on his horse."

Something about the woman, her interviewing technique and her remorseless passion, a byproduct of her involvement in Italy’s anti-fascist movement, made her both an enticing and a fearful presence.

Fallaci’s book Interview with History, Intervista con la storia in Italian, displays a wide range of subjects: Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Yasser Arafat, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Willy Brandt, Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, South Vietnamese President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, and North Vietnamese General Võ Nguyên Giáp during the Vietnam War.

She was a fearless war correspondent, always pushing to the front of danger, rarely remaining in safe zones provided to correspondents. She was shot three times by Mexican soldiers during the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, dragged down a dark stairwell and left for dead. Her eyewitness account of the brutality shred the pretense by the Mexican government that the massacre had not occurred.

I mentioned her interview with the Ayatollah Khomeini in a posting and column titled Lamont, Yale and the Alamo. This was the only interview Khomeini had permitted with a Western reporter. She had been forced to wear a chador as a condition of the interview:

Interviewing the Ayatollah Khomeini shortly after the Shah of Iran had been deposed, she teased him with this question: “How do you swim in a chador?”

“Our customs are none of your business,” Khomeini retorted. “If you do not like Islamic dress you are not obliged to wear it. Because Islamic dress is for good and proper young women.”

“That’s very kind of you, Imam,” Fallaci replied, “And since you said so, I’m going to take off this stupid, medieval rag right now.” She threw off her chador and said, “I will not be imprisoned.”

It was said that Khomeini, the godfather of Iran’s irredentist Muslim fundamentalist movement, laughed.

The American media seems hardly to have noticed the widespread and popular eruption in Iran, and Sevil Suleymani, an Iranian expat now living in the United States, thinks she knows why.

“This Mahsa Amini,” she said in an interview, “was a Kurdish girl who was beaten to death by morality police because of the compulsory hijab. This first tells us Iran is more than just being Persian, it's more than one ethnic group, because she was from a Kurdish community that were like just visiting Tehran and that's what happened. And then all the uprising started from the marginalized groups surrounding Iran...between all the ethnic minorities and started going to other regions of Iran. These stories, these uprisings and this new revolution can tell us the multilayered story of Iran that a lot of America does not know.”

Indeed, there is a good deal Americans do not know about Iran. Many of them are reporters or diplomats now seeking to lift sanctions imposed on Iran by former presidents in pursuit of unverifiable paper agreements on nuclear weapons.

George Orwell, temperamentally a brother in arms with Fallaci, told an indifferent West in his book Nineteen Eighty-Four, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”


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