Oriana Fallaci: Champion of civilization

She reflected a generation which, in its youth, knew what freedom and anti-conformism meant.

Oriana Fallaci 88 (photo credit: )
Oriana Fallaci 88
(photo credit: )
My day begins like any other. I roll out of bed, make coffee and turn on the computer to touch base with my employer in Rome, the newspaper Il Foglio. But today is different. I'm informed that Oriana Fallaci died at age 77 in her home town of Florence. I'm stunned. The article I'm currently writing on terrorism no longer has my full attention and my thoughts turn in silent reflection toward the small, but fearless Italian journalist and author. We all knew she was ill and battling cancer for years, but seeing that she had fought off death for more than a decade, it seemed as if she was immortal. The image of her with dark sunglasses on, cigarette in hand, churning out endless smoke and declaiming true and politically incorrect words would defy time and be with us forever. As the day unrolls, friends and colleagues call from Italy saying, "Fallaci died, have you heard?" Yes, I tell them, as I repeat for what seems the umpteenth time, "Another great has perished." FOR THE Italians, whether they loved or despised her, today marks the loss of one of their modern icons. Fallaci was quintessentially Italian - glamorous, passionate and polemical. She reflected a generation which, in its youth, knew what freedom and anti-conformism meant as it battled fascism and Nazi occupation during World War II. As a young girl, Fallaci smuggled explosives across Nazi checkpoints in Florence. Her father was a leader of the Italian resistance who fought against Mussolini's dictatorship. Her great-great grandfather was a hero of the Italian Risorgimento. Undoubtedly, that sort of commitment to fight tyranny and uphold freedom inspired the woman who would go on to become one of Italy's most renowned journalists. This is the woman who followed Vietnam and other wars in the Middle East and South America and who jetted around the world to interview famous and infamous leaders, such as Golda Meir, Henry Kissinger, Willy Brandt, the shah of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, Muammar Gaddafi, Yasser Arafat, Indira Gandhi and Deng Xiaoping. As the title of her book Interview with History hints, she was one of history's foremost interviewers. AFTER A dozen books, including the international best-seller Letter to a Child Never Born, in which Fallaci imagines speaking to a child in the womb and asking if it is right or wrong to give it life, and A Man, which immortalized the martyred poet and Greek resistance leader Alekos Panagoulis, the great love of her life, Fallaci decided to retire and move to New York. She would come there to live a reclusive existence, and upon being diagnosed with cancer, to dedicate her remaining days writing a novel, which the childless author often affectionately referred to as "my child." However, her grand plan was upset on September 11, 2001. Shocked, Fallaci chucked aside her novel and broke her 10-year media silence by responding with a long article published in Italy's Corriere della Sera on September 29, 2001. There, she spoke out against extremism, Islamo-fascism and terrorism and denounced mediocre leaders, especially in Europe. Her message was a call to the West to uphold its civilization and its core values against the forces which seek to destroy us. That article eventually became a book, The Rage and the Pride, which sold more than a million copies in Italy and was translated into numerous languages. The tone of the article (and later book) was thought to be extreme. But its overriding message was clear - Westerners had to fight back or be ready to capitulate to Islam's jihad. ALTHOUGH Fallaci is now gone, her resounding message five years after September 11, after Madrid, after London, after so many other terrorist attacks, remains alive. In her follow-up book, The Force of Reason, she again took to task her fellow Europeans for their "mumbo-jumbo multiculturalism," political correctness and the transformation of her continent into a coming "Eurabia." Fallaci was quickly blasted as a "racist" and faced an onslaught of attacks. She was sued by Muslims for the contents of her book and received death threats for her opinions and views, which, it is true, could be sometimes over the top. However, I suspect that it was precisely Fallaci's bold outspokenness that her admirers most loved and that her detractors most despised. People loved the fact that she had the courage to be unpopular and to say unflinchingly what so few dared in a world filled with seemingly endless PC banter. Her intellect, her personality - but above all her courage, moral and intellectual - will be greatly missed. The author, a writer for the Italian daily Il Foglio, lives in Rome and Jerusalem. This piece appeared in the Weekly Standard.