Reporter-Provocateur Oriana Fallaci, 77

Oriana Fallaci gained fame with ferocious interviews of some of the world's most powerful figures.
Oriana Fallaci gained fame with ferocious interviews of some of the world's most powerful figures. (L'europeo, Rizzoli Editore/gianf - L'europeo, Rizzoli Editore/gianf)
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 16, 2006

Oriana Fallaci, 77, a journalist and relentless provocateur who gained international celebrity for the raging tone of her work and for goading world leaders into rare candor and emotional eruptions, died Sept. 15 in a hospital in her native Florence. She had cancer.

At her pinnacle in the 1970s and 1980s, Ms. Fallaci wrote for English-language newspapers and magazines in a style that was as powerful as it was deeply cynical. She stripped apart the world's most powerful people -- Henry A. Kissinger, Ayatollah Khomeini, Yasser Arafat, Ariel Sharon -- bringing to the interviews a ferocious manner that belied her diminutive, often-pigtailed appearance.

Writer Francine du Plessix Gray once said Ms. Fallaci combined "the psychological insight of a great novelist and the irreverence of a bratty quiz kid."

The child of socialists, Ms. Fallaci wrote in her book "Interview With History": "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 was a daring voice on subjects often considered taboo, including women's rights and wartime atrocities (and absurdities). This made her a favorite of left-leaning readers, or at least those who, like her, had contempt for authority.

However, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she appalled many of her longtime admirers with her hostile assessment of Islam in articles and two best-selling books.

She denigrated Muslims who immigrated to Western nations for what she called their unwillingness to adapt to new cultural practices.

She saw a lack of political willpower in the West to resist the new immigrants, and she wrote that the result would be a continent called Eurabia, in which "instead of church bells, there will be the muezzins, instead of miniskirts, chadors, instead of cognac, camel's milk."

Her polemics led the Italian authorities to charge her with vilifying a religion recognized by the state, but she never stood trial.

She had long attacked Islam as cruel toward women. In a 1979 meeting with Khomeini, who had just led the Iranian revolution, she asked questions about the justice of summary executions but soon became focused on the dress code he enforced.

"How do you swim in a chador?" she wanted to know toward the end of a strained conversation.

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

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