Saturday, September 16, 2006

Fallaci goes a few rounds with Khomeini

In honor of Oriana Fallaci, the fearless and uniquely outspoken correspondent who died yesterday in Florence Italy, I'm posting excerpts from her 1979 interview with Ayatollah Khomeini, which occurred not long after he came to power (these quotes appeared as part of a piece written by the New Yorker's Margaret Talbot that was published in June of 2006, just a few months before Fallaci's death).

The feisty Fallaci never pulled her punches, even with the grim Ayatollah:

Fallaci had travelled to Qum to try to secure an interview with Khomeini, and she waited ten days before he received her. She had followed instructions from the new Islamist regime, and arrived at the Ayatollah’s home barefoot and wrapped in a chador. Almost immediately, she unleashed a barrage of questions about the closing of opposition newspapers, the treatment of Iran’s Kurdish minority, and the summary executions performed by the new regime.

Fallaci kept pressing Khomeini with questions about the dreadful treatment of women under his regime, including ones about the chador. He replied, "If you do not like Islamic dress you are not obliged to wear it. Because Islamic dress is for good and proper young women.”

Fallaci knew an opportunity when she saw one; she thanked the Ayatollah and proceeded to dump her chador. Her little strip tease (at least, in Islamist terms) was the final straw for Khomeini--he ordered her out and fumed for a day or two before he deigned to resume the interview. But Fallaci was ready for him:

When Khomeini let her return, his son Ahmed gave Fallaci some advice: his father was still very angry, so she’d better not even mention the word “chador.” Fallaci turned the tape recorder back on and immediately revisited the subject. “First he looked at me in astonishment,” she said. “Total astonishment. Then his lips moved in a shadow of a smile. Then the shadow of a smile became a real smile. And finally it became a laugh. He laughed, yes. And, when the interview was over, Ahmed whispered to me, ‘Believe me, I never saw my father laugh. I think you are the only person in this world who made him laugh.’ ”

But a rare moment of affability displayed by the old tyrant didn't make Fallaci a fan. She told Talbot:

" did not take long to realize that in spite of his quiet appearance he represented the Robespierre or the Lenin of something which would go very far and would poison the world. People loved him too much. They saw in him another Prophet. Worse: a God."

Upon leaving Khomeini’s house after her first interview, Fallaci was besieged by Iranians who wanted to touch her because she’d been in the Ayatollah’s presence. “The sleeves of my shirt were all torn off, my slacks, too,” she recalled. “My arms were full of bruises, and hands, too. Do believe me: everything started with Khomeini. Without Khomeini, we would not be where we are. What a pity that, when pregnant with him, his mother did not choose to have an abortion.”

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