Saturday, October 22, 2011

A bizarre encounter with Gaddafi

...if I refuse to accept your Jamahiriya [congress of the people], what will you do to me? Will you arrest me, shoot me, hang me?

This was the audacious question thrown by Oriana Fallaci, one of the world's most courageous journalists, to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi when she interviewed him in Tripoli in 1979.

The Libyan dictator replies: "But you cannot refuse it! Jamahiriya is the destiny of the world! It's the final solution!

Fallaci presses on relentlessly:

The forty officials that you had shot last year refused it. The other fifty-five that you had shot in 1977 refused it. The ten students who you hung publicly in a square in Benghazi a few months ago refused it!

Gaddafi counters: "Lies. Slander from the West. These are the things that make me lose faith in you. Why do you say these things about me?"

Fallaci's response is laden with sarcasm:

Because we are envious, I suppose we say them out of jealousy. Anyway, tell me one thing: are you really sure that your little book will change the world?

Fallaci continues:

The rope gave a final, definitive jerk. [Fallaci had written earlier, after one session with Gaddafi, that her aim was to give him, in the form of her questions, "enough rope to hang himself".] And while his sick brain hung down above the cord and his lifeless body, the delirium exploded again: this time so tremendous and so terrifying that the crisis of the previous day seemed like a sneeze by comparison. He got up slowly, he slowly raised his linen-wrapped arms and in a thundering, Messiah-like voice, he began to yell his answers directly in English.

What did Gaddafi begin to yell? And what was the dramatic conclusion to a bizarre interview? To find out, read the 56-page article in Oriana Fallaci's superlative book, Interviews with History and Conversations with Power. In addition to the interview with Gaddafi (who was killed in Libya by rebels two days ago), Interviews also features Fallaci's encounters with a host of world leaders, famous and infamous, including Ayatollah Khomeini and the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Fallaci, who died in 2006, had a reputation for being fearless and for asking the most probing of questions, questions that were a reflection of her chutzpah. Here, for instance, is Fallaci's opening gambit when she met Indira Gandhi, who, at the time, was the all-powerful prime minister of India:

Mrs. Gandhi, I have so many questions to ask you, both personal and political. The personal ones, however, I'll leave for later, once I've understood why many people are afraid of you and call you cold, indeed, icy, hard...

This is a book no journalist, or aspiring journalist, can afford not to read.

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