Interview by: Oriana Fallaci – April 1972
Oriana Fallaci (29 June 1929 – 15 September 2006) was an Italian journalist, author, and political interviewer. A former partisan during World War II, she had a long and successful journalistic career.
She interviewed many internationally known leaders and celebrities such as the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Dalai Lama, Henry Kissinger, the Shah of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, Willy Brandt, Walter Cronkite, Muammar al-Gaddafi, Federico Fellini, Sammy Davis Jr., Nguyen Cao Ky, Yasir Arafat, Indira Gandhi, Alexandros Panagoulis, Archbishop Makarios III, Golda Meir, Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, Haile Selassie, Sean Connery and Lech Walesa.
Fallaci was born in Florence, Italy. During World War II, she joined the resistance despite her youth, in the democratic armed group “Giustizia e Libertà”. Her father Edoardo Fallaci, a cabinet maker in Florence, was a political activist struggling to put an end to the dictatorship of Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini. It was during this period that Fallaci was first exposed to the atrocities of war. In a 1976 retrospective collection of her works, she remarked that:
Fallaci began her journalistic career in her teens, becoming a special correspondent for the Italian paper II mattino dell’Italia centrale in 1946. Since 1967 she worked as a war correspondent, in Vietnam, for the Indo-Pakistani War, in the Middle East and in South America. For many years, Fallaci was a special correspondent for the political magazine L’Europeo and wrote for a number of leading newspapers and Epoca magazine. During the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, prior to the 1968 Summer Olympics, Fallaci was shot three times, dragged down stairs by her hair, and left for dead by Mexican forces.
She interviewed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in April 1972. This is what she wrote about Bhutto:
He is undoubtedly one of the most complex leaders of our time and the only interesting one his country has so far produced. The only one, moreover, capable of saving it, at least for a while. Anyone will tell you there is no alternative to Bhutto. If Bhutto goes, Pakistan will be erased from the map.
The invitation was disconcerting. It came from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and there seemed no way to account for it. It asked only that I leave for Rawalpindi as soon as possible. I wondered why. Every journalist dreams of being summoned at least once by those who, when you go looking for them, run away or say no. But illogic is the stuff of dreams and leads to suspicion. Why did Bhutto want to see me? To entrust me with a message for Indira Gandhi? To punish me for having portrayed her with esteem and sympathy? The first hypothesis was immediately discarded. Bhutto had no need of a courier to communicate with his enemy—for that there were Swiss and Russian diplomats. The second hypothesis was soon discarded. Bhutto has the reputation of being a civilized person, and civilized people don’t usually kill their invited guests. The third hypothesis, that he intended to let me interview him, filled me with proper astonishment. And, instead, this was just what Bhutto had in mind, after reading my article on the president of Bangladesh, the unfortunate Mujibur “Mujib” Rahman. As I found out when my curiosity won out over my suspicion and I decided to accept the invitation. But in accepting it, I let him know that being his guest would not keep me from writing about him with the same independence of judgment that I applied to everyone without distinction and that no amount of courtesy or flattery would ever be able to buy me off. Bhutto answered: certainly, all right. And this gave me my first impression of the man.
The man is unpredictable, bizarre, carried away by whims, by strange decisions. And, let’s face it, highly intelligent. Intelligence of an astute, foxy kind, born to charm, to confuse, while at the same time nourished by culture, memory, flair. As well as by a great urbanity. At the Rawalpindi airport I was met by two officials who announced to me with considerable emotion that the president would receive me in an hour. It was ten in the morning, and I had had no sleep for about forty-eight hours. Not in an hour, I pro tested; I needed a good bath and a good sleep. Well, to someone else that would have been arm insult. Not to him. He put off the meeting till seven-thirty in the evening, adding that he was expecting me for supper, and since intelligence combined with courtesy is the best instrument for seduction, it was inevitable that this meeting should be cordial.
Bhutto, wreath in smiles, greeted me with open arms. He was tall, stocky, a little stout for such thin legs and delicate feet, and he looked like a banker who wants to get you to open an account in his bank. He seemed older than his forty-four years. He was beginning to go bald; his remaining hair was gray. Under his thick eyebrows, his face looked heavy: heavy cheeks, heavy lips, and heavy eyelids. A mysterious sadness was locked in his eyes. There was something shy about his smile.
Like many powerful leaders, he too is weakened and crippled by shyness. He is also many other things and, as with Indira Gandhi, all of them in conflict among themselves. The more you study him, the more you remain uncertain, confused. Like a prism turning on a pivot, he is forever offering you a different face, and at the same moment that he gives in to your scrutiny, he withdraws. So you can define him in countless ways and all of them are true: liberal and authoritarian, fascist and communist, sincere and a liar. He is undoubtedly one of the most complex leaders of our time and the only interesting one his country has so far produced. The only one, moreover, capable of saving it, at least for a while. Anyone will tell you there is no alternative to Bhutto. If Bhutto goes, Pakistan will be erased from the map.