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Rita Panahi: 14 Inspiring Facts About The Right-Wing Refugee

Rita Panahi

Rita Panahi (born 3 March 1976) is an Iranian Australian conservative opinion columnist. The journalist who has gained fame for her conservative opinions which are often shared through her eponymous Twitter account. She has worked as a columnist for The Herald and Weekly Times, as well as host of the Sky News TV series The Friday Show,  a subsidiary of News Corp Australia and is the host of The Friday Show on Sky News and is a contributor to Sunrise on the Seven Network. She is on the radio at 3AWand 2GB. 

Rita Panahi: 14 Facts About The Irani Australian Columnist

1. She is a fan of PM Churchill: 

Rita Panahi’s Twitter account, which she uses to debate with her critics and attack “leftie lemmings”, has this quote from British wartime prime minister Winston Churchill: 

“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

It is interesting that she posted the above statement in a space where most people say something about themselves.

2. She believes that Australia is the least racist of nations: 

Rita Panahi was on the opposing team to Stan Grant in a debate on racism that went viral in early 2016. After Grant’s speech, Rita Panahi spoke immediately and said she was moved but still asserted that it was wrong to characterise Australia as racist. 

Protesters against the East West link, in Melbourne’s suburbs during the last Victorian election, Rita views as a “ratbag gang of unionists, unwashed hippies, NIMBY 

greenies, bellicose socialists, confused pensioners and progress-hating layabouts”. 

Giving money to beggars is “akin to voting for the Greens – it only encourages them, and prevents them from doing something useful with their lives”.

In Panahi’s view, Tony Abbott (28th Prime Minister of Australia from 2013 to 2015)lost popular support partly because of his inability to communicate, but mostly because of a vehement media campaign by left wing journalists. 

Then, was his downfall evidence that the majority of Australians are less right-wing than she might think? Not at all: “I think the centre is a lot more to the right than most people in the media would like it to be,” she says. 

It’s the left-wing commentators, the feminists who write for Fairfax’s Daily Life – and the “nut jobs” who tackle her on social media – who are the controversial ones, on the fringe. As for herself: “I am, for the most part, reflecting mainstream Australian values.”

3. The Herald Sun’s national political editor, Ellen Whinnett, regards Panahi as a friend:

“I don’t always agree with her opinions, but we have great discussions and arguments about politics,” says Whinnett. “She’s a really interesting person and I admire the way she deals with the abuse she receives on social media, and the fact that she remains relentlessly positive and upbeat. Plus we share a deep love of the mighty Hawthorn Football Club.” 

Another colleague says, “She is a great, ballsy, brave woman. She’ll take anything on. It’s very hard not to be fond of Rita.”

4. One thing she is not known for saying is: 

“I’m not your plastic conservative,” Panahi says. “I’m someone who’s ethnic, a migrant to this country, an atheist. I’m a single mum, I’m not some privileged, middle-aged white man who would normally have character traits ascribed to conservatives. 

“But I do have an issue with people who haven’t got my life experience patronising me with their opinions. You know, privileged, middle-aged, middle income white people, who were born and bred here, telling me my views on racism and a cohesive Australian society are wrong.”

5. Rita clashed on live TV with Andrew O’Keefe, in an exchange about Islam and terrorism and went viral:

“We need to start discussing intelligently the issues we have with the Muslim community,” Panahi said. O’Keefe bit back: “Every time a fundamentalist Christian in the United States bombs an abortion clinic or bombs a synagogue, do we hold all the Christians in the world accountable for that?” 

Panahi responded: “Andrew, that’s such a nonsensical argument… We’ve got to stop doing what you just did and pretending like Islam is like any other religion, as far as being behind incidences of terror.”

6. Panahi grew up in the heart of the modern conflict between western traditions and radical Islam: 

She and her family were refugees from the Iranian revolution of 1979, in which the western allied Shah of Iran was overthrown by the repressive theocracy of Ayatollah Khomeini. Soon after the western world felt the unimaginable power of radical Islamic resurgence and its strong hatred of the west. It was also the revolution that redrew the map of global alliances. 

7. She was born in the USA but went back to Iran:

Rita Panahi came into this world in the year 1976 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas in America while her Iranian father was studying at the local university to become an agricultural engineer. Her mother was a midwife. When Rita was still a child, the family went back to Iran. 

The single mother’s childhood memories in Iran were of an idyllic life on the Iranian coast. 

By 1979, the family had moved to Tehran and although Rita Panahi was still little more than a toddler, she remembers the mounting fear when the Shah was overthrown. 

When the infamous Ayatollah came to power, Panahi’s mother had worked in a senior midwifery position at a hospital that bore the name of the Royal (Shah) Family and was patronised by them. Putting their family at risk, all of the photos of Panahi’s mother with relatives of the Shah had to be burned or hidden properly. 

“People were being imprisoned,” Panahi says. “People were being killed. And people fairly close to us; they were in our family.”

Her parents, she says, were not particularly political. They are what she describes as “relaxed” Muslims. Nevertheless, the family was targeted. 

“My uncle was arrested and considered an enemy of the state and my cousin had been shot. That was enough for you to be under suspicion… I remember not being able to go home certain nights because there were raids being done and they thought that would come for us.” 

While she was too young to fully grasp why raids were going on, she was old enough to feel the weight of being female. One of her strongest childhood memories is of having had a head injury, where her hair was shaved. Suddenly, people thought she was a boy. 

Usually girls who were called boys would cry at such a tease but to Rita, this meant freedom. 

“I absolutely loved it. For as long as I could, I kept asking my parents to shave my hair and they humoured me for a few months. I think it was just the sense of freedom where you didn’t have to have the hijab and you could play with the boys.”

8. Her memories in Iran have given her a strong contempt for those who, as she puts it, “appease” strict Islam:

Rita wrote about her childhood as part of a column decrying the fact that Muslim children attending a Melbourne school had been excused from singing the national anthem because they were observing Muharram – a month of mourning for Muhammad’s grandson. 

“When I was a little girl in Tehran,” she wrote, “we would line up in neat rows, dressed in our dehumanising Muslim garb, and chant “death to America” over and over again before commencing our classes. 

“It was a little tricky for me, given I was American-born, and even at the age of six loathed the hijab and all it represented, but it was what the school required and I stood there and silently mouthed the words.”

9. “Hello” and “tea” were her only English words:

Her family arrived in Australia in 1984, without money or assets (little did they foresee Rita’s current networth), choosing Melbourne because her uncle was already here. 

Rita’s family got entry and were accepted as refugees in a way for which Pahani remains grateful. For the first few months, they camped out in the back of the uncle’s chicken shop in the Melbourne suburbs. But soon enough, Rita, who spoke only two words of English, was sent to the local primary school. 

“I remember just being absolutely bewildered, because you had no idea what anybody was saying,” she says. “But the lucky thing is, I was eight and English is a very easy language to learn… I think I learnt it mainly on television.” 

Her mother also quickly adapted, finding work as a midwife. But it was her dad who once worked as an agricultural scientist who had to learn to suddenly drive a taxi to survive. 

Fortunately, by the time Panahi was in high school, the family was established and paying off a house – evidence, she says, that Australia is a welcoming country of opportunity. 

“Even as a child of 10 or 11, I knew that if I worked hard, or even worked at all, I was going to have a level of financial security, have independence, and I wouldn’t have to go and marry some dickhead that I couldn’t stand,” Panahi says. 

“Because that’s what you have to do in some countries. Women don’t have the option of working and supporting themselves and choosing to be single, like I am.” 

“That’s why this desperation by the left to somehow paint Australia as this deeply racist, 

xenophobic backwater, well, I find it really bewildering.” 

In her column, Panahi has argued in favour of stopping the boats, attacked the “self-loathing shame junkies” who “hyperventilate with rage” over government policies, and strongly supported Australia’s humanitarian intake through regular means.

10. She began her studies in finance at Monash University and would later start her journalism career writing for Australian newspaper mX:

Straight from school, Panahi began to work in banking while studying for a Bachelor of Business Finance at Monash University. She was a fan of the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, and joined Young Labor, working as a campaign volunteer in the 1996 election.

At 21, an ambitious Rita was employed for Colonial Mutual in personal banking, writing home loans and organising term deposits. A determined Rita even became the youngest branch manager the company had ever had, supervising people twice her age.

In her late 20s, she was headhunted by the National Australia Bank, but by now she had concluded that something was missing. She was getting bored: “I couldn’t imagine doing this for the next 10, 20, 30 years”. 

She wanted a larger life. She had begun to mix with journalists, and she liked it. 

The Rita Panahi byline first appeared in March 2003, when the News Corporation free commuter paper, mX, announced a new weekly column as part of its coverage of the AFL football season. “Ripper Rita” the paper announced, would provide “a fresh female perspective on our great game”. 

Panahi’s role was to rate the “hotness” of AFL footballers. In her first weeks, she constructed a “perve factor ladder”. Hawthorn won and Carlton got the wooden spoon. Her column continued throughout the season, with a mix of commentary on the appearance of players, football gossip and satirical advice on how to get an invitation to the Brownlow. 

“For those among you who are not naturally blessed with generous bosoms, it is imperative to address this vital weakness. Footballers may not be the sharpest knives in the draw but they have X-ray vision when it comes to cleavage, thus padding will not work. The solution: implants. If you have the operation now, the scars should be gone by Brownlow time.”

The column was revived the following season. By now, Panahi was becoming well known among sports journalists and in the social whirl that surrounded the AFL. She turned up to everything. By 2007, she was a regular on SEN, a radio station specialising in sports news and talk. 

At the age of 31, Panahi left her secure banking career and became a mother. Her decision to become a parent was a deliberate one and she is a single mother by choice. She is guarded about aspects of her private life and relationships, and will not discuss them in public. 

11. Net worth:

These days, those who know Panahi are at a loss of words at her apparent wealth. Her house on the Mornington Peninsula, her  regular and expensive overseas holidays and generosity towards friends have people wondering her net worth. A title search on the internet also reveals she owns a substantial portfolio of investment properties.

“Wogs, in my experience, are also more likely to live by the philosophy that you bite off more than you can chew and then chew like hell. None of this ‘your mortgage payments shouldn’t exceed 30 per cent of your net income’ nonsense.”

Whatever the method, in her early 30s, on her own and with a baby, she was able to effectively retire and concentrate on motherhood and her pitch for a journalistic career. Meanwhile, feeling her lack of tertiary qualifications was unfinished business, she enrolled in and completed a Master of Business Administration from Swinburne University. She is glad to have the qualification, but it hasn’t altered her scepticism about university degrees.

12. Did you know?

She has worked as a prominent voice on the radio stations 3AW and 2GB. She has also worked as a contributor for Seven Network’s Sunrise TV program.

13. Family life:

She has one child, who she has raised as a single mother. 

14. Most famous for:

She debated Andrew O’Keefe on a 2015 episode of Weekend Sunrise on the subject of Islamic extremists. 

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