CHICAGO -- On a U.S. tour, award-winning journalist Robert
Fisk spoke about his life work as a veteran journalist reporting about the
Fisk is the Middle East correspondent for the British
newspaper, The Independent. For
almost 30 years he has been a journalist and, with over 28 foreign press
awards, he is one of the most decorated journalists in the world.
With a sunburned face Fisk has lived in Beirut, Lebanon, for
"I'm 59, but I feel I'm 29," he said.
His latest book, The
Great War for Civilisation,
was released this fall. It is an in-depth, lucid analysis of his experiences
reporting from the Middle East and war torn regions throughout the world.
"I think I wrote it because I wanted people to refuse the narrative given
to us by political leaders."
After Fisk wrote the first 200 pages (chapter six is about
his coverage of the Iran-Iraq War) he had a different view of the book. At
first he thought it was a privilege reporting injustice and pain, but the book
is about death, torture, dictatorship, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. "My
book is a story of that curse," he said. "It was a deeply, deeply
depressing book to write."
Fisk explained that he writes his reports like he is writing
a letter to a friend. He believes journalists should be on the side of the
victims because they come first. Since journalists write the first page of
history, "why not write it with emotion, compassion and sadness?"
Fisk gave a modest description of himself as "the guy
who writes on the spot." He explained that an osmotic-parasitic
relationship exists between journalists and politics because in their minds
closeness to power means access. An example of such a relationship is a U.S.
White House press conference, where U.S. officials refer to journalists by
their first names.
From the podium Fisk opened a U.S. newspaper and
demonstrated basic media analysis for the audience. As he reviewed a front-page
article about Iraq, Fisk repeated over a dozen references to U.S. officials as
the quoted sources of information.
Some audience members laughed.
"This is not a joke, this is very serious," Fisk
said. "If this is the reporting we're not going to report the truth about
the Middle East."
When asked about alternative, online media coverage Fisk
said these publications need to stop calling the mainstream press the
mainstream. However he stressed the importance of reporting news on the ground.
He said mouse writing can be done behind a computer from any location in the
world. If an embedded journalist is writing inside a hotel in Baghdad then he
can be writing from New York. "What they don't tell their readers is that
they're not leaving their rooms."
The problem with reporting in Iraq is that it is so
dangerous journalists cannot move in the streets of Baghdad anymore. Even the
current Iraqi government cannot move outside the Green Line. Are the risks
worth the story or is the story worth the risk?
"Iraq is a hell disaster," he said. "We've
lost Iraq, we've got to leave . . . we'll have to go back to obeying
Several months ago Fisk was talking to an Iraqi family on
Highway Eight. Suddenly the ground began to shake. A massive, military convoy
containing hundreds of trucks and tens of thousands of troops drove down the
highway. It was the largest movement of men and material since World War II.
Fisk saw it as the West's need to demonstrate military power.
Moreover, Fisk has a critical equation about Iraq that is as
follows: the Americans must leave Iraq; the Americans will leave Iraq; and the
Americans cannot leave Iraq. "The American project [in Iraq] is dead,
believe me," Fisk said and added that some of the Iraqi police have
already been infiltrated into the insurgency.
Although many Americans know about the kidnappings in Iraq,
they may not have heard that some of the tens of thousands of kidnapped Iraqis
are forced into sexual slavery in Yemen. Fisk mentioned a colleague who helped
save an Iraqi woman from her brother's honor killing. The victim found refuge
in a safe house.
During research for his book that included pouring over
328,000 documents, Fisk uncovered a "fingerprint perfect parallel"
connecting the Anglo occupation of Iraq in 2003-2004 to the Anglo occupation of
Mesopotamia in the early 20th century. In the past when the British wanted to
secure their oil interests they occupied towns such as Najaf and Fallujah. In
2004, sound familiar? His book contains detailed maps that show how the British
and the French carved up the region for their control. Through the generations,
Iraqis told their tragic experiences to their children who now have a clear
memory of what the West calls "liberation."
Moreover, Fisk talked about The First Holocaust, the Armenia
Holocaust of the 20th century. In 1915 1.5 million Armenians were murdered by
the Turks. Over the years Fisk interviewed elderly Armenian survivors who
shared their experiences with the genocide. Based on interviews, letters and
the extensive research of historians and scholars about the First Holocaust,
Fisk devotes a chapter in history about the ethnic genocide of a Christian
people indigenous to the Middle East.
Fisk gave this moment in history a context within current,
political affairs. Thus far, President George W. Bush has referred to the April
genocide with words such as tragedy and suffering.
"This is what happens when we allow governments to take
precedence over history," Fisk said.
Although Fisk believes Arabs want democracy, he says they
want freedom from us also. History repeatedly shows that invasions, occupation
and colonialism cause pain, suffering and death. Regarding the war in Iraq,
Fisk explained: "We think we can close the door on history, we feel we can
close the door and start again and we think we can ask the Arabs to do the
When asked about Saddam, Fisk said: "I think Saddam
should be put to trial in The Hague. He's a very cruel, wicked criminal but the
U.S. opposed international courts."
The media has covered the strife between Iraqi Shiite and
Sunni Muslims and media coverage describes the possibility of civil war. Fisk
said the Iraqis do not want civil war. Since Iraq is a tribal state and not a
sectarian state civil war is not something natural to Iraqis. "I don't
believe there will be a civil war," he said. However he thinks the Anglos
are fluttering the concept of civil war above Iraqis' heads.
When there is violence and war, Fisk prefers talking to the
victims. "I think we should be on the side of the victims," he said.
"To report the suffering of innocent people is our job."
While investigating secret files in a city mortuary Fisk
discovered there were 1,100 deaths in Baghdad in July 2005. This means 1,100
Iraqi citizens died in one city in one month. Take all of the cities of Iraq
and add their deaths in a month for a sum total and times that by twelve . . . how
many is that in one year? Whenever a U.S. soldier dies, the American public
knows the names of their widows and their children. Yet, the West hardly
focuses on the 100,000 Iraqis dead -- the figure increasing daily.
When he was in the city mortuary that had no electricity,
Fisk recalled asking himself: "Who was the woman with the arms behind her
back? Who was the baby whose face was blown off?"
Flies on their corpses.
In his concluding remarks Fisk said the words: "blood
and sand pits." Then, he removed his glasses and wiped his eyes.
Journalist Sonia Nettnin writes about social,
political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus is the Middle East.