Robert Fisk; the reporter as Messiah – books guest writers
Osama bin Laden called his journalism “neutral.” It was one of many accolades and awards for Robert Fisk, who died on October 30.
There are not many reporters who can claim to have covered every major event in a part of the world devastated by conflict, from the revolution in Iran to those in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, covering the entire Middle East.
On a trip to California in 2005, I attended one of his lectures at Stanford University. The hall was full of people of different shades and they were enthralled.
A man who spent decades in Beirut, weathered dust storms, bullets and wars, had become a Messiah. He did not tell his rapt listeners what they wanted to hear; He told them what the West wanted them to hear: that the war on terror was real. Everything was pampered in minutiae. Fisk’s romance of old-world discomfort with the Internet and emails and his sitting in front of the telex machines was immensely charming. About how he was able to open the old bells and get them to boot, but when his computer said “disk failure” he had to give up and missed a story.
While your contribution cannot be reduced to an amazing story, how did you see your role? At the conference he mentioned how he used to believe that journalism was about being there while the story was going on. Presenting eyewitness accounts and writing about how he was beaten by Afghan refugees in Pakistan added to his repertoire his unwavering enthusiasm and commitment to the job at hand.
However, assuming that he was in complete sync with the events around him would not be entirely true.
While he was surprised by the videos of Saddam Hussein’s rape room and torture chambers that had viewers, he did not capture the irony of himself showing short clips of these at his lectures. Saddam’s “perverted nature” simply became a class lesson for his audience in Ireland and America. Even worseHe said, “And it’s easy, looking at these images of Saddam’s sadism, to have hoped that Iraqis will be grateful to us this week. We have captured Saddam. We have destroyed the beast. The nightmare years are over. If only we could have gotten rid of this man 15 years ago, 20 years ago, how warm our welcome would be in Iraq today. “
The brazen aggression of the West meant nothing. Bush and Blair had only made “historical mistakes”; They did not turn into nightmares.
In his book The great war for civilization, spoke of being on a transatlantic flight on September 11. “We went around the plane together to look for passengers we didn’t like… Of course they were all Muslims, some of them read the Holy Quran and prayed with worried beads. They were dark-skinned, they were all Muslim, they looked at me suspiciously. As I looked at them suspiciously, I suddenly realized that bin Laden had turned the sympathetic liberal Bob into a racist. He was racially profiling the passengers on the plane. I realized that one of the purposes of the 9/11 attacks could have been to turn the innocent against the innocent, not just the Muslims against the West. “
This was not a report; it was blaming an event for one’s own biases. Fisk used terms like “Muslims” and “West” as two very disparate wholes, but individually frozen in themselves.
This passive aggressiveness went further. Wondering about how “Hitler lasted only 12 years” and the Arab rulers held on for decades, he provided an explanation, “A patriarchal society, a religion that speaks of submission, a refusal to rebel when western enemies are ‘at the door’, tribalism? Or is it just a reflection of our own ‘civilization’? “
Putting Western civilization in single quotes and referring to Arab leaders as “these little men” was very Fisk-like.
Sam Hamad, a Scottish-Egyptian writer, called fisk a “peddler of propaganda” in his coverage of Syria and support for its leader against civilian rebels. “He will not write about children rolling tires down the street to be burned in order to create a makeshift no-fly zone to protect the rebels and themselves from the brutal air force of Russia and Assad.”
How did Fisk become something of a savior despite the confusing, if not problematic, positions he sometimes took? Much of the diaspora elite trapped in a scripted identity has great respect for the white man who seems to understand them. They seek validation of what they already know.
He was saying what the Islamic world has been saying for years: that not everyone is a terrorist; who do not want to be liberated by the West; that they are not a conglomerate of pan-Islamism; that they can handle their own conflicts.
But how many Muslim reporters would be considered “neutral” even by Laden’s standards? How many Muslim reporters would count suspicious-looking people on a plane and then be respected for admitting to being discriminated against?
When Fisk poked fun at how the West turned “occupied territories” into “neighborhoods” and said that neighbors don’t throw stones at each other, he wasn’t doing much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict except to reduce it to the level of semantics. and skepticism.
Maintaining his record of neutrality, he never voted. He remained an observer, defying the writing on the wall, not the wall itself. In that, in fact, he was maintaining his unshakable status as a circumscriber of space.
Farzana Versey is a writer living in Mumbai. She tweets @farzana_versey