Fisk and the Scrivener

Robert Fisk

When the controversial New York Times journalist Ethan Bronner reviewed The Great War for Civilization, after briefly acknowledging the author’s ‘rare combination of scholarly knowledge, experience and drive’, he denounced Robert Fisk for having become ‘something of a caricature of himself, railing against Israel and the United States, dismissing the work of most of his colleagues as cowering and dishonest, and seeking to expose the West’s self-satisfied hypocrisy nearly to the exclusion of the pursuit of straight journalism.’ One can understand Bronner’s rage considering that the journalistic failures of the New York Times are the frequent targets of Fisk’s pointed barbs. Predictably, then, the Israel lobby amanuensis — who for some reason failed to disclose his son’s service in the Israeli army — that is, until our friends at the Electronic Intifada forced him to divulge the conflict of interest — reaches for the lobby’s time tested weapon for shooting messengers: the smear.

First, Bronner declares that Fisk is ‘most passionate and least informed about Israel’ based on the fact that he accurately reported that Israel’s offer to the Palestinians at Camp David in 2000 actually amounted to 64 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, and because he describes Israel’s occupation as a ‘Colonial War’. Fisk compounds his crimes when he ‘approvingly quotes the left-wing Israeli journalist Amira Hass’ as saying that a journalist’s job is ‘to monitor power and the centers of power.’

Mr. Fisk then adds: “If only, I kept thinking, the American journalists who report in so craven a fashion from the Middle East – so fearful of Israeli criticism that they turn Israeli murder into ‘targeted attacks’ and illegal settlements into ‘Jewish neighborhoods’ – could listen to Amira Hass. She writes each day an essay of despair.” So too does Mr. Fisk.

But it gets worse. Incredibly for Bronner, Fisk adopts a forgiving attitude towards the Afghan refugees who attacked him on the Pakistan border. Bronner then vouchsafes what he clearly thinks is his most compelling evidence of Fisk’s treachery:

Mr. Fisk says he asked: “Why record my few minutes of terror and self-disgust near the Afghan border, bleeding and crying like an animal, when thousands of innocent civilians were dying under American air strikes in Afghanistan, when the War for Civilisation was burning and maiming the people of Kandahar and other cities because ‘good’ must triumph over ‘evil’?” And so he wrote of his attack in his newspaper: “If I was an Afghan refugee in Kila Abdulla, I would have done just what they did. I would have attacked Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find.”

It is only then — having already stoked the patriotic anger of his American audience — that he sneaks in his real agenda to deliver the coup de grace.

After reading that and his description of Palestinian suicide bombings as inevitable, you are not surprised to learn that Osama bin Laden urged Americans last year to listen to his interviews with Mr. Fisk because, the mass-murdering founder of Al Qaeda noted, Mr. Fisk was “neutral.”

Call it chutzpah. The man who serves the interests of a foreign state, whose son finds the same state more worthy of his sacrifices than his own, casting doubt on the neutrality of the world’s greatest living journalist! Yes, the world’s greatest living journalist. As readers know, I have been highly critical of Robert Fisk’s recent journalism, especially on Lebanon. For the longest possible time I postponed reading The Great War because I thought I had heard all he had to say anyway. How wrong I was! The book is a masterpiece. Fisk is a master of description who can infuse his writings with all the drama, passion, humour and irony of an accomplished novelist. To read this book is to participate in the history it chronicles, it is that vivid. This also means that you cannot read it with equanimity. There comes a point in the book where you feel compelled to detach yourself, lest the injustices it recounts drive you mad. And then there is the sheer moral force of his writing, his searing excoriation of war, its architects, its apologists.

Only someone of Fisk’s phenomenal powers can write a book nearly 1,300 pages long and manage to keep it fresh and absorbing throughout. Ernest Hemingway, who used to pride himself on his superior descriptions of war because he, unlike many others, had experienced it, compiled in Men at War what he considered the best writings on war over the ages. From Virgil, to Churchill, to Faulkner; they have nothing on Fisk. You want to to know what makes Fisk the greatest journalist of all times? Read pp.955-972 or pp.1086-1095 or pp.226-242

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

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