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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Fisk in Sydney

Robert Fisk's journalism is virtually without comparison. Aside from the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, he stands alone in separating rhetoric from fact and propaganda from spin. He's been in Australia for one week, and talked in Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra (appearing on last night's ABC Lateline) and today in Sydney.

During overseas research for my forthcoming book on Israel/Palestine, I spent time with Fisk in his home-town of Beirut in February (the days before the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.) He was generous with his time and insightful when discussing the Middle East. He was kind enough to mention me in an October 2003 column when I defended Palestinian moderate Hanan Ashrawi against Zionist attacks.

His latest book, The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, is released in Australia in early November (though is already available on Amazon.) The reason for his first Australian visit was to deliver the Edward Said Memorial Lecture at Adelaide University. As Fisk told me this morning, the last time he saw Said before his death in 2003, Said told him: "I'm not going to die because they all want me to die." Said, not unlike Fisk, chose to tell the truth about the Palestinians and Israelis and the usual suspects - Jews, Arabs, Zionists, Americans, English and many Westerners - tried to silence his dissent. They all failed, of course, and the world is now starting to realise the great injustice of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Fisk's talk today at Sydney University spanned the ages and discussed, in his animated and often humorous way, why we're all destined to repeat history if we don't learn from it. From the Great War to the Second World War and any number of Western interventions in Middle East - all, he reminded us, under the guise of "spreading freedom and democracy" - the Arab people have been given a raw deal by their own leaders and their Western backers. The current Iraq quagmire is no different. A war based on ideology alone is destined to fail. "Iraq is lost", Fisk said. "Much of the country is controlled by the insurgency."

The Independent reporter has experienced the Northern Ireland troubles, the Lebanese civil war, the Iran/Iraq war, Israeli brutality in Lebanon, Palestinian suicide bombing, the brake-up of Yugoslavia, three meetings with Bin Laden, the rise of Islamism in Algeria and the current Iraqi quagmire. His speech touched on the ways in which many people in the Middle East want freedom and democracy, but "also freedom from us." He believes in the UN, despite all its faults. He argues passionately for journalism to not be servile to government spin and lies and fears a growing generation of citizens in the Arab world are learning to hate America and its "values" on an unprecedented scale.

During the question and answer session - around 800 people turned up to see Fisk - he was asked consistently about Iraq and the insurgency. He believed the Americans will leave eventually, but only after they can claim "victory." He was asked whether he supported the Iraqi resistance and he said "no." He tried to explain the brutality of Saddam during the long years of his rule. And then came the killer punch (and I quote here as accurately as possible):

"Supporters of this war say that "we" and the Iraqis should be grateful we're rid of Saddam. But what are they really saying? That abuses at Abu Ghraib, killings of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq and Guantanamo Bay are not great, but much better than life under Saddam? Has our moral compass lost that much direction?"

Fisk is a true voice of reason and has been therefore generally ignored during his visit here. The pro-war lackeys at Murdoch and Packer are too busy reprinting Mark Steyn to recognise great journalism when it hits them. Of course, this is the same crowd of people who still defend the Vietnam War as a "noble" mistake.

Fisk humanises war and the effects of decisions in Canberra, London or Washington. When tens of thousands of innocents are murdered in the name of "freedom", we should sit up and take notice.


Blogger Ibrahamav said...

"Robert Fisk's journalism is virtually without comparison."

Hardly. He is just among a number of westeners enamored with beduin culture and has decided the Jews are the blame for the miserable lives of 300 million Arabs.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005 10:48:00 pm  
Blogger Wombat said...

With all due respects Ibrahamav, your comment is great mis-representation fo Fisks work. I have yet to read an article by Robrert Fisk that makes any reference to Jews. Trying to frame this debate by suggesting Israeli foregin policy and jewish people are one and the same is dissengenuous to say the least.

Fisk is one of the few reporters in the Middel East who is non embedded with Western run media. He lives and breaths what he writes about and hsi Pulitzer prize sis testament to that.

Your post reveasl a great deal about your personal leanings.

Thursday, October 06, 2005 2:31:00 am  
Blogger Ibrahamav said...

I never understood why it was required to say "Jew" when it was obvious that "Jew" was meant.

Now I understand antisemites who do not wish to be labled so may use zionist or Israel or even "Zionist Government of Israel" but they don't really believe anyone is fooled. Do they?

But you are correct that this article is merely another representation of Fisks absurb view of the situation in Iraq.

Thursday, October 06, 2005 6:47:00 am  
Blogger Wombat said...


I do not agree that Jew and Irsrael are one and the same, and anyone with an education would know that there are clear differences. As you are surely aware, there is no requirement that one be Jewish to be party to the doctrines of Zionism and visa versa. and if I may be so bold, some defenders of Israel are not above exploiting this apparent confusion when Israel's foreign policys are scruitinised.

Even Abe Foxman (of the US Anti Defamation League), has stated that criticism of Israel does not have to be antisemitic.

And may I ask what is so absurb about Fisks views in Iraq. I am sorry if his reports do not appeal to you, but then again, there is nothign appealing about the realities in Iraq. Fisk spends a great deal of time there and his views are repeatedly confirmed by hindsight, as have those puclished by Seymour Hersh. Does anyone really believe that the situation in Iraq ia anytyhing but a complete disaster?

Thursday, October 06, 2005 9:03:00 am  
Blogger Ibrahamav said...

Jew and Israeli is not the same, as Islamic and Saudi is the same. 20% of all Israelis are not Jewish.

And all criticism of Israel is not antisemitic, but most of Fisk's is.

As 100 percent of all Jews who identify themselves religiously as Jews are Zionists, your statement to that regard is meaningless. The opinion of those Jews who's sole connection is via an accident of birth is meaningless as to the point of their judaism.

What is absurb about Fisk's views on Iraq is his skewed sense of reality.

Thursday, October 06, 2005 9:11:00 am  
Blogger Comical_Ali said...

Yes and we can see how his embedded Middle Eastern reporting has paid off:

"TONY JONES: In one of his rambling justifications for these kind of terrorist acts, Osama bin Laden pointed the finger and said Australians were targeted in Bali because they intervened in East Timor.

ROBERT FISK: Yes. I think the East Timor thing is a lie by Osama bin Laden—I don’t think that’s what it is about."

How convienant.

As for Pulitzer prizes -- Walter Duranty got one as well. Fisk is right at home.

Thursday, October 06, 2005 9:42:00 am  
Blogger Iqbal Khaldun said...

Just saw Fisk in Canberra a few nights back. Inspiring. Fisk's genius is the ability to combine reasoned-insight with passion and humanity.

Thursday, October 06, 2005 8:31:00 pm  
Blogger Wombat said...

I am sorry Ibrahamav that you consider fisks criticism of Israel to be anti semitic. I believe he is a humanitarian and his passion may not please your personal leanings, but that does not make the facts he presents a skewed.

Comical Ali, if every reporter were to be hung out to dry on the contradictions h they made, there would be none. Perhaps youi are more confortabel with the stenographers that pump out government talking points like they were self evident facts?

Thursday, October 06, 2005 11:54:00 pm  
Blogger Ibrahamav said...

addamo, I'm certain that you, and many others, believe Fisk to be a true humanitarian. I believe he thinks he is, too.

But the fact remains that he skews reality to fit his vision, rather than adjusting his vision to acknowledge the actual facts.

Friday, October 07, 2005 2:44:00 am  
Blogger Comical_Ali said...

"Perhaps youi are more confortabel with the stenographers that pump out government talking points like they were self evident facts?"

Yes actually I am. At least they dont pretend to be "independent". What you see is what you get -- a propaganda mouth piece.

As someone whose family suffered under Stalin...I know first hand what embedded reporting - Walter (i got a pulitzer prize) Duranty style - is all about.

Friday, October 07, 2005 9:50:00 am  
Blogger James Waterton said...

Yes, Fisk sure did flunk on the East Timor question. Reading between the lines, here's what Fisk meant: "I think he [ObL} was lying 'cos if he meant it then I'm contradicting myself. So he MUST be lying!"

Not a particularly clear-minded or intellectually honest position to take.

Friday, October 07, 2005 11:27:00 pm  
Blogger leftvegdrunk said...

Maybe, James, he meant: "Knowing what I do about Al Qaeda and Bin Laden, the statements about East Timor sound like opportunism - a lie."

But you're right - we should assume the worst about Fisk because we don't like him. He is on the side of the enemy, etc. And Tony Jones never puts anyone on the backfoot (see post on Geoff Hoon), so the context of this short remark - just like Fisk's entire body of work - can be ignored.

Let's face it. You and your (less-literate) fellow travellers don't like Fisk because (a) he tells you things about the situation in Iraq and the region in general that you don't want to hear (a bit like Ibrahamav's "skewing" of reality when it is too confronting), (b) the blogging patriarchs you admire and emulate are out for his scalp (for much the same reason), and (c) attacking someone's credibility is far easier than facing the content of their observations and arguments.

I hope that isn't too catty, James.

Saturday, October 08, 2005 9:39:00 am  
Blogger Comical_Ali said...

another great reasoned response.

Hevean forbid, if Fisk be ever held accountable. As a matter of fact he should be held beyond a;; reproach -- and we will make any excuse for him along the way.

Hell, even Bin Laden himself once singled out Fisk as "neutral." All the more reason to hail Fisk -- taking Walter Duranty style reporting into the 21st century.

Saturday, October 08, 2005 9:08:00 pm  
Blogger leftvegdrunk said...

Comical, what is this Duranty fetish of yours? It's almost as serious as Shab's Loewenstein obsession?

Saturday, October 08, 2005 11:45:00 pm  
Blogger Comical_Ali said...

if your grandparents were in Stalin's gulag -- you too may have had a fetish for Duranty and his style of reporting.

Sunday, October 09, 2005 1:10:00 pm  
Blogger Wombat said...


You seem to have a wealth of personal experince and maybe eevn personal tragedy to draw from, but your arguments seem bereft of any sources or facts.

And if I may be so bold, your posts reek of bitterness and contempt. If you have something constructive to say, by all means provide links os sources to support your stance.

Fisk has met with Bin Laden yes. Does that imply he's somehow been infected with a contageon or that he's a reporter with a welath of experience?

Fisk may have tripped up during a live interview or given an inadeauet answer. Are you going to nail him to a cross for that one mistake? If Fisk is innacurate or wrong, then by all means point it out with evindence. Sitting onteh sidelines hurling verbal spit balls makes your opinion irrelevant.

Monday, October 10, 2005 3:01:00 pm  
Blogger leftvegdrunk said...

Bravo, addamo. Alas, you will find that Comical refuses to calm him or herself.

We can hope, I suppose. I agree that there may be something constructive lurking below the bile and nonsense. So far I have been unable to wrench it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005 7:49:00 pm  

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