Fisk in 2008
|Born||12 July 1946|
Maidstone, Kent, England
|Occupation||Middle East correspondent for The Independent|
|Lara Marlowe (1994-2006)|
Robert Fisk (born 12 July 1946) is an English writer and journalist. He has been Middle East correspondent intermittently since 1976 for various media; since 1989 he has been correspondent for The Independent, based in Beirut. Fisk has many British and international journalism awards, including the Press Awards Foreign Reporter of the Year seven times. He is an author and has reported on wars and armed conflicts.
Fisk was an only child, born in Maidstone, Kent. His father William ('Bill') Fisk (1899-1992) was Borough Treasurer at Maidstone Corporation and had fought in the First World War. At the end of the war Bill Fisk was punished for disobeying an order to execute another soldier; "My father's refusal to kill another man was the only thing he did in his life which I would also have done." Though his father said little about his part in the war, it held a fascination for his son. After his father's death, he discovered him to have been the scribe of his battalion's war diaries from August 1918.
Robert Fisk was educated at Yardley Court, a preparatory school, then at Sutton Valence School and Lancaster University, where he worked on the student magazine John O'Gauntlet. He gained a PhD in Political Science, from Trinity College, Dublin in 1983; the title of his doctoral thesis was "A condition of limited warfare: Éire's neutrality and the relationship between Dublin, Belfast and London, 1939-1945".
Fisk worked on the Sunday Express diary column before a disagreement with the editor, John Junor, prompted a move to The Times. From 1972 to 1975, at the height of the Troubles, Fisk was The Times Belfast correspondent, before being posted to Portugal following the Carnation Revolution in 1974. He then was appointed Middle East correspondent (1976-1988). In addition to the Troubles and Portugal, he reported the Iranian revolution in 1979. When a story of his was spiked (Iran Air Flight 655) after Rupert Murdoch's takeover, he moved to The Independent in April 1989. The New York Times once described Robert Fisk as "probably the most famous foreign correspondent in Britain".
Fisk has lived in Beirut since 1976, remaining throughout the Lebanese Civil War. He was one of the first journalists to visit the scene of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon, as well as the Syrian Hama Massacre. His book on the Lebanese conflict, Pity the Nation, was first published in 1990.
Fisk also reported on the Soviet-Afghan War, the Iran-Iraq War, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Gulf War, the Kosovo War, the Algerian Civil War, the Bosnian War, the 2001 international intervention in Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Arab Spring in 2011 and the ongoing Syrian Civil War. During the Iran-Iraq War, he suffered partial but permanent hearing loss as a result of being close to Iraqi heavy artillery in the Shatt-al-Arab when covering the early stages of the conflict.
After the United States and allies launched their intervention in Afghanistan, Fisk was for a time transferred to Pakistan to provide coverage of the conflict. While reporting from there, he was attacked and beaten by a group of Afghan refugees fleeing heavy bombing by the United States Air Force. He was ultimately rescued from this attack by another Afghan refugee. In his graphic account of his own beating, Fisk absolved the attackers of responsibility and pointed out that their "brutality was entirely the product of others, of us--of we who had armed their struggle against the Russians and ignored their pain and laughed at their civil war and then armed and paid them again for the 'War for Civilisation' just a few miles away and then bombed their homes and ripped up their families and called them 'collateral damage.'"
During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Fisk was based in Baghdad and filed many eyewitness reports. He has criticised other journalists based in Iraq for what he calls their "hotel journalism", reporting from one's hotel room without interviews or first hand experience of events. His opposition to the war brought criticism from both Irish Sunday Independent columnist and senator, Eoghan Harris, and The Guardian columnist, Simon Hoggart. Fisk has criticised the Coalition's handling of the sectarian violence in post-invasion Iraq, and argued that the official narrative of sectarian conflict is not possible: "The real question I ask myself is: who are these people who are trying to provoke the civil war? Now the Americans will say it's Al Qaeda, it's the Sunni insurgents. It is the death squads. Many of the death squads work for the Ministry of Interior. Who runs the Ministry of Interior in Baghdad? Who pays the Ministry of the Interior? Who pays the militia men who make up the death squads? We do, the occupation authorities. (...) We need to look at this story in a different light."
Fisk interviewed Osama bin Laden on three occasions, reporting the interviews in articles published by The Independent on 6 December 1993, 10 July 1996, and 22 March 1997. In Fisk's first interview, "Anti-Soviet warrior puts his army on the road to peace," he wrote of Osama Bin Laden: "With his high cheekbones, narrow eyes and long brown robe, Mr Bin Laden looks every inch the mountain warrior of mujahedin legend. Chadored children danced in front of him, preachers acknowledged his wisdom" while noting that he was accused of "training for further jihad wars".
During one of Fisk's interviews with Bin Laden, Fisk noted an attempt by Bin Laden to convert him. Bin Laden said; "Mr Robert, one of our brothers had a dream...that you were a spiritual person ... this means you are a true Muslim". Fisk replied; "Sheikh Osama, I am not a Muslim. ... I am a journalist [whose] task is to tell the truth". Bin Laden replied: "If you tell the truth, that means you are a good Muslim". During the 1996 interview, Bin Laden accused the Saudi royal family of corruption. During the final interview in 1997, Bin Laden said he sought God's help "to turn America into a shadow of itself".
Fisk strongly condemned the September 11 attacks, describing them as a "hideous crime against humanity". He also denounced the Bush administration's response to the attacks, arguing that "a score of nations" were being identified and positioned as "haters of democracy" or "kernels of evil", and urged a more honest debate on U.S. policy in the Middle East. He argued that such a debate had hitherto been avoided "because, of course, to look too closely at the Middle East would raise disturbing questions about the region, about our Western policies in those tragic lands, and about America's relationship with Israel".
In 2007, Fisk expressed personal doubts about the official historical record of the attacks. In an article for The Independent, he claimed that, while the Bush administration was incapable of successfully carrying out such attacks due to its organisational incompetence, he is "increasingly troubled at the inconsistencies in the official narrative of 9/11" and added that he does not condone the "crazed 'research' of David Icke", but is "talking about scientific issues". Fisk had earlier addressed similar concerns in a speech at Sydney University in 2006. During the speech, Fisk said: "Partly I think because of the culture of secrecy of the White House, never have we had a White House so secret as this one. Partly because of this culture, I think suspicions are growing in the United States, not just among Berkeley guys with flowers in their hair. (...) But there are a lot of things we don't know, a lot of things we're not going to be told. (...) Perhaps the [fourth] plane was hit by a missile, we still don't know".
Bill Durodie notes that "recently published compilation of Osama bin Laden's writings reveals how frequently he is inclined to cite Western writers, Western diplomats and Western thinkers. At one point he even advises the White House to read Robert Fisk, rather than, as one might have supposed, the Koran."
From September 2012 onward, Fisk's reporting on the conflict in Syria has received a critical response with assertions he has sided with the Assad government. Sam Hamad, among others, has accused Fisk of being embedded with the Syrian army in Aleppo and Damascus and of "trumpet[ing]" Syrian and Russian government propaganda. Loubna Mrie said that Fisk claimed the Syrian government "did not use chemical weapons in various attacks on civilians".
Reporting from Douma, Syria in April 2018 on the Douma chemical attack, he quoted a Syrian doctor (who he said used some terms in common with the Assad government) who attributed the victims' breathing problems not to gas but to dust and lack of oxygen after heavy shelling by Assad forces. Other people he spoke to doubted a gas attack, and Fisk queried such an incident.Richard Spencer and Catherine Philp in The Times reported that journalists had been taken to Douma on a government-organised trip while international investigators were forced to remain in Damascus. The Snopes website said other reporters on the same trip as Fisk had interviewed locals who made known their inhalation of toxic gas.
Fisk returned to the subject of the Douma attacks in early January 2020 in an article concerning the apparent internal disagreements within the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) recorded in documents released by WikiLeaks.
Fisk has described himself as a pacifist and has never voted. He has said that journalism must "challenge authority, all authority, especially so when governments and politicians take us to war." He has quoted with approval Israeli journalist Amira Hass: "There is a misconception that journalists can be objective ... What journalism is really about is to monitor power and the centres of power." He spoke on "Lies, Misreporting, and Catastrophe in the Middle East" at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley on 22 September 2010, and stated, "I think it is the duty of a foreign correspondent to be neutral and unbiased on the side of those who suffer, whoever they may be." He has written at length on how much contemporary conflicts have their origins, in his view, in lines drawn on maps: "After the allied victory of 1918, at the end of my father's war, the victors divided up the lands of their former enemies. In the space of just seventeen months, they created the borders of Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia and most of the Middle East. And I have spent my entire career--in Belfast and Sarajevo, in Beirut and Baghdad--watching the people within those borders burn."
Fisk has received the British Press Awards' International Journalist of the Year seven times, and twice won its "Reporter of the Year" award. He also received Amnesty International UK Media Awards in 1992 for his report "The Other Side of the Hostage Saga", in 1998 for his reports from Algeria and again in 2000 for his articles on the NATO air campaign against the FRY in 1999.
His 2005 work, The Great War for Civilisation, with its criticism of Western and Israeli approaches to the Middle East, was generally well received by critics and students of international affairs and is perhaps his best-known work. However, the reviewer for The Guardian, the former British ambassador to Libya, Oliver Miles, was less enthusiastic. He wrote that "a deplorable number of mistakes" in the 1,366 pages long book "undermine the reader's confidence", and that "vigilant editing and ruthless pruning could perhaps have made two or three good short books out of this one".
Fisk produced a three-part series titled From Beirut To Bosnia in 1993 which Fisk says was an attempt "to find out why an increasing number of Muslims had come to hate the West." Fisk says that the Discovery Channel did not show a repeat of the films, after initially showing them in full, due to a letter campaign launched by pro-Israel groups such as CAMERA.