Lindsey German: Robert Fisk's writing armed the anti-war movement and his death is a loss for us all
The death of Robert Fisk in Dublin this week should be mourned by everyone who cares about fine journalism and its role in challenging the official narrative. Fisk’s writing over decades and especially during the period of the ‘war on terror’, which covers virtually the whole of the present century, stands out from nearly all similar reporting for its knowledge, its honesty and its questioning of the official position.
Even when you did not agree with what he said, you always learnt something from a Fisk article, published regularly in The Independent newspaper. He was an expert on the Middle East, lived for many years in Beirut and wrote a good book on Lebanon’s wars, Pity the Nation. He interviewed Osama bin Laden three times. He also was always sceptical – and sometimes downright scathing – about the politicians who take us into wars and justify them in the face of all evidence that they have failed.
His writing on George Bush, Colin Powell, Jack Straw and of course Tony Blair was accurate but contemptuous. He reserved for the latter the name of Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara, the site of a humiliating defeat for the British in Mesopotamia during the First World War.
This is an example from 2010 about an interview Blair had done:
‘Has this wretched man learned nothing? On and on, it went during his BBC interview: “I would absolutely…”,”I definitely…”, “I believed absolutely clearly…”, “It was very, very clear that this changed everything” – “this” being 11 September 2001 – “Let me state clearly and unequivocally”, “The Intelligence picture was clear…”, “legal justification was quite clear”, “We said completely accurately… “Because I believed strongly, then and now…”, “My definitive view in the end is…” You would have thought we won the war in Iraq, that we were winning the war in Afghanistan, that we were going to win the next war in Iran. And why not, if Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara says so.’
He was really quite astonished at the lies and the continuing deception which accompanied the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and saw Blair as a permanent warmonger. His knowledge of the Middle East led him to recognise many of the lies and to understand the devastating damage which Blair’s wars did to the region. He reported many wars, including the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, through to the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, and the later conflict in Syria.
His more recent writing often referenced the First World War, his own father’s experience in the trenches of the Somme in 1918, and how that war reshaped the borders of the former colonies, especially in the Middle East. His book The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East details this history from the Mesopotamian campaign, where Britain lost 40,000 troops, through Sykes Picot, where Britain and France carved up the old Ottoman empire, to the creation of the state of Israel after the Second World War, through to the present where instability remains a constant on one of imperialism’s fault lines.
Fisk told the truth about what he saw with great skill and clarity. He was obviously strongly against these wars and thought that they were unjustified, he railed against the deceit and bluster of politicians. However he always – to the best of my knowledge – kept his distance from anti-war campaigning and activity, despite many requests.
His writing was, despite this, a real weapon in the hands of the anti-war movement. His death is a sad loss for us all and leaves diminished those who speak the truth about war.