|Robert Fisk during a lecture at Carleton University, Canada.|
Robert Fisk is an English writer and journalist from Maidstone, Kent. He has been Middle East correspondent of The Independent for over thirty years, primarily based in Beirut. Fisk holds more British and International Journalism awards than any other foreign correspondent. He has also been voted International Journalist of the Year seven times. He has published a number of books and reported on several wars and armed conflicts.
An Arabic speaker, he is one of few Western journalists to have interviewed Osama bin Laden, which he did on three occasions between 1993 and 1997.
He was born in Maidstone, Kent, on 12 July 1946, an only child. His father, already in his late 40s, was Borough Treasurer at Maidstone Council and had fought in the WWI trenches.
He was educated at Yardley Court preparatory school, Sutton Valence School and Lancaster University, where he cut his journalistic teeth on the student magazine John O'Gauntlet. He later 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".
He worked on the Sunday Express diary column before a disagreement with the editor, John Junor, prompted a move to The Times. From 1972–75, the height of The Troubles, Fisk served as Belfast correspondent for The Times, before becoming its correspondent in Portugal covering the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution. He then was appointed Middle East correspondent (1976–1988). 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". He reported the Northern Ireland troubles in the 1970s, the Portuguese Revolution in 1974, the Lebanese Civil War, the Iranian revolution in 1979, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Iran–Iraq War, the Gulf War, the Bosnian War, the Algerian Civil War, the Kosovo War, the 2001 international intervention in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Fisk has lived in Beirut since 1976, and remained there 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 Arab-Israeli conflict, the Bosnian War, the Kosovo War, the Algerian Civil War, among other conflicts. 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 that 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 saved 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 stationed in Baghdad and filed many eyewitness reports. He has criticised other journalists based in Iraq for what he calls their "hotel journalism", literally 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 [Shia] 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."
Osama bin Laden
Fisk is one of the few Western journalists to have interviewed Osama bin Laden—three times (all published by The Independent: 6 December 1993, 10 July 1996, and 22 March 1997). 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. He dreamed ... 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 ... A journalist's 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 1997 (and final) interview, 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," but 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."
Fisk is 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 the 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." Speaking on "Lies, Misreporting, and Catastrophe in the Middle East," at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, 22 September 2010, Fisk 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 of contemporary conflict has its origin, 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."
The blogosphere term fisking originates from various American conservative blogs, which have taken particular issue with Mr. Fisk, who holds a "very skeptical view of U.S. foreign policy", and his articles and reports. Many of these bloggers have responded by reprinting his dispatches on their blogs, adding their own paragraph-by-paragraph commentary, purportedly dissecting and debunking Fisk's facts and opinions. Irrespective of the success of their endeavour, the term "fisking" has come to denote the practice of "savaging an argument and scattering the tattered remnants to the four corners of the internet".
In a 2002 appearance at the Cambridge Union Society, actor John Malkovich when asked whom he would most like to "fight to the death", replied that he would "rather just shoot" journalist Robert Fisk and British MP George Galloway. Fisk reacted with outrage at both the comment made by Malkovich and for also "associating me with a jerk like Galloway".
He married American journalist Lara Marlowe in 1994 and they divorced in 2006.
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", The Independent on Sunday, 1998 for his reports from Algeria and again in 2000 for his articles on the NATO air campaign against the FRY in 1999.
- Trinity College Dublin awarded him their second, honorary, Doctorate in July 2008.
His 2005 work, The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, with its criticism of Western and Israeli approaches to the Middle East, was well received by critics and students of international affairs and is perhaps his best-known work.
- The Point of No Return: The Strike which Broke the British in Ulster (1975). London: Times Books/Deutsch. ISBN 0-233-96682-X
- In Time of War: Ireland, Ulster and the Price of Neutrality, 1939–1945 (2001). London: Gill & Macmillan. ISBN 0-7171-2411-8 (1st ed. was 1983).
- The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East (October 2005) London. Fourth Estate; xxvi, 1366 pages. ISBN 1-84115-007-X
- The Age of the Warrior: Selected Writings (2008) London, Fourth Estate ISBN 978-0-00-727073-6
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.
Forgery misattributed to Robert Fisk
- Saddam Hussein — From Birth to Martyrdom (2007). Egypt: Ibda; 272 pages. This was an Egyptian publication which falsely claimed Fisk to be the author.