Robert Fisk Discusses War, Imperialism and the Media

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Robert Fisk Discusses War, Imperialism and the Media

April 17, 2006

New York Indymedia

By Lucine Kasbarian

New York, NY -- On Friday, April 7, 2006, Robert Fisk – the award-winning, chief Middle East correspondent for the British newspaper, the Independent – flew from Lebanon to address a crowd of more than one thousand on the topic of war, the Middle East, and journalism at New York City’s Ethical Culture Society auditorium.

Fisk was invited by the Nation Institute and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation to kick off a weekend conference called “Armenians and the Left,” and to discuss his latest book, “The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East” (Knopf).

This intrepid investigative journalist, who, in his more than 30 years of war reporting, has seen carnage to last several lifetimes, addressed global issues such as U.S. imperialism in the Mid-East and Transcaucasus, and the implications for small, struggling nations like Armenia. As his publishers rightly describe, Fisk has earned the reputation for “being passionate in his concerns about the Middle East, and relentless in his pursuit of the truth – traits that have enabled him to enter the world of the Middle East and the lives of its people as few other journalists have.” He is a seven-time recipient of the British Press Awards’ International Journalist of the Year Award, and the author of “Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon (Nation Books).

In his introductory remarks, Antranig Kasbarian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation called Fisk “a man of integrity who has put himself in the line of fire in countless wars and invasions, including those in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq.” The capacity crowd gave Fisk a standing ovation as they were told that Fisk “deserves our appreciation – even before he utters a word – for continuing to show a high level of courage in his factual, unflinching war reportage at a time when it is considered unfashionable, if not prohibiting, to criticize U.S. foreign policy.”

In his nearly three-hour presentation, Fisk spoke frankly, expressively and with sardonic wit about Western intervention in the Middle East, war as enterprise, the horrors of war, the dearth of U.S. journalists willing to question authority, and the challenges of war reporting in an age when official news reports are orchestrated by the U.S. government. Known for injecting historical context and trenchant analysis into his reporting and for advocating that it is the duty of war correspondents to report from the perspective of the victims, Fisk recommended that journalists and officials alike carry history books with them to better understand the regions they are assigned to cover -- perhaps as a statement about collective ignorance and amnesia towards empires who tend to repeat odious crimes of the past.

As a young man, Fisk was inspired to become a foreign correspondent after watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie by the same name. “This sounds like a bloody good job,” he said at the time. He got at least one adjective right. In describing his mission as a reporter, Fisk quoted Israeli journalist Amira Haas, who said it is “to monitor power and the centers of power.” By contrast and to underscore the repressive climate in which today’s journalists work, Fisk spoke of how those writers with the temerity to report truthfully about the facts on the ground are painted as unpatriotic and therefore subversive. He charged that mainstream newspapers such as the New York Times should be re-dubbed “American Officials Say,” as a nod to the unfair and unbalanced way in which today’s journalists rely upon state-sponsored sources to convey information to the masses.

Fisk emphasized how war correspondents do more than deliver the news when he described how the longer journalists stay in regions embroiled in war, the fewer civilians invaders can exterminate. He recalled how military occupiers evacuated journalists from West Beirut so that the reporters could not speak of the horrors they would have witnessed, and saw this technique repeat itself in Iraq. Fisk is one of the few journalists who covered the Iraq War from the field. He is a harsh critic of embedded journalism, which he calls “hotel journalism,” to explain a manner of isolation and skittishness with which correspondents report from confined quarters. Charging that journalists who are embedded do the profession a great disservice, Fisk questioned the purpose of war reporting in Iraq: “Reporting for what story?” he asked. “When journalists report from within the heavily-guarded Green Zone, they may as well be filing from Minnesota,” he said.

Fisk spoke frequently and forcefully about the Armenian Genocide of 1915 – a premeditated, governmental campaign to annihilate the Armenian people and drive them from their ancestral lands, now within the borders of Turkey. He expressed disgust that the Armenian Genocide is today denied not only by the descendants of the perpetrating regime in Turkey, but by the United States and Israel, as well. Nevertheless, Fisk expressed certainty that Genocide recognition is on the horizon and observed how progressive Turkish intellectuals such as Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak are struggling to unsheathe the long-suppressed truth about the Armenian Genocide.

One comment by Fisk that was questioned by this writer pertains to Fisk’s remarks that there were do-gooders during World War I, such as missionaries, who campaigned for indigenous rights and even a unified Arab confederacy. What Fisk failed to mention was that even missionaries are not without motive, considering that they are often brought in by colonial occupiers to provide the only sources of food, shelter and education and hence, be in a position to subdue and indoctrinate native populations.

Fisk’s talk at the Ethical Culture Society auditorium was conceived as an opener for the “Armenians and the Left” Conference, which brought together scholars, activists and opinion makers to examine how progressive activists can build coalitions with other dispossessed groups and progressive movements; explore strategies beyond the dominant, conventional ones currently pursued by Armenian-American organizations; and seek alternative ways of understanding Armenia’s predicament besides the usual state-centered approaches. The “Armenians and the Left” Conference, held at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan, featured panels about Globalization and the Politics of Empire, Reparations as Justice; Human Rights in the Caucasus; Armeno-Turkish Dialogue; Women & Political Power; and Armenian Political Identity. The NYC-leg of the Conference culminated with a plenary lecture on War, Media and Propaganda that featured Fisk, Alternative Radio’s David Barsamian and moderator Dr. Levon Chorbajian, Professor of Sociology at UMass Lowell. Fisk then traveled to Boston where he and leading critic of U.S. foreign policy, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky discussed “War, Geopolitics and History: Conflict in the Middle East” to a spillover crowd at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

To hear Fisk and Chomsky online, visit: