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Conversations with History: Robert Fisk

May 31, 2021
welcome to a conversation with

history

. I'm Harry Kreisler from the Institute of International Studies. Our guest today is Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for Britain's independent newspaper. He has lived in the Middle East for almost three decades and holds more British and international journalism awards than any other foreign correspondent. He is the author of Pity the Nation, a

history

of the Lebanon War and, more recently, of the great war for civilization, the conquest of the Middle East. Robert Fisk is visiting Berkeley to speak at a meeting in Mecca. Mecca is the Children's Alliance of the Middle East and is committed to protecting and defending the rights of all people, especially children.
conversations with history robert fisk
Fisk's welcome to Berkeley, thank you very much, where we were born and raised in a town called Maidstone in Kent, south-east England, about 30 miles from London. My father was a local accountant, township treasurer. My mother was the daughter of local cafe owners. My father came from the north of England, much older than my mother, he was a soldier in the First World War, my mother joined the RAF in the Second World War, my father was too old to fight, I was born in 46 , right after the war ended and, looking back, how Do you think your parents greatly influenced the way you think about the world?
conversations with history robert fisk

More Interesting Facts About,

conversations with history robert fisk...

When I was 10 years old, my father, my mother, took me on my first trip abroad, which was to France, and my father wanted to go back to Psalm and find the places where he had fought and of course almost died and to find the house in who spent his first night of peace on November 11, 1918, found the house and did not enter, he was too shy. I came back later with a film crew many many years later and I knocked on the front door and the grandmother the granddaughter of the old lady who looked after him still lived there so she introduced me to the history of the 20th century the terrible 20th century and I grew up as a child At home listening to the radio news that my father listened to every morning, which was usually about news of the British colonial withdrawal wars in Cyprus, Kenya Stein, the constant travel returned to France, my father returned again to the Western Front and I was going to eat when I went to see the colossal and terrible Franco-German battle and when I went to school I knew that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand had started the First World War.
conversations with history robert fisk
I knew that World War II began in '39. That Germany invaded France in 1948. I had heard Churchill's speeches, so my father's near-obsession with war was not another healthy, but certainly sometimes a disturbing way. A huge photo of Churchill sitting in a Downing Street photograph hung grimly above our mantelpiece year after year, only after his death. My mother asked me if she thought it was cruel to remove it. I told him no, remove it. Putting up a watercolor of a river in Kent, you know, and so I mean they got interested in the story. My father was.
conversations with history robert fisk
I'm fascinated by books and history, but why didn't you become a historian? Still, what do you think this year will be like? Yes, I'm doing my best to travel, but at some point you decide to become a foreign correspondent. I do not tell you. What was it? Yes, I think if you are a foreign correspondent you are a kind of historian. Yes, what made me become a journalist when I was 12 years old, we had black and white television at home and once a week they showed a movie. The rest of the time it was boring plays and concerts you wouldn't want to hear, and one Sunday afternoon they showed Hitchcock's creaky old paranoid film, Foreign Correspondent, in which Joel McCrea is an American reporter, Humphrey Haverstock, who was expelled from New York recently. before the start of World War II and discovers that the top Nazi agent in London is pursued by the Gestapo through Holland witnesses a political assassination is shot down by a German pocket battleship over the Atlantic and lives not only to present a scoop to New York but the most beautiful woman in the movie wins and I thought at 12 years old this sounds like yeah, it seems like I wouldn't mind having this life, of course, it didn't really turn out that way, but the fact is that This was the movie that made me believe that being a foreign correspondent would be a very adventurous and exciting life.
I didn't realize it could be such a depressing or dangerous life in the movies, of course the hero always lives. I think one of the tragic things about journalism is that a lot of my colleagues died because they came to wars with no experience except Hollywood and they thought the hero would live and of course that's not always the case but that was a movie that made me It shocked me and then my father wanted me to be a doctor. He wanted me to be a lawyer, one of the professions, and in desperation one afternoon he invited one of those fake guys.
We always have a family friend. Uncle Tom was good. Uncle Tom arrived. I told him, well, there are a lot of fake guys. The guy is nearby, said Robert, if you were in a court of law and you saw the lawyer presenting his case before the judge and you saw the journalist with his green visor, which one would you like to be? And I said, the journalists, without a doubt, I was about 14 years old and he. I turned to my father and said, well, your son is going to be a journalist, so what kind of education did you go through before you started working?
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. I went to an English public school, which in England means private school of course, which was brilliant teaching Latin extremely brutal I was beaten for reading a book about Czech history at a football match Czech history is much more interesting than English football I went to my first university I did my degree in Latin and linguistics at Lancaster University in the north of England I had already started working because I didn't think I was going to get a university place at a local newspaper in Newcastle upon a time, which was a tough, boozy port coal mining area in the north east of England.
I started working after graduating at the Sunday Express in London, I wrote the newspaper column where I chased the Lord Mayor's, ran away with young stars, not bad as I had training to cover the Middle East and ask unpleasant questions to the people. American and British politicians, and in fact, then I joined The Times I went to Northern Ireland in London before Murdoch took over and destroyed its integrity and I went up north for five years as a correspondent. My first conflict was real, but nothing compared to the colossal bloodbath I have covered and witnessed. in Bosnia, Algeria, the Middle East there was a strike in the but it was political science, but The topic was Irish neutrality in the Second World War, which allowed me to read many British German articles on the Second World War which once again renewed my interest in it and at the same time gave me a historical background very critical for the Middle East because Of course, much of the history of the Middle East I am seeing results as a direct result of World War I, my father's Treaty of Versailles and World War II, the Jewish Holocaust, the creation of the State of Israel, so in a way, this university education plus my father's memories and education gave me a pretty horrifying view of the 20th century which of course I was in.
I was born in the first half of the 22nd. I should add that my father was born in 1899, so I can say that my father. I was born in the last century and, by the way, there aren't many six-year-olds who can say that, but anyway I think this kind of combination occurred, so that in the Middle East I had already been in the Middle East . Before I did my PhD, I suddenly discovered that I had this kind of literary historical interest that was locked up in me. My PhD became a best-selling book in Ireland on Irish history and is still out in schools, so in fact I still lecture in Ireland on modern Irish history as a dr.
Fisk, the academic, not Robin Vista's foreign correspondent, and for that reason I think I began to see more in my work than I had seen before, I don't mean what I was writing but what I was witnessing and seeing as the years passed. It happened and I switched to the independent from the days when the independent had just started, it's a brilliant new center-left newspaper and a newspaper that, fortunately for me as an editor, always had litters that think they should print what the magazine is . right, not what they own or once the owner wants Juris to write what it was, which is a wonderful magical situation that hopefully always stays that way, but that's basically what happened, it was my education, my entry into journalism and that Unlike most correspondence, I had the good or immense misfortune, depending on your point of view, of staying in the same area doing the same job on British newspapers.
We don't have this American tradition of sending a reporter there for three years and then just when he's started getting the contacts they understand the language of the story they move him someone else has to start over I'm against this system I think it lets you know everything of nothing and nothing of everything and slandering journalists the old line oh you've gone native your rubbish you don't go native in a war zone it's too dangerous so I'm done and moving on and I'm in my early 30s actually based in Beirut, I believe. It would be interesting for our audience, which is both the public and the students, to understand the same.
Well, yes, you are doing this very snobbish academic thing about how students are a little different, to quote ordinary members of the public, no. I was actually trying to say that interviewing is actually used for courses, but that in fact both college students and the public need things explained to them in a way that academics often don't. Lou, shall we call them? We call them burritos, yes, yes, well, but readers, academics. So, unfortunately, the purpose here is to satisfy these dual needs. Anthropologists use sick language to exclude people from discourse. Yes, again, I have written about the Beirut message.
I must tell our audience and I would like to show the book Chalmers Johnson once criticized me for not showing the book enough I want to show your book again your book is beautifully written and read you could have done it you could be a novelist but in reality you are in the field like this which I think is important for our audience to explore, you know what goes into doing what's full of footnotes and references. Correct bibliography. I mean, it's a completely academic reference, yes, yes, but I'm not being critical, but I guess I want to ask you.
What are the necessary skills? Do you think you can do what you do if someone wants to imitate it? First of all, don't try to do what I do because it is a dangerous and lonely life unless you are and it can be a very depressing life, believe me and There was a former Sunday Times Middle East correspondent who died tragically in the 1973 war. He was killed on the front line of the Golan and once wrote with bitter irony and great humor that all you need to be a foreign correspondent is to have some possible information. knowledge of English and wet as cunning and unfortunately it is one of the reasons why I always laugh at this has a lot of truth.
I think what you have to do and it's something that my editors have let me do and if they didn't do it, that would be It doesn't work for them, you have to be passionate, you have to read, read war and peace. It is an extraordinary book about the reality of war. I remember in Sarajevo I was with a Russian soldier within the UN force under shell fire. rounds are falling and we were discussing Tolstoy's description of the Battle of Borodino and how it was exactly the same as what we are now, you have to read Anna Karenina about lost love and betrayal, you have to read novels about the First World War you have that reading poetry well being fascinated always carry history books in your back pocket I mean, I read and read all day sometimes 18 hours a day I work sometimes 25 hours a day I work hard being a foreign correspondent but I think you have to be able to write with passion and you have to have the freedom to write angrily and point out the bad guys.
If I see a massacre, I don't hesitate to say who did it and why I think they did it. Am I the editor who assigns the calendar? Who is my little independent? He describes our newspaper as an opinion newspaper and wants his correspondence to be on the front lines saying what it's like and who the bad guys are and it usually turns out to be them. They're all bad, maybe the journalist is bad too, but certainly most of them, most of them, you know, I remember one time Ed Cody of the Washington Post, who was at the AP then, still looking for the job in Beijing and Now he was taking me through Lebanon for my first battle in the Civil War in 1976 and Bob said, many people tell you that this fee is a right of the Syrians, the right or the Palestinians, a walk or the Christians are right withthey.
The Muslims come to Lebanon, they said, believe me, they are all bastards and of course you can take a lot of ease with that, but what I was trying to say is that there are no good guys in war mmm and you are right and you are wrong, yeah, You know, all these things, the movies give you the idea that war is about victory, defeat. Heroism and Canada is not war, it's mainly about the total failure of the human spirit, it's about death and death inflation hmm and if you don't realize that you will die, you know what you will only forget about Hollywood, yeah, one of the things.
What really stands out in your work is that you go places where some people dare to go and you listen and you see and then you write, that's the thrill of journalism and writing, that's the thrill of seeing history as it happens if you're you're going to spend your time at presidential press conferences off-the-record briefings with embassies ambassadors defense attaché 'you're right, an analysis worthy of calling hopelessly boring people what I call stupid, thank you in Washington, New York or London, dear journalists, They may live in County Mayo or Denver. and do that as you don't know with a mobile phone and the Internet that I don't use, in reality a different matter is born now you don't need to do it, it seems to me that our only role at the moment is to be on the street, on the battlefield, with soldiers and civilians in hospitals, in particular, and record the suffering of ordinary people and talk to them.
I find that a colleague of mine, an Australian, returned the other day from southern Lebanon very moved and said that people had just lost. her daughter who died in a cluster bomb left over from the Israeli invasion and her in the city, but the people who spoke so nobly, you know, I see a lot of nobility and common people. I'm not really interested, I mean, I'm interested in why. people go to war why did Bush go to war before the Iraq war? Because I travel, I say it's a lot to give lectures. I chose. I was at Harvard on September 12 when Bush gave his General Assembly lecture on futility. of a nation and I couldn't believe that there was going to be an invasion of Iraq.
I couldn't believe it and my editor didn't believe it, but my final exam is one day and I went to the United Nations. I am accredited to you, so when I sat very close to Bush. I had never seen him in person before. The television shows us a flat piece of land between bushes and I saw a bush and there was some kind of memory that the Iranians always referred to and I never thought they understood it. They were always wise. I talked about the arrogance of power, the people of the United States of America always seemed the size of two cubes, of course, and I realized that I was going to have a war, I was going to have it, and I walked out of the General Assembly and called and a bell rang. on the phone across the country I said Leonard, I'm sorry, I was wrong, there's going to be a war, so by pure chance I was back in the United States giving a lecture on the East Coast when Colin Powell made his famous February 5 statement in the Security Council, so He went out again to the UN in New York, this time to the Security Council and again, surprisingly, there was a tenant sitting like Ernest Borgnine, you know, old black and white behind Collier or not, no, no, yes, yes, okay, yes, the gangster was a cigar and he just looks a bit like a thug, he actually turned and from the corner he didn't see us on TV in walked little Jack Straw, our Secretary of State Outside in a huge power suit and looked around, saw Colin Powell and ran on his little feet. he got his big American hug, you know, he told you a lot about power and help and why Blair does what Bush wants, you know, and then Cohen's power started producing this again, you had to be there at the scene watching it for Television was not good enough and the first thing that appeared was this great artistic impression.
Colin Powell told us that the Iraqis who are now using mobile chemical weapons laboratories had difficulty with the test tube on the train. It was a cross-sectional cream picture and a scientist in a long white coat humming gets moving because of course right, and this was supposed to be the mobile weapons lab, you see, I look at this, I thought, wait a minute, whoever drew this in the Pentagon at the State Department has never been to The Iraqi state railways go off track all the time with sanctions, the railway line is not good, it is not possible for even the basic system of sigh was wrong and then they had some quotes from one Republican Guard supposedly talking to another on a wiretap. in which once and whatever you do don't let them see this and the answer was consider it done sir now no one gave us the chance which I would love to read but I just saw this I said this is forgive me for the things that come Upon rereading about Apple, this is nonsense, yes, nonsense and I wrote the next day that the New York Times will take this with its usual sobriety and, indeed, it did so with Judith Miller, determined on weapons of mass destruction, journalism American, but you had to be there. have the confidence to say it's not right mm-hmm and discuss it with you knowing that you're a few feet away from power rather than just sitting in London and watching it in a silo or sitting in Beirut and watching it on satellite TV, so it's being there something that's important I can't be there I don't want to be a general this while you're describing your job and you're doing it so well it occurs to me that it's time to ask you about the horrible American way of saying it it's a mission statement, but let's say as a journalist and I think the mission stuff is fine, but what's your goal in what you do because I think it's about criticizing power, on the one hand, what you just did, but it's also about, I think, what you just did.
That is, empathy with people who are really suffering. Correct consequence: I go to a hospital or a ruined building in Lebanon and I see children with their hands cut off and I see things that would make you vomit every morning and then I sit in Beirut, I turn on my television, I see our dear Lord Blair, Of course, Amara, as I rightly call you, we can only have an absolute ceasefire when we are sure it will hold and I know you are lying about what you mean. is that Bush doesn't want a ceasefire yet because he wants the Israelis to have more time to defeat Hezbollah, therefore more children are going to be screaming in the hospitals but they don't care that their experience of the war is televised.
There is not a single western cabinet minister anywhere in the western hemisphere, the western world that has ever experienced war now is incredible, when I grew up we had the prime minister to bring in Eden Churchill as a leader being the first and second world when I worked for the first time in Northern Ireland. the first Secretary of State was William White Law had been at the Rhine crossing Invasion of Germany 4445 Ali doesn't take it all from Hollywood, bring it, didn't he? Bush said, but yes, the division was his farm, what movie do you know? today it is our leaders who are like that, but it is also our soldiers because they play computer games before they go to war, yes, but once they are in war, I can tell you that they play computer games with a different framework, yes , mine.
I speak to the American troops in Iraq, that is, I speak to the French troops in the southern tier. I also took two soldiers, but yeah, it's seeing this suffering on this scale and sometimes you know the family is standing by the bed of a dying child and attacking me, you probably know who I am, you don't care, you know, I was beaten by a gang of Afghans in a village just after September 11, 2001, on the border, all their families are being killed in B-52 attacks and they. attacking me with stones and hitting me in the face with stones was very bad.
I was very close to being killed and I wrote in the newspaper, you know, if my family was killed by a B-52 and I was Afghan, I would probably do the same thing. Robert no. I don't forgive them or excuse them, but I understand it, you know it and you see this terrible suffering, these monumental crimes against humanity, let's talk frankly, that's what we're talking about, we've all committed them, not just Al Qaeda, we all committed crimes against humanity. and I think that if you don't report it, people won't know. I mean, I always say it in a pretty arrogant way because I think I've realized that we can tell you what's going on, never tell anyone.
I told you don't say you didn't know add to that and this is in the book and I know you have interviewed Amira Hass very excellent Israeli journalist about what our job is or should be no foreign correspondence necessary our job is to monitor the centers of power to challenge authority all the time, all the time, all the time, especially when they're going to war and they're going to kill people and lie about it, and the sad thing is that largely don't do that you just have to look at the wheels of press mr. president mr. brett mr.
President, yes, but yes, Julie, yes, John, you know this osmotic and parasitic relationship between journalism and power, particularly in the United States, but it means that in Europe and especially in Britain, in Europe, it is very painful observe it because the questions are: can you give us more general information? about how many of your men were involved, rather can you explain why they brought in three dead children and we have seen the video tape and your men were there? He knows it completely, but he sees the close embrace of power on American television, the State Department. correspondent the White House correspondent the Pentagon team the basic basically spokesperson or spokespersons depending on the colors of the lights bothers women there are no more journalists than the official spokesperson of the State Department or the President or the White House this glorifying a cross of journalism in power I saw it very clearly, in 1990, when American troops were gathering in Saudi Arabia for the Gulf War, the first Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from Saddam, and the curious thing was that many journalists showed up , especially for guys from the American Midwest who had never been abroad.
Before, in a military suit, a guy from Denver with shoes with camouflaged leaves appeared in some kind of flat valley. Not seriously. I mean, if you've seen a desert, even in a photo, you'll know that there aren't many trees. You know, but the funny thing was you know I went out into the desert and you know I wasn't embedded in it. I just drove up to the American troops from the British troops and they talked to me because he loved me and they would get tired of it. They were wet and had food poisoning all the time.
I always brought them stacks of newspapers to give them and packets of cigarettes and you know, they talked and they all wrote, they tried to write poetry, a guy in an Abrams tank had worked. in a huge board game about flying between planets and knowing when they could refuel a spaceship, of course it was about being a tank crewman in a desert without knowing how to start refueling, as I quickly realized, and they were quite the people. literary, a British guy. I was trying to write poetry I wasn't very good but I was trying and suddenly I realized that all the soldiers wanted to be journalists and all the journalists wanted to be soldiers there is something there that was very dangerous to let go looking at your career how it has evolved over time. over the 30 years and has covered all these wars to talk a little bit about how the work has changed, yes, you are writing, you have improved, was there a certificate and was it because it was in the commitment to what you were doing that and you had So much so that telling no more was because what I was seeing was so terrible that it gave me an absolute determination to write more freely mm-hmm to tell it like it is in the best tradition of American journalism, as opposed to the worst traditions we see now, You know, I was thinking the other day, as I was flying here from Beirut a couple of days ago, I was thinking about something that Seymour Hersh told me.
I like her, she is a friend of mine. I don't see much because we talk on the phone. I met him, of course, and he said, "You know, there's no congratulations in American newspapers these days for publishing a big story that's going to be controversial. They want safe journalism. And he said, yeah. He was a street reporter in Chicago, he said and I started out as a street reporter and he was surfing online. I understand exactly what he meant and I think that's a problem, a lot of journalism on the east coast of the United States, now you know, it's graduate journalism. maybe degrees in journalism that don't count, I mean degrees in English history or multix, yes, but not in journalism, and you know, I was very struck by the fact that journalists are supposed to be obedient.
Now look at the reports from the West Bank, you know, where you, a journalist, an American journalist, keep referring to occupied territories, disputed territory, where the wall is called a fence, where a colony is called a settlement or neighborhood, you know, or an outpost, we are constantly sizing the war so that it is safe journalism for you It will not be called controversial, heavens, pay, if someone accuses youfalsely of being anti-Semitic and this type of journalism breeds its own kind of internal laziness, you know, it is also very lethal because if the public is presented with an image of the Middle East in which its offenses and disputes offend like the bottom of your garden the dispute that you can sew on a glass than a cup of tea in a court case then the use of violence becomes generically courageous becomes absurd and the simplest in Ian's, for example, he can throw stones or whatever become people of generically violent people generically violent when in reality there are walls and if the people who occupy your own land keep it I am against violence for all reasons or whatever but at least you can understand what it means so that We can DISA blinds our eyes and makes war more lethal in the same way that television, for example, does not show us the worst scenes we see.
I remember one time a team coming back from Basra in the Iraqi-American war was not integrated, I mean, they were on the Iraqi side. of the line and they returned to Baghdad with terrible photographs, child, his hand was blown off, the screams of a woman with shrapnel coming out of her stomach and they sent these photographs to London, to the Reuters Office, another and I remember this haughty voice that came back , we can Don't show these photos or even bother sending them anymore, you know? Will there be people vomiting at breakfast time? We wait, this is porn, see, and then the worst quote of all the ones he said.
I remember his words. I read it in Baghdad. I know he said we have to show respect for the dead and I thought, well, let's not show them any respect when they're alive, but when they're in pieces, we have to respect their bodies, they haven't forgiven me, you know, I always tell the people. On the road near Basra in 91 I saw women, as well as soldiers and civilians, old people destroyed by British bombs, and also Americans and dogs. breaking them into pieces to eat, it was lunch time, didn't I tell you? If you saw what I saw, you would never support a war again, but you wouldn't show it on television, and by not showing that on television we present to the world a sandbox without blood, we pretend that war is not so bad, it is surgical, it always attacks surgically.
Surgery is a place where you heal in the hospital, not where your engines are turned off in the apartment and so we make it easier for our leaders, our generals, our prime ministers, our presidents. sell us the war and buy the war and then accept it and that makes us lethally guilty and potentially war criminals in a very moral sense of the word, so in a moral sense I should say that this lack of vision about the war of what it's really about war leads to changes in military strategy that says we can do everything by computer, we can go to a place like a shelf, you know, bomb the place and then leave immediately so there will be an attack. between what's happening in the culture and the type of war, American leaders at least one, yeah, I mean, the culture of journalism in war hasn't changed much, I mean, reporters during World War II, I want That is to say, with the Western armies they were practically in place and why didn't we all know that we were not allowed?
We knew that Hitler's regime was an evil, evil, terrible regime, but they were able to tell a lot about the blood, splintered bones, and civilians that were scattered in the same way. the concentration camps and their extermination camps when they were liberated came out rightly, but the images you see, the film cameras were not the same, so Vietnam was, without a doubt, a turning point, you saw a lot of blood and gore in Vietnam , not as much as it was, but you saw it became a political problem for exactly that reason, yes, and rightly so, now the problem is that at the end of the day television will not exceed any limits, we have to have access, we have to have images, we have images and that the other day.
Every time, every time the television journalists, the cruise companies have confronted the military saying, "you may not, you won't," they said, "we have to get a higher court." Ric will go to the freedom chord and they will give in and do what the military wants and in the middle she knows that they are going to do what they want at this moment it is almost impossible to travel anywhere in Iraq and the US military is very happy with the fact that we cannot investigate the bombing of villages we cannot go to. Helmand province in Afghanistan because they would kill us my colleague Patrick Coburn from the independent wrote a very well written article in the newspaper my newspaper goes there the independent you said you know the worst thing about hearing Tony Blair say that things are getting better in Iraq is that if we went there where we could prove him wrong, they would cut our throats because it's getting worse, but he can say we're not going, it's getting better, look, yeah, you know, and, but no.
I mean, I think the culture of not covering war properly has disappeared, but you'll always find a way around it if you want, if you want, I don't have a camera, well, I carry a still, can I still use it? Actual film, by the way, I'm not digitalized yet, so I don't use email or the Internet, but I can, I can make my way and talk my way, and I know enough people in that region to get what I want. is looking at his extraordinary career. I want you to look back and it's extraordinary. It's actually pretty depressing because of how good it is, but it's extraordinary compared to how many reporters cover these situations, if at all, but I'm curious. there where there was an event a war an incident a destroyed village where you did a second take and it took you to a new level of understanding yes and whatever, the massacre at the Shatila dinner well from September 16 to 18, 1982 when the phalanxes Israel's Lebanese Christian allies were sent into the countryside and massacred up to 1,700 Palestinians.
I entered the field with an American and Norwegian colleague, a colleague and the killers were still in the field. There was still shooting and we found piles of bodies that we had to climb up. about them in our hands and these corpses rotting in the sun and we should explain to our audience if it was the Israelis who allowed the Lebanese Christians because they told the Christians that English is not yes, they sent them to destroy the Palestinian terrorists, yes , there were. There was no man in the calculation and the terrible thing about this, as the Israelis later revealed in their official account, is that the Israelis saw this happen and they did nothing mm-hmm and this surprised me a lot because when I was in the camp I could see the Israelis watching and doing nothing mm-hmm, they watched and did nothing and I remember one time I ran with my American colleague we heard the murderers coming down the street and we ran to the back of the backyard of this house and he I closed the door, the gentian waited hoping that they wouldn't find us because we thought he was going to kill us to where the witnesses and I looked down with the left side of my eye and I saw this young woman lying on her back with her head up . toward the sun, hands outstretched with a halo of clothespins around her head, she had been putting out the clothes and behind her back was this trail of ant blood running through the garden, she had just been killed as we crossed the backyard the murderers obviously left through the front door.
I remember seeing this woman thinking she would get up and say, my back hurts, she was dead, of course, and I remember that night I went back to the AP office in those days we had telex, those old machines with tapes, there were I had to turn on a sterilized oven, it was Saturday and we didn't have a Sunday newspaper with the times, so I didn't have to submit the application for the next day and I sat there, in absolute distraction. This had happened. I have never seen slaughter on this scale so cruelly policed ​​by a civilized army.
And I wrote that night with a freedom of anger and passion that I had never felt before because there were casualties on a grand scale. An excellent Israeli writer later compared it to the murders of the Istaris in Bosnia in World War II, which the Germans witnessed, that did not say that the Israelis were Germans, which is nonsense, they are not, but that is with which compared it and I remember seeing the AP. The phone calls from the offices came in from New York, how can you really call this a massacre? I remember telling the AP editor and I was working from his office when, like a massive war against you, my crime against humanity and when you don't trust you do a massacre, are you really getting involved in this?
Haven't you seen the photos and the photo of people saying: I can't believe this? You know this is a war crime. A war crime is taking my dirty photos out of an envelope. You know, and I remember arguing afterwards, particularly with American television reporters, that they were using first a videotape and then through the images, it was very difficult to take the videotape to Damascus and have their satellite on, no. it was just about having a little machine, there's this and us. Everyone agreed that we now have a freedom to talk about the wars in the Middle East and about Israel, something we have never had before.
Then, of course, a new generation of journalists came along, and many of them went back to reporting things the old-fashioned way, where they had to be done. talk about, you know, contested instead of occupied and fences instead of walls, whatever, but that's what changed me after that, I remembered clearly people telling me that my mother was still alive that my father, my dead mother, now you really write very differently now and quite a bit. of my colleagues did to the Guardian's David Hurst. I noticed the way his writing changed and became tougher and much more passionate and intense and I think journalism should be this business where we all have to give 50% of the story to you. side and 50% on the other to be impartial quote absolute garbage we should be partial we should say who the bad guys are we should denounce the Syrians when they commit hammer murders and the Iraqis when they gassed people and the Israelis when they massacred refugees on the roads of the southern Lebanon, you know, if we were covering the slave trade, would we give equal time to the captain of the slave ship?
No, we would talk to the slaves, right? If we were present at the liberation of a Nazi death camp, would we give Equal time to the SS spokesman, forget it, we talked to the survivors and we talked about the victims when I was in Jerusalem in August 2001, that was when a suicide bomber Palestinian blew up a pizzeria full of women and children. I went and wrote about the children I saw dead in front of me Israeli children, of course, I didn't tell half my story to the spokesmen of the Islamic Jihad, you know, a same established illa.
I didn't write about the IDF. I wrote about the victims, so we should have. a sign, it should be a moral side for us, okay, we can publish it occasionally, but if we are not going to write like that, what's the point of being there, taking the risk and sending a correspondent all over the world? I mean, I give you my perfect example of what's wrong with journalism right now, the title to be sure and I quote someone else, Patrick Coburn, my colleague again was in Baghdad, he was on the balcony of his broom and the Bullets were flying outside, there are all the time.
That's the hell of a disaster and he saw an American colleague crawling across his balcony holding his satellite phone and talking on him, he thought, Oh my God, that must be a unique story to take that kind of risk. I think I went back to the room. and later that night he said, by the way, it was very brave of you to take that risk, what the hell were you finally? Even though he said he was reading the Brookings Institute, he needed a quote about what was happening in Iraq, yes, that's what's wrong with Americans. journalism, that's what's wrong with American magazines, that's what's wrong with journalism.
In fact, I should say that you know we are talking about other generals. The French are very good at arriving on the scene and reporting the reality. I know France doesn't have a very clean reputation in American politics, but by God, they have a good one. Journalists read translation of a liberal figure low and have to work a lot with French people. Normally I work alone, but if I work with other reporters I tend to work with Italians or French because my God, they come to the war front. Your book begins with your three interviews with Osama.
I may have to live with this boy that some I have loved for the rest of my life. I know, yes, but I guess you know there's a lot in them. and so on, but I would just like you to look back at those interviews because, as I read them in the book, I think they woke you up to what was to come even though you didn't know why, I don't think. They woke me up as much as I think they do now or are you going to go? You can look back on the reflection of what you know happened later, for example, in the interview, the last interview I did with him before 9/11.September, just what these Everyone would have been on the base effects team one of the '90s in Sudan, so you wanted to see me in Afghanistan after 9/11.
I tried to get to him, yes, but the Taliban who were taking me were afraid of the bombs in front of us. The United States attacking the Taliban, who are supposed to go to heaven if they die as martyrs, they didn't want to die, but I said we got sick. I was the one who said, well, they were supposed to demonstrate anyway, we didn't. So yeah, it was 97 and he told me that we were on top of a mountain at one of their training camps originally built, of course, by the CIA to fight the Russians and he told me, Mr.
Robert, from this mountain where he is sitting. We destroyed the Soviet army in the Soviet Union we destroyed the Russians, which was a huge exaggeration but had some truth. It was the destruction of the Soviet army in Afghanistan that led to the fall of the Soviet Union. You know, free Russia forever. more quotes about the word free right now and then he said and I pray to God to allow us to turn America into a shadow of itself. I remember the images of the Twin Towers falling when Manhattan was a shadow of itself and on the sidelines when I got the notebooks to write this book.
I discovered that he had written the real notebook that he had in front of Bin Laden. He had written rhetorical questions like, well, yeah, hollow laughter. I certainly went back and revisited my notes recently. I saved everything I got, three hundred and twenty-eight thousand files of images, photographs, tapes, notebooks, clippings, photocopies and I discovered that several times before September 11 I wrote in the independent newspaper, on one occasion I stopped quite a television program on CBC in Toronto, or in broadcasting. Saying I was talking about the explosion that was coming, I made a real movie for cinema, but also for Channel 4 and Discovery Channel in 1993, in which I walk into a burning mosque in Bosnia and my squads on the soundtrack were when I see things like This I remember the place where I work in the Middle East when violence is committed there we call it senseless terrorism but when I see things like this I wonder what the Muslim world has in store for us maybe I should end each of my reports with the words be careful and for this book I went through all the clips that we still have, the celluloid film clips and we put on that mask on September 11, 1993 mm-hmm, eight years before, but we did it right, the New York Times condemned this.
The series, by the way, is being sensational, so yeah, I mean, you didn't have to meet Bin Laden if he lives in the middle East and you spent your time with regular people, not embassy officials, it means you knew that something was going to happen, you knew something was going to happen, it's going to happen again, it's going to happen again. I have a trick question for you and these are the trick questions in You Don't Know, Yeah I Don't Know, but I guess the question is because thanks to you, I just read your book. I mean, two figures stand out, Sharon and Osama bin Laden, and they stand out, and my father stands out, yes.
My dad is all over the beat. I didn't realize, yes, no, I'm sorry, but I want you not to say anything about it. These are two men who have really shaped this story at the time you're writing. and I'm curious how you would compare them, because they've both done some really horrible things. I would say our fact is there, with very, very bad results in my book. Yes, so what we now end up with is an extremely corrupt person. almost painted worse than Saddam said another Saddam comes another yes yes I find all these people very sinister that's what I was good yes it is very sinister yes and of course there is no point in avoiding the fact that when you meet a sinister person you want to take him out your screwdriver, unplug the computer and find out what's going on inside it.
You know, and I think it comes down to a question of whether you can use words like wicked and wicked mmm-hmm. I have met people in the ordinary government of the Lebanese civil war. that they take drugs that they enjoy the torture that they have raped and enjoyed and they are bad people I don't know if they are formable anyway after the war I have seen them again I met their little children with whom they have played my kitten on my balcony you have to admit their humanity even if they don't have it mm-hmm I find that the greatest sin of people beyond their individual crimes is their absolute conviction Chiron had it right if he is still with us you Couldn't I say that when I spoke with Bin Laden I constantly tried to debate with he?
You can debate with Hezbollah leaders. You can debate Nasrallah in front of many of these people. In fact, you can debate Saddam. Strange as it may seem to him, not with our fact. He had the complete sawfish Bin Laden, you couldn't have a serious discussion with him, he knew what was right and he knew he was right and I have to say that sometimes, when reading all my notes from my meetings, there were some parallels with George W Bush mmm- mmm, good and evil, they are us, they hate us for our values, our democracy, in a kind of mirror, weakly parallel, in a horrible way, reflects the kind of language of a summer bin Laden that It is equally absolutely inflexible, but in the case of bin Laden it does not.
I don't have a town that can deselect it and there is no stopping point after the second edition of your book. You know you talk about the sense of history that he inherited from your father. Just to quote you here you say after the Allies. victory of 1918 at the end of my father's war the victory divided the lands of his former enemies in the space of just 17 months created the borders of Northern Ireland Yugoslavia most of the Middle East and I have spent my entire career in Belfast and Sarajevo in Beirut and Baghdad watching how people win within those borders, so my question is: where do you find these people that you just described, the Bin Ladens? okay, but then do it, where do you find the good?
It is in the little people that you hear, that you see, the suffering in those people who lost their daughter, who showed so much nobility, it is in the family under fire, in their home, under Israeli artillery fire. who run out onto the road and grab me and take me to their living room so I can lie on the ground with them and stop them from killing me they didn't have to do that mmm-hmm and they're not my religion well I don't I know if I have a religion, but I'm certainly not theirs, yes, you know, I'm living among a people who have kept their faith when we Westerners haven't in fact lost it, mmm-hmm, that's Arnold's famous poem . they will stop retreating for a long time roars the Victorian poem about the loss of faith we don't appreciate these things we don't read the story they do remember it very clearly I think I think the good is only in those little people, you know It always makes me angry to listen to the journalists talk about the effect the war has on them.
Do you know? Will they be able to face the situation? How do you reach agreements that provide advice? It's nonsense. The only people who matter are the ones who can't leave the country. country we can take a plane in club class and have a glass of champagne these people have previous passports they have to live and die there with their families yes, they are good people they don't deserve what happens to them I mean, I must admit when I finished writing this. I was overwhelmed with conviction of how amazed I was by the restraint that Muslims have shown towards us over the past 90 years.
Astonished we haven't had more 9/11, but we will have more again, I mean. I'm sure it will happen again in London. You know the days when we could go abroad and have foreign adventures. Korean War, Vietnam War and no Viet Cong ever came to Washington. Blocked the State Department. No, North Korea never appeared on London Underground. They were gone forever the new war strategy is that we are not going to be safe in San Diego or Colorado Glass to share northern France with Berkeley, we are no longer safe and we have to accept that if we are going to have these adventures abroad If this is going to be our ideological future you know, Melih Bush at one point said we can have the war on terrorism it can last forever internally what are these nightmares to scare schoolchildren we have to face that I mean I keep saying Stop People who know keep telling us that 9/11 changed the world forever and that allows us to have torture chambers and break the rules we established for human rights after World War II.
Well, Bush allows that time. I will not allow 19 Arab murderers to change my world nor will you nor should Bush have allowed them. When you look at the scope of this story, I feel that we, we, the West, the US are often fooled by our own petard, that our actions tie a yes, we said into motion. I mean we had Juan Cole on the show and I noticed that he pointed out what you point out in your book that we helped create the Iranian nuclear program under the Shah. Yeah, you know that Israel, the Israelis at one point I think supported Hamas when they thought they were and also the so-called shell opponent and that's right, this is just our destiny as humanity, look, you know, Jay, I think what do you know, I will join those who say that it is too simplistic to always blame the West mm-hmm I live among Muslims my drivers are Muslims my owners are Muslims my Muslim lovers you know that I live in the Muslim world I have to say that I do not consciously think about it and they don't do it with me either, these are my peers, these are people.
I risk my life with them, they risk their lives with me or whatever. I didn't really think about whether their relatives go and of course they have a Muslim funeral. So, but I don't think about going to ask myself. It doesn't mean anything to me personally in the sense that it doesn't mean I'm moving through whatever direction we're moving towards. You know, I think the problem for us is that we are the most powerful people, these are the people who have kept their faith, the Muslims, these are the people who still allow and allow and want religion to run like water through their blood networks and their lives like we used to until maybe until the Renaissance in Europe and then we can be puritans in religion, we can know that we can find God in etcetera, etcetera, but as a civilization in the West we have lost our faith and the irony is that we have lost our faith.
We have the power to impose ourselves on people who have not lost it, while people who have lost it. They kept the faith they do not have the physical, military or political power to defend themselves, that is the true nature when people talk about the war of civilizations, which is a total cliché, it is not true, I do not have, I am not involved in a war of civilizations I don't see the war of civilizations, although there are people who would like one, so I think it's really a question of understanding, you know, sometimes I think that the Western world and the Eastern world are very jealous of each other. another, as we profess.
I think the Muslim world wants to go back to the Middle Ages, but I find that many people, from the orientalists onwards, are fascinated by men, you have four wives. Sometimes I think many Westerners would like to have four wives and be very jealous, you can't see it at the same time and this will sound quite cruel at the same time. I know a lot of Arabs who were very interested in the way we have our freedoms, whether it's social freedoms, sexual freedoms in the West, sometimes. I think they are quite jealous of us for having a social freedom that they don't have sometimes.
I think that, rather, like journalists who want to be soldiers and soldiers want to be journalists, Muslims would like to be the West and vice versa, you know? We regret it. I think in some ways we don't have faith. I remember one time my father asked me if he was afraid of dying and I said, I bet he said it's because you've lost faith and I said, Dad, I never had it. any mm-hmm never had me, yes, you know, one of the many ways we can criticize each other, it is possible, what is about one particular thing that I often read in your former colleague and in Lebanon, the scum of Tom Friedman, where is Tom Friedman?
Yes, we are. the frontier of committed criticism of the current regime here, yes, yes, where are the moderates in the Islamic world? You know, this is one of them. I mean, practically the ISM is not right. I get it, so I've talked about it a bit in others. words, but first of all I must tell you that Tom Freeman is an old friend of mine, so I have dinner with him in Dupont Circle in Washington from time to time, but he is really becoming messianic; I probably want to be Secretary of State and at the same time moment and I read it because I know it is outrageous I will laugh for the love of it where are the moderates look we are all moderates if we want to be you know we divide people into doves and hawks more clichés and moderates and they They are moderates or whatever, radicals and fundamentalist fanatics, whatever they call it and take it in French, say that they know that we are all human beings and that we have to decide what we want.
Let them corner us like animals. The softest and gentlest liberal human being will become atiger, you make me angry enough and I'll start yelling at you and getting angry oh, you're not moderate anymore, Bob, if you think you hit and hit and hit people because of their religion, because of their ethnicity, because they seem to oppose it. you and they will turn on you, yeah, and then you'll say they hate us because they don't like our values ​​in our democracy, huh, where are the moderates in America? Well, half of the people who didn't vote for Georgia, everyone, me.
I'm not even sure it's true. You know there is a problem in everyone, but it depends on how we frame our lives. I don't think we can divide people into moderates and moderates, and since we don't use that, you'll notice we don't talk. about Christians, we talk about Muslims and the West because many Chris just left or maybe they are not moderate people who tend to have no power mm-hmm good answer, so all this work is the heavy burden of History in this place in particular did you good, what vision of human nature it left you.
He is a great pessimist about the future. distorted view of the world I remember during the civil war once in Lebanon I took a Lebanese plane or flew just as dangerously from Beirut 7:07 I took a weekend in Switzerland against your girlfriend of mine it would always be 25 years ago and I arrived in Switzerland, which is a country where you can be arrested for throwing a pack of cigarettes on the road and after two weeks of this perfect world, fine and beautiful white wines, a perfect meal, a lady on your arm to walk down the street. I remember.
Going back to Beirut and hearing the crackle of matches from a rifle shot and the smell of burning garbage in the street, thinking that this was the real world, you begin to feel war as the natural condition of humanity, which was very Dangerous when I was there. of editions of this in different languages ​​and I did the French and Dutch edition almost simultaneously over a year ago when it was a beautiful autumn in Europe and I was on the boulevards of Paris and the streets of Holland and I saw a lot of families, you know, children who He had lived in relative safety and security.
I'm sure they have their own problems and I went back to Beirut, which was going through another of its horrendous political crises and had had some bombing to the south by the Israelis, and I remember sitting on my balcony looking over the Mediterranean I got a very nice house. beautiful in Beirut and I thought that I really want to spend these thirty wonderful years of my life the way I did. Know? Couldn't I have been happier? Couldn't I have enjoyed all the people? editor the editor of my book in London took me to lunch when the book came out I said congratulations I told her why it was so good she said no, you survived and I looked back and felt very depressed I really started to wonder if I'd passed my life wrongly and then of course I remembered the foreign correspondent again and Jill McCree being sent to Europe, he was the crime correspondent in New York and his editor has this immortal line: what we need in Europe is a crime correspondent and I began to wonder if maybe I hadn't been a crime correspondent for the last thirty years and I also went back and remembered Robert Fisk.
On a beach in Portugal in 1976 I was briefly a correspondent in Lisbon after the Revolution making a phone call I will send you a letter from my furniture saying I offer you the Middle East mm-hmm because our president announced that he had just gotten married and his widow his girlfriend preferred I didn't want to live I shouldn't want to be a widow I didn't want to live in a war and I realized that if they offered me to do it, the side would have the same life again when I had the opportunity to apply. One last question again, if students were watching this show, how would you advise them to prepare for their future where they might be war correspondents, don't be a war passport, I'm telling you honey, I mean, I'd be very frank. with you if you want to be a reporter you must establish a relationship with an editor in which he will let you write he must trust you and you must make sure that you do not make mistakes but with humor you must make sure that what you write is printed while you write it, otherwise you will never You'll recover from it.
It's a bit like being afraid of something, if you lose your fear you'll never have to worry about it again, but the most important thing is that I get a lot of letters like this from students. Some tell me well, I can't decide, I would like to be a journalist, of course I would like to be a correspondent in the Middle East or maybe I would like to be a lawyer and I always say, look, if it is a choice between being a doctor or a journalist or a lawyer and a journalist, you have to be a doctor, a lawyer. the only person who can be a journalist has a mistake and journalism is the only thing they can do in the world If that's you, you'll be a journalist on that note Robert Fist, thank you so much for being here, let me show you your book again.
Everyone wants to, it will take a while to read it, but The Great War for Civilization and Conquest is definitely worth reading. from the Middle East thank you for this work your work and thank you for being here with us today thank you for watching friend and thank you very much for joining us in this conversation with history you

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