AN EVENING WITH ROBERT FISK

 

 

 

BY: Dr. Khalid Sohail

Listening to Robert Fisk’s lecture was a breath of fresh air in the contemporary suffocating political environment where Presidents and Prime Ministers and Army Generals are suppressing and oppressing not only public opinion but also the writings of journalists. Robert Fisk has been sharing his truth about the Arab and Muslim worlds of the Middle East for the last three decades. He has been aware that there is a price attached to sharing one’s truth, but he is ready to pay that price.

My first introduction to Robert Fisk’s writings was through his interviews with Osama bin Laden. In spite of being a Western journalist I was impressed by his attitude towards Osama, who did not trust any Western official or journalist, but trusted Fisk. To develop a rapport with Osama bin Laden must be his great achievement. He interviewed him not only once but three times. Osama bin Laden considers him the most sympathetic Western journalist who can share Osama’s message to the world sincerely, honestly and candidly. I am not aware of any other Western journalist who is as well respected in the Muslim and Arab world as Robert Fisk is. The only other Western scholar that comes to my mind is Noam Chomsky.

So when I found out that Robert Fisk’s new book had been released and he would be giving a lecture at the University of Toronto on Wednesday November 23rd, 2005, I decided to go with my friends and listen to his lecture. “This is not an opportunity that I would get very often in my life,” I thought. It was also a coincidence that my new book Prophets of Violence, Prophets of Peace was recently released in which I had included a poem Liberating Iraq* dedicated to Robert Fisk. I thought if I got a chance I would ask him to autograph his new book for me and I will present him my book as a gift. The thought was quite exciting. However, I was not sure whether I would be able to actualize it.

When I arrived at the University of Toronto it was already 7:30 pm. and the hall was full. I walked up to the second row and not finding any empty seat, sat on a step. I was quite willing to sit on the floor to listen to this great man who has been challenging the two great powers of the world, the British and American Governments, underscoring that the pen was mightier than the sword. As I looked around, a charming young lady offered an empty chair close to her. I thanked her and took the seat.

As I sat down comfortably I saw Haroon Siddiqui on the stage. Being one of the most well respected and well-known journalists of the East living and writing in the West, he was asked to welcome Robert Fisk. Haroon Siddiqui stated that there was a time when journalists pretended to be impartial and neutral and hid their biases. But with the passage of time more and more journalists shared their opinions openly and honestly and let readers decide which newspaper and which writer they would like to read. Siddiqui stated that Fisk has made his position and his philosophy clear. He is an independent journalist who does not write for any government, he rather writes for the masses and is only answerable to his own conscience.

When Fisk arrived on the stage people stood up and clapped to welcome him. It was obvious that he was among his friends and admirers. I was glad to be one of them.

Fisk had a few notes in front of him while he talked. He was quite an energized and captivating speaker. He held the attention of nearly five hundred people for nearly ninety minutes, after which there was a long list of questions. He answered them honestly and sincerely until his voice became hoarse. After saying goodbye to the audience, he went to the hall to autograph his latest book, The Great War For Civilization…The Conquest of the Middle East for his admirers.

During his ninety minutes lecture there were parts that were personal and there were areas that were political and philosophical. He shared about his Dad who had fought in the First World War and received a medal on which it was engraved The Great War For Civilization. That engraving was the inspiration for the title of his new book. During his lecture, he was quite open about his emotional struggles and philosophical differences with his father who had become conservative in his old age and had become a believer of capital punishment. It seemed as if Robert’s writing this book was partly to resolve his relationship with his father who passed away in 1992. When I listened to his struggles it reminded me of Kafka’s letter to his father in which Kafka shared that his writings played a significant role in his relationship with his father. Unfortunately his father never read his writings. I was not sure whether it was fortunate or unfortunate that Robert Fisk’s father Bill Fisk would never have a chance to read his son’s master-piece. I wondered if his father was still alive whether Robert Fisk would have written anything differently.

Fisk shared how British Imperialists have been trying to conquer Iraq and Middle East for the last hundred years on the pretense of liberating them from their oppressive regimes without realizing that they were making it worse rather than better. Fisk stated passionately that if Muslims and Arabs needed freedom it was ‘freedom from us’, he meant Westerners.

Fisk highlighted that he had travelled widely in different parts of the Muslim and Arab world covering many tragic stories. He believed that America supported many oppressive regimes including Shah of Iran by uprooting a democratic regime of Mosaddagh by CIA efforts and then supporting Saddam Hussain to fight Iranian Khomeni regime. Fisk and his colleagues witnessed and wrote about the use of biological and chemical weapons used by Saddam Hussain provided by America. He said as far as these leaders are in favour of America they are heroes and considered strong leaders but when they do not listen to the dictates of White House, they become dictators and heroes turn into villains.

Fisk shared his disillusionment with those journalists who follow the orders of Presidents and Prime Ministers and Army Generals rather than following their own conscience. He believed that journalists need to share those parts of the story, those aspects of the narrative that are censored by the state. He gave an example that all the American soldiers who are currently dying in the war have names and families and records but all the Iraqis that are losing their lives in that same war are neither recognized nor mentioned.

He recalled that one day when he was visiting an official in Iraq he saw on the computer that in the month of July 2005 alone, more than one thousand Iraqis were killed. Fisk was shocked to find out that in one month the death toll was half of the American lives lost in the last three years. Fisk reported that to the British media but such information is generally censored as Western media do not care about the Iraqi, Muslim and Arab lives. He expressed his sadness at seeing governments controlling the media and sharing half truth. He believed that journalists need to question authority and offer an alternative narration than the official narration of the British and American Governments and tell masses the whole truth.

Fisk seemed pleased to see that more and more common people in the Middle East are challenging the oppressive regimes and expressing their views and opinions.  He stated that even after Yasser Arafat received the Nobel Peace Prize he was asked to ‘control’ his people especially those who were involved in armed resistance. He questioned why the Western powers expect from the democratic leaders in the Middle East to ‘control’ their people rather than ‘represent’ their people. He thinks that linking Islam and Muslims with violence and terrorism is not fair as we do not link Christianity and Christians with violence and terrorism when they kill thousands of people in different parts of the world. He felt that until we genuinely respect Muslims and Arabs we will not have a genuine dialogue and would not be able to resolve conflicts peacefully.

After the lecture I met with Robert Fisk to have my copy of the book autographed and present him with my book, stating that it was a gift for him as it contained a poem that was dedicated to him. He accepted it gracefully and said, “I am not deserving of a poem but I would accept it.” I was impressed by his humility.

Listening to Robert Fisk and meeting him briefly will remain a wonderful memory in my heart and mind for the rest of my life. Now reading his book will become more meaningful.

Dr. Khalid Sohail 

 

LIBERATING IRAQ*

Every child whose limbs were amputated

Every woman whose husband is soaked in blood

Every father whose children lie buried in the ruins

Every grandmother who will never see her grandchildren grow up

Every school that is destroyed

Every hospital that is looted

Every doctor who is deprived of medications because of sanctions

Every building that is hit by cluster bombs

Every statue that is toppled over

Every oil well that is in flames

Every city that is smothered in a cloud of smoke

Every villager who is dying of thirst

Every animal that is starving

And

Every bird that is inhaling toxins

Is asking the whole world

Is this the liberation they promised us?

Is this the blood-drenched freedom that our future generations will remember?

After all, who used the weapons of mass destruction?

 

Khalid Sohail

·        Dedicated to Robert Fisk, an independent journalist

 

 
 

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