RIP Robert Fisk (1946 – 2020)
From Beirut to Bosnia

Robert Fisk was an English journalist, writer and Middle East correspondent for over forty years. He spoke Arabic and interviewed Osama bin Laden no less than three times.

His 1993 three-part documentary, From Beirut to Bosnia is fully available on YouTube. In it he tries to answer the question why Muslims hate the West so much. The words Israel and America are, of course, constantly mentioned. The documentary is somewhat in the style of “The Roots of Muslim Rage” (1990) by Bernard Lewis, but with more sympathy for the Muslims.

The documentary and that article are from before 9/11. The documentary marks the moment when suicide terrorism began on October 23, 1983, when a man carrying two tons of explosives drove into Beirut military barracks and blew two hundred American soldiers into the air. That was in response to the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

At seventeen minutes, Hassan Nasrallah, the man who then led the war against Israel for Hezbollah, whose organization is today referred to as terrorist, explains with a smile with which metaphor an average Westerner can best understand a suicide bomber and martyr:

“Imagine,” he says, “that you are in an extremely hot sauna, in a hammam, for a long time, you get very thirsty and tired and hot, you suffer from the effects of the high temperature, then you get exhausted. Someone tells you that when you open the door, you can go to a quiet comfortable room, where you can drink a nice cocktail, listen to beautiful classical music. Knowing this you will open that door without hesitation, knowing that what you leave behind not a high price to pay… and what awaits you is of much greater value. ”

As I was watching the documentary last night, the lack of meta-perspective bothered me. It all seemed as if Palestinians were beyond reproach and only Israel was to blame. took some thorough searching to find even one voice critical of the documentary.

I found one by a certain Joseph Unger or Ungar, who, writing for PRIMER, says:

“History is tailored, twisted, and selectively excised to support this condemnation of Israel. We see, for example, whole neighborhoods of destroyed buildings in Lebanon, and Robert Fisk, the narrator, states “IT all started with Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982.” There is no mention of the lengthy civil war between Muslims and Maronite Christians which decimated the countryside. No mention of the Syrian invasion. No mention of the PLO infiltration in 1969 which gradually overcame the Lebanese army and by 1975 had established “Fatahland,” a de facto state extending from West Beirut to the Israeli border. Lebanon had been raped and battered from within.”

Now I do realize that a reporter is not an historian, so maybe the lack of meta-perspective in Fisk is natural. I also suspect that the Unger/Ungar report is biased. But Iike biases from both sides.

RIP Robert Fisk.