Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page
The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East

The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East

Starting as the memoirs of a veteran reporter covering the Middle East, this tsunami of a book quickly develops into a fierce indictment of Britain and the United States, lumped together as “Anglo-Saxons”, as the principal sources of evil in the world during the past 100 years.

According to Fisk, the “Anglo-Saxons” began their mischief-making by destroying the Ottoman Empire, provoking the Armenian genocide, which he calls “ The Holocaust”, proceeded to dominate the Middle East, created Israel, installed despotic Arab regimes , and, more recently, changed the regimes of Afghanistan and Iraq through military invasion.

The Anglo-Saxons also share the blame for the Jewish Holocaust because they did nothing to stop the Armenian genocide which inspired Hitler, and then, allowed the Nazis time to consolidate their power.

It would take a book as long to challenge Fisk’s numerous sensational charges against the “Anglo-Saxons”. But a look at two such charges would show that Fisk’s seething anger might have affected his objectivity as a reporter and amateur historian.

First, he claims that Saddam Hussein was installed and maintained in power by the “Anglo-Saxons” although neither Britain nor the United States played any role in the Ba’athist coup in 1968. In fact between 1958 and 1984 the US didn’t even have an ambassador in Baghdad. Fisk himself shows that the only Western leaders to visit Saddam during his 37-year domination of Iraq were Premiers Jacques Chirac of France and Charles Haughey of Ireland. The only Western country to invite Saddam for a state visit was France in 1976 where Chirac, then Prime Minister, entertained the Iraqi leader as “a personal friend.” Nor does he note that Iraq under the Ba’athists signed a military pact with the Soviet Union and was consistently in the anti-West camp until the mid 1980s.

Fisk’s second claim is that the US created the Taliban to fight the Soviets. In fact, the Taliban were created by the Pakistani military intelligence in 1992, three years after the Soviets had left Afghanistan. Even when the Taliban captured Kabul and claimed to be the government of Afghanistan, the US and Britain refused to recognise their regime and denied them the Afghan seat at the United Nations.

Apparently a passionate man, Fisk presents himself as “a seeker of the truth” and not a mere reporter looking for facts. He says he is not really interested in what and how but in why.

Describing himself as a “tough dog” Fisk says that when he gets “ a rope between my teeth I won’t let go until I shake it and tug it something rotten to see what lies at the other end.” (Sic) He adds” That, after all is what journalists are supposed to do.” But are they?

The trouble is that Fisk’s doglike determination seems to be selective. While magnifying every real or imagined crime committed by the “Anglo-Saxons” he never took time to expose the illegal prisons and torture chambers maintained by Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, where he has lived for 30 years, or the sources of arms and funds for the Lebanese Hezballah.

A whole chapter is devoted to the story of how Fisk, taking a piece of shrapnel from a missile fired by the Israelis in southern Lebanon, travels to Europe and America to prove that the weapon had been manufactured in the United States. But he shows absolutely no interest in the provenance of the Katyushas fired by Hezballah. He is a crusader for a cause, not a reporter; having chosen his side his task is to help it win the information war.

Nor did Fisk ever bother to find out about liberal and democratic movements in the Arab world or to interview anyone other than officials or

anti-Western figures. His claim that he is fighting for truth and justice makes him sound more like an advocate rather than a journalist.

Journalists, however, have no mission to fight for truth, justice and other noble goals. Their task is to see, listen, ask, read, compare and offer as honest an account of what they are reporting as possible. The journalist cannot have a hidden agenda, even for the best of reasons and the noblest of causes.

Fisk describes the Irish as “the Palestinians of Europe” and relates how, when caught in a tight corner in the Middle East, he claims to be Irish.

Because he sympathises with “Arab grievances”, Fisk adopts virtually all the conspiracy theories concocted in teahouses from Baghdad to Cairo in the hope of blaming others for all that has gone wrong with the Arabs.

What he does not realise is that by portraying the Arabs as witless pawns in a game they do not understand, he is presenting a new version of the “White Man’s Burden” narrative.

In the original version the “natives”, including the Arabs, must be saved from their own ignorance. In Fisk’s ethnocentric version, the Arabs are helpless victims. In both versions the omnipotent “Imperialist West” can do whatever it pleases with peoples who are mere objects in their own history. In both cases an “us and them” dialectics is at work. This is why Fisk always says “this is what we did” as if the Arabs couldn’t even fix their own kuffiahs. One might wonder how the “Anglo-Saxon” powers that cannot fix the New York traffic jam or the London underground railway system have managed to shape the world, virtually alone, for over a century.

Fisk’s method allows little room for examining let alone understanding the complex forces that have shaped Arab reality, including Arab nationalism, pan-Islamism, the various anti-colonial movements, and more than half a century of Soviet influence.

Fisk’s profession of sympathy for the Arabs turns out to be a cover for disdain. The Arabs, he claims, have no notion of democracy and are in no way prepared to enter the modern world. The best course, therefore, is for “ us”, meaning the West, is to let “them” stew in their juice.

He writes: “ Most Arabs, faced with a reporter’s question would say the first thing that comes into their head for fear that they would appear ignorant if they do not.”

Fisk admires only three Arab figures: the fugitive terrorist Osama bin Laden, the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, and the head of the Lebanese Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah. He states quite nonchalantly that bin Laden is a better representative of Arabs than any of the Arab kings and presidents, a claim that echoes claims by Arab-haters that all Arabs are terrorists.

Fisk has a low opinion of his journalist colleagues whom he labels either as “gullible”, “stupid”, or “hatchet men”.

Dozens of well-known British and American reporters and editors are attacked by name and charged with lying or relaying “Anglo-Saxon propaganda”. He even accuses The Independent’s reporter in Jerusalem of lying in support of Israel. Fisk is also scathing about many newspapers and television networks- from The London Times and the Washington Post to the BBC and the CNN. In fact, if we believe Fisk the only credible newspaper in the world is The Independent and the only worthy journalist on earth is Fisk himself.

Fisk’s hatred of the “Anglo-Saxons” is matched only by his hatred of Israel which he accuses of numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He also says that “Judaism is bumping against both Christianity and Islam.” He recalls a quarrel with an Israel rabbi: “The Old and New Testament have just collided. The Rabbi’s dad had taught him about an eye for an eye… whereas Bill Fisk { my dad} taught me about turning the other cheek.”

Elsewhere in the book, however, Fisk tells us that neither he nor his dad turned the other cheek when it mattered. Bill, who spent part of the First World War in France, shot and killed a Chinese forced labourer armed only with a knife in murky circumstances. Half a century later, Bob himself smashed the mouths of two Afghan refugees who tried to snatch his bag during an altercation.

To put as much blue water between himself and the Jews, Fisk recalls with pride that his father had been of “pure European descent”. Throughout the book he quotes from many First World poets, notably Wilfred Owen and Hillaire Brooke. The one exception is the Jewish Siegfried Sassoon.

Fisk is especially unhappy about the toppling of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein not because he had any particular love for them but because their demise came as a result of “Anglo-Saxon” action. Because he is angry that the Taliban and Saddam are gone, Fisk does his best to show that neither regime had been as bad as the “Anglo-Saxons” claimed. This casts a long shadow of doubt on his claim of seeking the truth and fighting for justice.

Fisk would have benefited from the services of a fact-checker and a good editor. For his book is replete with factual errors and misunderstanding due to his unfamiliarity with the region’s languages, politics, history, and culture. He says that “the symbol of Islam is The Half Moon”, and claims that the Sunni-Shiite divisions is about the position of Caliph Ali. The list of Arab, Persian, Turkish and Urdu names and words that he gets wrong would run into many pages. He also invents an Iranian missile which he calls Nazeat which, he claims, means “ Horror of Death”. Neither the missile nor the word exists.

Worse still, Fisk makes all peoples he interviews speak the way he wants. Osama bin Laden, for example, is made to sound like a Sufi using a terminology that, as a militant Salafist, he would loath. Fisk also quotes bin Laden mentioning a certain Sheikh Suleiman Odeh who simply does not exist. In an almost surrealistic passage Fisk claims that bin Laden had seen him in a dream, wearing white Arabian clothes and riding an Arab stallion, an image that recalls that of Peter O’Tool as “Lawrence of Arabia” in David Lean’s film. Fisk then claims that bin Laden had hoped to use the dream as a means of converting him to Islam. Bin Laden had addressed Fisk as “ Brother Robert”, and had been clearly disappointed when the reporter had made it clear that he had no intention of converting to Islam.

If we were to believe Fisk, almost all British and American leaders since 1914 have been guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair are continuing that tradition with what Fisk sees as “daily crimes” in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nevertheless, Fisk believes that, thanks to Islamist suicide-bombers, the “Anglo-Saxons”, and their Israeli appendage, are doomed.

He writes: “The suicide-bomber has become the nuclear weapon of the other.” And adds :” In Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq the suicide-bombers have become the symbol of this new fearlessness. Once an occupied people has lost its fear of death, the occupier is doomed.” Wow !

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

More Posts