What is the Matter with Robert Fisk? What does he want

Yassin al-Hajj Saleh

9 September 2012

Robert Fisk ventured in the company of Syrian regime forces into Daraya [a town just outside Damascus], to cover the death of 245 of the locals– according to him; more like 500 in reality. Who killed them? The “rebels”, says Mr. Fisk. They are seen throughout his article to be sniping people, shelling the peaceful military base – from which Mr. Fisk started his journey along the invading troops – with artillery fire, and shooting at the armoured military vehicle that was transporting him with a Syrian army officer. The one act Syrian regular forces are portrayed doing – aside from having to invade the town after the failure of a hostage swap operation that no one else but Mr. Fisk has heard of– is taking an open-air shower.

A few days later, the journalist, who seems to be residing in Damascus, wrote a shamefully unethical article. So much that the UK’s Independent uncharacteristically did not allow any online commentary by the readers – per his request, perhaps? The article details Mr. Fisk’s visit to a Syrian prison, presumably one branch of the Syrian Intelligence. There, he meets four detainees claimed to have been responsible for the bombing in al-Qazzaz, Damascus, last March, with the meeting taking place at the office of a Syrian Intelligence Officer in charge. The prisoners volunteer their regime-convenient stories: they are Salafist. Some of them are non-Syrians: of the four, one is Algerian-French and one is Turkish. One of them was trained by “Taliban” in Afghanistan. One of the two Syrians asserts that the rebels are nothing but thieves, murderers and rapists. The article also includes a touchingly considerate portrait of the Syrian Intelligence: the Intelligence Officer who readily obliged with Mr. Fisk’s request to step out of his office while he interviews the prisoners alone. Later, the heads of the Intelligence branch could only give in to Mr. Fisk’s firm refusal to reveal his interview notes and what information the prisoners had given out. To top it all off, we are told that one of the prisoners has received a visit from his parents and sister – an extremely unlikely occurrence given what we know about the treatment of prisoners in Syrian Intelligence branches, particularly those of Islamist background. The one plausible explanation is that the whole endeavor was a show put on specifically to facilitate Mr. Fisk’s deceit of his own conscience. It was a piece of journalism worthy of Addounia TV– which Mr. Fisk was objective enough to describe in a recent article as not anti-Assad.

But why is the British journalist doing what he is doing? Though we may not know all that is to it, we do know enough to risk an analytical guess.

Mr. Fisk assumes a dissident position towards the official and established political and media institutions in the West. He takes pride in disparaging David Cameron and William Hague, ridiculing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and denouncing Angela Merkel. He makes a habit of undermining what American and, generally speaking Western, media outlets report – Western policies are selfish and Western media institutions are not independent and do not report the truth. And Mr Fisk has every reason to differentiate himself from their positions and narratives: he derives his very identity as a journalist from such differentiation. Although Mr. Fisk, the man who has been very familiar with the Middle East for almost forty years, is not naive enough to fall for the propaganda of the Syrian regime et al, it is evident that his interest in deconstructing such propaganda is rather fleeting and trivial. Such deconstruction would be irrelevant to his journalistic raison d’être. It is refuting the Western disclose that takes the ultimate priority for Mr. Fisk, so much more than criticizing that of the Assad regime. What is lost in such a contradictory position? Everything that is important and novel. In Mr Fisk’s perspective, which is centered around the West and not too dissimilar to the extreme right-wingers in that regards, the Syrian revolution appears as nothing but a Western conspiracy, falling fully in line with what is most suitable for the Syrian regime. What is lost is [the reporting of] the self-coverage of the Syrian revolution by an extensive network of Syrians, the vast majority of whom are citizen journalists, and some of whom reside today in the regime’s detention centers, most probably being subjected to torture and a treatment one would not wish for Mr. Fisk.

In his dedication to opposing it, Mr. Fisk comes across as fully preoccupied with the Western mainstream media; not only does he fully ignore the great lengths the Syrian Revolution has gone through to speak for itself (he does not refer in any of his dozens of articles, that I have read, to the self-coverage of the revolution [by Syrian citizens] nor to any Syrian writers or activists), but also diminishes any meaningful distinction between his narrative of the events [in Syria] and that of the regime’s propaganda, so much that he has almost adapted the latter and started promoting it worldwide. One wonders if the reasons behind such utter blindness are merely political and/or intellectual.

Not only did Mr. Fisk turn a blind eye to the greatest episode in Syrian modern history [the Syrian revolution], or it cover through such a misleading perspective, but by basing his analytical approach solely on sectarianism and geopolitics, he ended up following the footsteps of the Western “mainstream” he criticizes. He obsessively categorizes everything he encounters in Syria – the living, the dead, the graves, the personalities – into their sects – Alawite, Christian, Sunni, etc. Syria, in this fashion, is a mere theatre for the negative strife of opposing parties; their animosity is inherent and natural, and irrelevant to extrinsic factors, be it the character of the regime in power, the distribution of wealth in society or the regional and international alliances, to name a few. Mr. Fisk’s Syria is devoid of anything positive people might identify with and unite under and which legitimizes any talk of a Syrian people and a Syrian society. One wonders, how else would have Barry Rubin and Robert Kaplan and their ilk reported this? And how is the second element of Mr. Fisk’s “approach”, geopolitical analysis, any different than that of the American “neoconservatives”? There is Israel and Iran and Turkey and Lebanon and “Hezbollah”. There is America and Europe and Russia. There is oil and terrorism and the Iranian nuclear program. However, what is almost missing, are the internal and unique history, politics and society of each country in the region. In that, he is rather loyal to the approach of Western right-wing “think tanks”, as he likes to call them, not to mention the official Western line of thought since the days of the “Oriental Question”.

It is not unusual that there is nothing humane and progressive in this contradictory approach as it shows a blatant disregard of the society, economy, population, classes, natural environment, politics and political parties, societal change and history- i.e. almost everything. Also it should not be a surprise that Mr. Fisk would end up an “embedded” journalist alongside the tanks of one of the most brutal regimes in the world while it murders its citizens; and a thousand times worse: visit a draconic detention center and report back with an utterly implausible story than no one in the world can begin to verify.

Source (in Arabic)

al-Hayat Newspaper




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