The Lies and Distortions of Robert Fisk
At Commentary, Efraim Karsh delivers the definitive fisk of Robert Fisk’s latest work of error-riddled agit-prop: The Great War for Civilisation.
It is difficult to turn a page of The Great War for Civilisation without encountering some basic error. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not, as Fisk has it, in Jerusalem. The Caliph Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, was murdered in the year 661, not in the 8th century. Emir Abdallah became king of Transjordan in 1946, not 1921, and both he and his younger brother, King Faisal I of Iraq, hailed not from a “Gulf tribe” but rather from the Hashemites on the other side of the Arabian peninsula. The Iraqi monarchy was overthrown in 1958, not 1962; Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, was appointed by the British authorities, not elected; Ayatollah Khomeini transferred his exile from Turkey to the holy Shiite city of Najaf not during Saddam Hussein’s rule but fourteen years before Saddam seized power. Security Council resolution 242 was passed in November 1967, not 1968; Anwar Sadat of Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, not 1977, and was assassinated in October 1981, not 1979. Yitzhak Rabin was minister of defense, not prime minister, during the first Palestinian intifada, and al Qaeda was established not in 1998 but a decade earlier. And so on and so forth.
The deeper problem with Fisk’s work is not the sort of thing that can be fixed by acquiring a better research assistant or fact-checking apparatus. Facts must be placed in their proper context, after all, and this demands a degree of good faith that Fisk utterly lacks. Indeed, so blatant and thoroughgoing are his ideological prejudices that his very name has entered the lexicon of the Internet as a synonym for systematic bias. Among the online commentators known as bloggers, the verb “to fisk” has come to mean a point-by-point rebuttal of an egregiously slanted piece of writing—like, classically, a Fisk dispatch from the Middle East.
The precise angle of his tilt has been confirmed by Osama bin Laden himself, who, in a videotaped message on the eve of the 2004 presidential election in the U.S., commended Fisk by name for his incisive and “neutral” reporting. On Planet Fisk, there are bad guys and there are victims, and the victims—the Arabs—can do no wrong, at least none for which they are ultimately responsible. Thus, one comes away from his current book hardly realizing that Lebanon was under a repressive Syrian occupation for most of the 30 years that Fisk has made his home there. The only hint arrives three pages before book’s end, when he notes the prompt withdrawal of Syrian forces following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a crime in which Damascus was deeply complicit.