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Remembering Robert Fisk: the most famous foreign correspondent in Britain

On the third anniversary of his death, we remember Robert Fisk, the Independent multi-award winning foreign reporter, who died in Dublin on October 30, 2020.

After skimming death for 40 years as a war journalist, he died of a suspected stroke a few days after he was admitted to St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin, at the age of 74.

Fisk, who was renowned by the New York Times as “probably the most famous foreign correspondent in Britain”, had been reporting from the Middle East for almost half a decade. He started as a reporter for The Times of London in 1976 and then moved to the Independent in 1989, until he passed away. By the time he died, Fisk had lived in Beirut for 45 years. 

In his 40-years long career of achievements, he interviewed Osama Bin Laden three times in the 1990s. He recalled in an interview the last time he met the militant, when Bin Laden was still cooperating with the US in Afghanistan. 

“Bin Laden walked into the tent at his camp, and he said to me: ‘Mr Robert, one of our brothers had a dream in which he saw you dressed in a turban and a long robe like us, riding on a horse, and this means you are a true Muslim.’ And I was terrified because I thought he's trying to recruit me, I mean whether he thought he could make me into a Muslim is not the point, I'm unconvertible, my religion is journalism,” he recalled. “I said: ‘Actually I'm not a Muslim, I'm a journalist and my job is to tell the truth.’”

This quote tells a lot about the righteousness of Fisk’s journalism.

Robert Fisk was born in Maidstone, England, in 1946, from Peggy (née Rose) and Bill Fisk. 

It was his father, a veteran of the first world war, that taught him that war was a “great, terrible waste”, and inspired Fisk’s pacifism, which he demonstrated in every story he reported from the front. 

Even if he strongly believed in peace between nations, he very often reported from the battlefield and as much death as a few other journalists can recall. His reports from Sabra and Chatila, where about 1,700 Palestinian refugees were massacred in 1982 by Lebanese and Israeli militiamen, are nowadays a sharp denunciation of the war crimes perpetrated in the Middle East. 

He was often criticised for his condemnations of the Israeli and US policies in the Middle East, and for that he was accused of being partial in his reports.

It leaves us wondering what he would say about the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas and the thousands of Palestinian victims that are counted every day now.

In a memoir published a year after his death, Fisk’s ex wife and collaborator, Lara Marlowe, wrote about him: “Robert’s greatest quality as a journalist was his profound empathy for the victims of the wars he covered, and his anger towards the governments who attacked them. He said war was inherently evil, the total failure of the human spirit. He was an unconditional pacifist.” 

And she concluded: “Robert often quoted the British journalist Nicholas Tomalin, who was killed by a Syrian missile in Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War: ‘The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability.’ Especially rat-like cunning, Robert added.”

In his life he wrote many books on the wars in the Middle East, and his work was then turned into the documentary ‘This Is Not a Movie’ (2019).



Cover image: Mick Tsikas/EPA via The Guardian

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