Robert Fisk's 'The Great War for Civilisation'
By Kathy Zager on 08/16/2011 @ 04:37 PM
I will soon be starting an internship in FCNL’s Foreign Policy Legislative Program. In standard program assistant naivety, I thought I should quickly learn every single thing about the Middle East, where much of the program’s work is focused. This impulse led me to a wonderful book, which I share with you now.
I am working through Robert Fisk’s 1100-page book The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East (2005). The book is an exhaustive account of modern Middle East history, as experienced by Fisk as a long-time Middle East journalist. My interest in the book was piqued when I learned Fisk has met with Osama bin Laden personally numerous times, a very rare occasion among Western journalists. Fisk was with bin Laden when he spoke his first direct threat against the United States. He actually tried to recruit Fisk at one point. Fisk is wise to highlight his interactions with bin Laden early in the book, but once the reader is drawn in, the rest is just as fascinating. The book is personal and thoughtful. It combines careful self-reflection about journalism with amazing access to conflicts throughout the Middle East in the past decades. I recommend it for anyone else looking for a detailed history of modern conflict in Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Algeria, and the Armenian genocide with attention to Western involvement.
Fisk works hard to avoid glorifying war in his writing, and he works from the perspective that the purpose of war journalism is to spur compassionate people to productive action.
“I used to argue, hopelessly I’m sure, that every reporter should carry a history book in his back pocket. In 1992, I was in Sarajevo and once, as Serb shells whiffled over my head, I stood upon the very paving stone upon which Gavrilo Princip stood as he fired the fatal shot that sent my father to the trenches of the First World War […] It was as if history were a gigantic echo chamber” (xxii).