Robert Fisk, Injured in Line of Duty
December 10, 2001
Robert Fisk, the great reporter for the London Independent, was beaten almost to death on December 8 near an Afghan refugee camp. Even still, he tried to understand the rage of his assailants.
The car Fisk was driving in had broken down, and soon refugees surrounded him.
Here's a paragraph from his dispatch in the Independent of December 10: "A small boy tried to grab my bag. Then another. Then someone punched me in the back. Then young men broke my glasses, began smashing stones into my face and head. I couldn't see for the blood pouring down my forehead and swamping my eyes. And even then, I understood. I couldn't blame them for what they were doing. In fact, if I were the Afghan refugees of Kila Abdullah, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, I would have done just the same to Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find."
The men continued to smash rocks into Fisk's head.
". . . The next blow came from a man I saw carrying a big stone in his right hand. He brought it down on my forehead with tremendous force and something hot and liquid splashed down my face and lips. . . . Oddly, it wasn't fear I felt but a kind of wonderment. So this is how it happens. I knew that I had to respond. Or, so I reasoned in my stunned state, I had to die."
Fisk punched a couple of people and then was rescued by a Muslim cleric, who put him in a police car, which eventually got him to the Red Crescent.
This is how Fisk tried to make sense of his encounter: "I had spent more than two and a half decades reporting the humiliation and misery of the Muslim world, and now their anger had embraced me, too. Or had it?"
There were the Muslims who aided him, he says. And "there were all the Afghan men and boys who had attacked me who should never have done so but whose brutality was entirely the product of others, of us all-of we who had armed their struggle against the Russians and ignored their pain and laughed at their civil war and then armed and paid them again for the 'War for Civilization' just a few miles away and then bombed their homes and ripped up their families and called them 'collateral damage.' "
I've interviewed Fisk twice in the last four years. His understanding of the Muslim world has been a guide for me, and thousands of other avid readers. And his empathy for those who suffer at the hands of repressive policies, even as he now suffers at the hands of the repressed, is almost saintly.
But Fisk has long been selfless. When I interviewed him for the July 1998 issue of The Progressive, he said: "It's a journalist's job to be a witness to history. We're not there to worry about ourselves. We're there to try and get as near as we can, in an imperfect world, to the truth and get the truth out."
He had already been involved in some near misses.
"You do see people die, and you realize how easy it is to be killed. You go through the risk and the danger. . . . It's an odd situation. When you go off to a dangerous place, you're full of foreboding. But if you decide you're going to cover it, and it's worth doing, you must commit yourself to it and stop saying, 'Should I do it?' You've got to turn the potential for panic into the concentration of the mind."
I know I'm not alone in wishing Robert Fisk a speedy recovery. His is an indispensable voice in journalism today.