Robert Fisk is such a rewarding historian of international policy because his contacts are so broad and his experience is so long and because he writes so clearly, passionately and thoughtfully about the persistent failures of Western policy—and humanity—in the Middle East. There, the UK, France and the United States directly or through their occasional puppets and with the collaboration of the “international community” have for a century now made the same deep, stupid policy errors and even committed the same horrible crimes… over and over.
Time and again, the principals have tried brazenly to justify themselves by re-constructing this appalling narrative. They have misled us or lied to us and to themselves about their actions and motives: the revelation that Western “intelligence agencies” were, for years, on inmate terms with Gadaffi’s torturers is only the latest in decades of such disgusting deception. Fisk, however, makes the effort in his journalism and in his books (The Great War for Civilisation) to reconstruct the story, in context and in detail. I don’t say his accounts are complete or his judgement always right; I don’t believe he’d make that claim on his on behalf. But he offers a much more plausible and coherent narrative of the Middle East than anyone I know.
Sometimes, however, no amount of evidence will sway opinion. The blame for our blindness to contemporary history often lies with ourselves as well as with our self-serving leaders. Perhaps we collaborate in making a shadow-play of modern history because each of us guards our sanity and sensitivity from a story saturated with misfortune and suffering by assigning events a role in familiar narratives—including many that are nothing more than myths;elemental, recurrent, incontrovertible— that serve to distance us from responsibilty.
One example more of this delusion is the subject of Fisk’s latest article in The Independent. Why, Fisk asks, do the citizens of the West not ask themselves the obvious question—why?—about those terrible events or reply with the obvious answer? I remember puzzling to myself about this, too , in the days after the burning Towers collapsed. As George Bush and his Deputy Sheriff sternly proclaimed the act was inexcusable (true) and promised retribution, no one in power was ready to acknowledge that the attack was not inexplicable. The explanation could never justify the slaughter of thousands of innocents in the USA (or in the Middle East). But abhorrence at what the world has come to is no excuse for not seeing where it has come from.