May 16, 2006

Book Review - War for Civilization by Fisk

I've just finished a very excellent book - Robert Fisk's "The Great War for Civilization."

Robert Fisk is a foreign correspondent for the Independent. He's covered every war in the Middle East since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (remember that? remember when the mujjahadien were the "good guys"?) I first discovered his work in the lead up to the American invasion of Iraq, when I went online looking for hard news, without the patriotic b.s.

The "The Great War for Civilization." is a huge tome, 1200 pages. Fisk covers in depth Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, the various Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Algeria and more. The book ranges from vivid first person accounts of battles in the horrendous Iran-Iraq war to political analysis of the arms trade to the psychology of the suicide bomber to very good historical background on topics like the Armenian genocide and the effects of the Treaty of Sevres.

Fisk knows what's he's talking about - he's been there. And he's smart, literate and solidly grounded in the history and geography. It's impossible to write about politics, and especially the Middle East, without bias. So what's Fisk's bias? This quote from his introduction should tell you;

...Soldier and civilian, they died in their tens of thousands because death had been concocted for them, morality hitched like a halter round the warhorse so that we could talk about "target-rich environments" and "collateral damage' - that most infantile of attempts to shake off the crimes of killing - and report of victory parades, the tearing down of statues and the importance of peace.

Governments like it that way. They want their people to see war as dramas of opposites, good and evil, "them" and "us", victory or defeat. But war is primarily not about victory or defeat but about death and the infliction of death. It represents the total failure of the human spirit...
Fisk is a biased writer - he's biased toward the common people who just want to live their lives peacefully, and he's biased against all posturing conquerors and rulers and especially against their hypocrisy and lies.

What's more, he's a damn good writer; a crisp vigorous prose of a kind that reminds me somewhat of Hemingway. If you want to get some good solid background on the Middle East and try to sort out the craziness, you couldn't find a better read. And I bet you'll enjoy it too.

1 comment:

E.M. said...

Yeah, Fisk and Monibot are about the only journalists who conduct original research (the former's at the Independent, the latter's at the Guardian most of the time). Much of their work deserves praise --and tends to receive it.

Sadly, they both sometimes fall prey to what Socrates said of tradesmen: those who know everything about something think they know something about everything. They do make comments and pass judgements on parts of the world that they don't know much about (in addition to their areas of expertise) and this errodes their credibility.

Chomsky's comments about Cambodia (viz., about which he knows nothing) similarly cast a shadow on most of the rest of his act.