The veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk died recently at the age of 74, and his death means one of the Western world’s journalists who best understood the region has left the scene.
Fisk lived in Beirut for most of the 30-plus years he covered the region and reported the troubles in Northern Ireland before venturing out of the country.
He reported on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the continuing woes in that country. Fisk interviewed the al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden thrice and also covered the US invasion of Iraq.
Some questioned his approach to journalism; he did not believe in getting opinions from both sides, so-called balanced journalism. Rather, it was his belief that the job of a reporter was to provide an outlet for the underdog.
His famous example was that of the liberation of a concentration camp. And he asked whether one should be expected to get a quote from a SS guard for balance, a query which nobody has attempted to answer.
When the terrorist attacks took place in 2001, Fisk was on a flight which was turned back due to the incident. He was invited on a TV talk show, along with the American lawyer Alan Dershowitz. When the attacks discussed, Fisk asked the natural question: what was the motive for the attacks. For this, he was denounced as an anti-Semite by Dershowitz, and he has often told this tale to illustrate the level of stupidity in the debate over the Middle East.
Fisk got into journalism at the Newcastle Chronicle and then moved to the Sunday Express. From there, he went to work for The Times as a correspondent in Northern Ireland, Portugal and the Middle East, a role for which he based himself in Beirut intermittently from 1976.
After 1989, he worked for The Independent. Fisk received many British and international journalism awards, including the Press Awards Foreign Reporter of the Year seven times.
At one stage of his career, he expressed doubts about whether all the reporting being done to cover trouble spots in the world was really of any use, because it seemed to change nothing.
But then the journalist within him prevailed and he continued filing his dispatches from Beirut until he was taken from this earth.
He was a man with a deep understanding of issues and one who took great pains with his reporting. He will be sorely missed.