The Age of the Warrior

Robert Fisk is an angry man. I can’t blame him. If you were a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, based in Beirut, for more than 30 years having seen countless wars, insurgencies and injustices, it’s any wonder that you even lived to tell the tale. He had climbed and walked over a mountain of corpses in the Lebanon war, he had narrowly escaped bullets while travelling across Afghan-Pak border and had blood sprayed all over his clothes. He lived in bunkers and interviewed Osama bin Laden. It’s little surprise that he holds more international awards than any foreign correspondent.

In The Age of the Warrior, Fisk doesn’t talk about his achievements. He, in fact, never refers to them as achievements. What you see bursting through these pages is his unrestrained anguish at the relentless war, injustice and the West’s oppressive control over the Arab world. If you have some of the pre-suppositions that the public has regarding the Middle East, you will find Fisk greatly provocative.

Let’s see: You think that the Afghanistan war was necessary. That 9/11 was a great injustice on America, that Arabs don’t know how to live peacefully, that Israel was the biggest victim of terrorism, that the Iraq ‘invasion’ was justified because Saddam was a monster who needed to be eradicated, that Iran needs to be contained because they are cooking Nukes.

Regardless of whether you agree to any or all of these above statements, you are likely to find Fisk highly provocative. Yes, he doesn’t mince his words in his scathing criticism of Bush and Blair, the latter is often referred to, not so fondly, as the Lord Blair of Kut al Amara. Why, read and you’ll know. He places the responsibility of all the problems of the Arab world squarely on the US and the UK. The Age of the Warrior is a collection of his columns from The Independent, one of the very few respectable newspapers in the UK. And believe me when I say that most of the British press suck. The newspapers of London will make our Deccan Chronicle look like a very intellectual paper and those who have lived in Hyderabad will know what I mean. But not Independent; it is one of the papers that staunchly believe in true journalism, despite falling circulation figures. Fisk could not have worked in any other paper and written what he has written. That these wars and atrocities of US have made him a bit cynical is understandable. But he turns that cynicism on its head to make it a highly stinging attack on the powers-that-be who have made the Middle East their playground and the Arab people their pawns in the game. And when the weak retaliated, they called them ‘terrorists’ and portrayed themselves as victims of Islamic extremism. ‘Why do they hate us?’ Bush Jr. asked incredulously after September 11th. Read Fisk and you will know Mr Bush!

The Age of the Warrior is not all Cause of the Underdog. Fisk doesn’t spare some of the Arab rulers either, because he feels they aren’t helping progress the cause of Arabs. In all this, you will think the book would read like a collection of sob stories. Nevertheless, the stinging attack comes peppered with high humour, albeit of darker variety because we’re talking about war and terrorism and genocide. You can’t really make fun of somebody’s heart torn apart by bullets in front of your face and their blood splattered all over your shirt. Nor can you comment lightly about witnessing the aftermath of an atrocious war and walking through mass graves and climbing over heaps of bodies.

In the middle of all this, Fisk gets time to watch movies and write about them, although they are still movies about the Crusades or custodial torture. There is some reprieve. Not just on his film criticisms, but Fisk dabbles a bit on his nostalgia, about his father, and even a bit about language and grammar. Uncannily, for Fisk, all roads lead to Middle East and so do all his columns. They all lead to unhappily to the land of the thousand wars. And when Chomsky commented that US was the biggest terrorist state in the world, you wonder if this was an exaggeration. Read Fisk and you will feel that it was indeed an understatement. Robert Fisk is actually Noam Chomsky on steroids. The jacket blurb of The Age of the Warrior says he is ‘one of our most popular, provocative and indefatigable journalists.’ Indeed.