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November 2, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:44am

Robert Fisk dies aged 74: ‘If you saw what I saw you’d never support a war again’

By Dominic Ponsford

The Independent’s most celebrated journalist Robert Fisk has died aged 74.

The title’s Middle East correspondent joined from The Times in 1989 and was still writing this month.

He was known as a fearless foreign correspondent who frequently put himself in danger to cover the plight of civilian victims. But he has died of natural causes after an undisclosed illness.

Fisk’s articles were offered to premium subscribers and have always been sought out across the region he covers.

He was a prodigious scoop getter and commentator who was fiercely critical of US and UK policy in the Middle East.

He interviewed Osama Bin Laden twice in the 1990s and famously exposed Nato’s bombing of civilians during the civil war in former Yugoslavia.

Independent managing editor Christian Broughton said: “Fearless, uncompromising, determined and utterly committed to uncovering the truth and reality at all costs, Robert Fisk was the greatest journalist of his generation. The fire he lit at The Independent will burn on.”

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Former Independent editor Simon Kelner said: “Hard to credit that someone with the energy and zeal of Robert Fisk could die on us like that. It was an utter and unmitigated privilege to have been his editor for an extraordinary decade in which he bestrode our trade as a colossus.”

Fisk’s courage was illustrated by his comments about what it was like to report from Iraq in 2005: “If I go to see someone in any particular location, I give myself 12 minutes, because that is how long I reckon it takes a man with a mobile phone to summon gunmen to the scene in a car.

“So, after 10 minutes I am out. Don’t be greedy. That’s what reporting is like in Iraq.”

Fisk was fiercely critic of journalists and news outlets who became reliant on official sources and which he thought sometimes sanitised the reality of war.

In a 2006 interview he said: “I always say to people – on the road, Basra in ’91 –  I saw women, as well as soldiers and civilians, old men, torn apart by British bombs as well as American. And dogs were tearing them to pieces to eat, it was lunchtime in the desert.

“I tell you, if you saw what I saw you’d never support a war again. But you won’t show that on television. And by not showing that on television we present the world with a bloodless sandpit. We pretend war is not that bad…”

Those paying tribute to Fisk include:

Political editor of the Belfast Telegraph Suzanne Breen: “Robert Fisk was a giant in journalism. Whilst others were spoon-fed lies, he challenged the narrative of the powerful. Fearless & unflinching, he was ‘controversial’ for all the right reasons. His death leaves a huge void in foreign reportage.”

BBC foreign affairs reporter John Simpson: “Very sad to hear of the untimely death of the journalist & author Robert Fisk, whom I’ve known since our days together in Northern Ireland. He’ll be greatly missed.”

Journalist Jonathan Cook: “He was not only courageous, informed and insightful, but one of the very rare journalists in the western corporate media to carve out for himself enough freedom to present an honest picture of the Middle East.”

Economist Yanis Varoufakis: “With Robert Fisk’s passing we have lost a journalistic eye without which we shall be partially blind, a pen without which our capacity to express the truth is diminished, a soul without which our own empathy for victims of imperialism will be lacking.”

 

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