Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk (born 12 July 1946) is an English writer and journalist. He has been Middle East correspondent intermittently since 1976 for various media; since 1989 he has been correspondent for The Independent, based in Beirut.[1] Fisk has many British and international journalism awards, including the Press Awards Foreign Reporter of the Year seven times. He is an author and has reported on wars and armed conflicts.

Robert Fisk
Fisk in 2008
Born (1946-07-12) 12 July 1946
Maidstone, Kent, England
EducationLancaster University (B.A., 1968)
Trinity College, Dublin (PhD, 1985)
OccupationMiddle East correspondent for The Independent
Notable credit(s)
Jacob's Award, Amnesty International UK Press Awards, British Press Awards, International Journalist of the Year, Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize
Spouse(s)Lara Marlowe (1994–2006)

An Arabic speaker,[2] he was among the few Western journalists to interview Osama bin Laden, which he did three times between 1993 and 1997.[3][4]

Early life and education

Fisk was an only child, born in Maidstone, Kent. His father William ('Bill') Fisk (1899–1992) was Borough Treasurer at Maidstone Corporation and had fought in the First World War.[5] Bill Fisk was a racist and a bully, faithful to his second wife (Robert's mother; his first wife Matilda had died in 1944) Peggy née Rose (1921–1998), and taught his son "to love books and history". At the end of the First World War, Bill Fisk was punished for disobeying an order to execute another soldier; "My father's refusal to kill another man was the only thing he did in his life which I would also have done." Though he said little about his part in the war, it held a fascination for him, and after his death, his son discovered him to have been the scribe of his batallion's war diaries from August 1918.[6]

Robert Fisk was educated at Yardley Court, a preparatory school,[7] then at Sutton Valence School and Lancaster University,[8] where he worked on the student magazine John O'Gauntlet. He gained a PhD in Political Science, from Trinity College, Dublin in 1983;[9] the title of his doctoral thesis was "A condition of limited warfare: Éire's neutrality and the relationship between Dublin, Belfast and London, 1939–1945".[9]


Newspaper correspondent

Fisk worked on the Sunday Express diary column before a disagreement with the editor, John Junor, prompted a move to The Times.[10] From 1972 to 1975, at the height of the Troubles, Fisk was The Times Belfast correspondent, before being posted to Portugal following the Carnation Revolution in 1974. He then was appointed Middle East correspondent (1976–1988). In addition to the Troubles and Portugal, he reported the Iranian revolution in 1979. When a story of his was spiked (Iran Air Flight 655) after Rupert Murdoch's takeover, he moved to The Independent in April 1989. The New York Times once described Robert Fisk as "probably the most famous foreign correspondent in Britain".[11]

War reporting

Fisk has lived in Beirut since 1976,[12] remaining throughout the Lebanese Civil War. He was one of the first journalists to visit the scene of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon, as well as the Syrian Hama Massacre. His book on the Lebanese conflict, Pity the Nation, was first published in 1990.

Fisk also reported on the Soviet–Afghan War, the Iran–Iraq War, the Arab–Israeli conflict, the Gulf War, the Kosovo War, the Algerian Civil War, the Bosnian War, the 2001 international intervention in Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Arab Spring in 2011 and the ongoing Syrian Civil War. During the Iran–Iraq War, he suffered partial but permanent hearing loss as a result of being close to Iraqi heavy artillery in the Shatt-al-Arab when covering the early stages of the conflict.[13]

After the United States and allies launched their intervention in Afghanistan, Fisk was for a time transferred to Pakistan to provide coverage of the conflict. While reporting from there, he was attacked and beaten by a group of Afghan refugees fleeing heavy bombing by the United States Air Force. He was ultimately rescued from this attack by another Afghan refugee. In his graphic account of his own beating, Fisk absolved the attackers of responsibility and pointed out that their "brutality was entirely the product of others, of us—of we who had armed their struggle against the Russians and ignored their pain and laughed at their civil war and then armed and paid them again for the 'War for Civilisation' just a few miles away and then bombed their homes and ripped up their families and called them 'collateral damage.'"[14]

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Fisk was based in Baghdad and filed many eyewitness reports. He has criticised other journalists based in Iraq for what he calls their "hotel journalism", reporting from one's hotel room without interviews or first hand experience of events.[15] His opposition to the war brought criticism from both Irish Sunday Independent columnist and senator, Eoghan Harris,[16] and The Guardian columnist, Simon Hoggart.[17] Fisk has criticised the Coalition's handling of the sectarian violence in post-invasion Iraq, and argued that the official narrative of sectarian conflict is not possible: "The real question I ask myself is: who are these people who are trying to provoke the civil war? Now the Americans will say it's Al Qaeda, it's the Sunni insurgents. It is the death squads. Many of the death squads work for the Ministry of Interior. Who runs the Ministry of Interior in Baghdad? Who pays the Ministry of the Interior? Who pays the militia men who make up the death squads? We do, the occupation authorities. (…) We need to look at this story in a different light."[18]

Reporting from Douma, Syria, Fisk suggests the Douma chemical attack never happened, quoting a Syrian doctor who attributed the victims' breathing problems not to gas but to dust and lack of oxygen after heavy shelling by Assad forces.[19]

Osama bin Laden

Fisk interviewed Osama bin Laden on three occasions, reporting the interviews in articles published by The Independent on 6 December 1993, 10 July 1996, and 22 March 1997. In Fisk's first interview, "Anti-Soviet warrior puts his army on the road to peace," he wrote of Osama Bin Laden: "With his high cheekbones, narrow eyes and long brown robe, Mr Bin Laden looks every inch the mountain warrior of mujahedin legend. Chadored children danced in front of him, preachers acknowledged his wisdom" while noting that he was accused of "training for further jihad wars".[20]

During one of Fisk's interviews with Bin Laden, Fisk noted an attempt by Bin Laden to convert him. Bin Laden said; "Mr Robert, one of our brothers had a dream...that you were a spiritual person ... this means you are a true Muslim". Fisk replied; "Sheikh Osama, I am not a Muslim. ... I am a journalist [whose] task is to tell the truth". Bin Laden replied: "If you tell the truth, that means you are a good Muslim".[21][22] During the 1996 interview, Bin Laden accused the Saudi royal family of corruption. During the final interview in 1997, Bin Laden said he sought God's help "to turn America into a shadow of itself".[23]

Fisk strongly condemned the September 11 attacks, describing them as a "hideous crime against humanity". He also denounced the Bush administration's response to the attacks, arguing that "a score of nations" were being identified and positioned as "haters of democracy" or "kernels of evil", and urged a more honest debate on U.S. policy in the Middle East. He argued that such a debate had hitherto been avoided "because, of course, to look too closely at the Middle East would raise disturbing questions about the region, about our Western policies in those tragic lands, and about America's relationship with Israel".[24]

In 2007, Fisk expressed personal doubts about the official historical record of the attacks. In an article for The Independent, he claimed that, while the Bush administration was incapable of successfully carrying out such attacks due to its organisational incompetence, he is "increasingly troubled at the inconsistencies in the official narrative of 9/11" and added that he does not condone the "crazed 'research' of David Icke, but is "talking about scientific issues".[25] Fisk had earlier addressed similar concerns in a speech at Sydney University in 2006.[26] During the speech, Fisk said: "Partly I think because of the culture of secrecy of the White House, never have we had a White House so secret as this one. Partly because of this culture, I think suspicions are growing in the United States, not just among Berkeley guys with flowers in their hair. (...) But there are a lot of things we don't know, a lot of things we're not going to be told. (...) Perhaps the [fourth] plane was hit by a missile, we still don't know".[27]

Bill Durodie notes that "recently published compilation of Osama bin Laden’s writings reveals how frequently he is inclined to cite Western writers, Western diplomats and Western thinkers. At one point he even advises the White House to read Robert Fisk, rather than, as one might have supposed, the Koran."[28]


Fisk has described himself as a pacifist and has never voted.[29] He has said that journalism must "challenge authority, all authority, especially so when governments and politicians take us to war." He has quoted with approval Israeli journalist Amira Hass: "There is a misconception that journalists can be objective ... What journalism is really about is to monitor power and the centres of power."[30] He spoke on "Lies, Misreporting, and Catastrophe in the Middle East" at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley on 22 September 2010, and stated, "I think it is the duty of a foreign correspondent to be neutral and unbiased on the side of those who suffer, whoever they may be."[31] He has written at length on how much contemporary conflicts have their origins, in his view, in lines drawn on maps: "After the allied victory of 1918, at the end of my father's war, the victors divided up the lands of their former enemies. In the space of just seventeen months, they created the borders of Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia and most of the Middle East. And I have spent my entire career—in Belfast and Sarajevo, in Beirut and Baghdad—watching the people within those borders burn."[32]

Fisk has also written extensively about the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and has supported moves to persuade the Turkish Government to acknowledge the truth of what happened in it.[33]

Personal life

He married American-born journalist Lara Marlowe in 1994. They divorced in 2006.[34]

Awards and honours

Fisk has received the British Press Awards' International Journalist of the Year seven times,[35] and twice won its "Reporter of the Year" award.[36] He also received Amnesty International UK Media Awards in 1992 for his report "The Other Side of the Hostage Saga",[37] in 1998 for his reports from Algeria[38] and again in 2000 for his articles on the NATO air campaign against the FRY in 1999.[39]


Fisk’s reporting on the conflict in Syria has received some criticism for siding with the Syrian government. [59][60][61]. Sam Hamad accused Fisk of being embedded with the Syrian army in Aleppo and Damascus and of "trumpet[ing]" Syrian and Russian government propaganda.[62] Loubna Mrie said that Fisk claimed the Syrian government "did not use chemical weapons in various attacks on civilians".[60]



His massive 2005 work, The Great War for Civilisation, with its criticism of Western and Israeli approaches to the Middle East, was generally well received by critics and students of international affairs and is perhaps his best-known work. However, the reviewer for The Guardian, the former British ambassador to Libya, Oliver Miles, was less enthusiastic. He wrote that "a deplorable number of mistakes" in the 1,366 pages long book "undermine the reader's confidence", and that "vigilant editing and ruthless pruning could perhaps have made two or three good short books out of this one".[30]

  • The Point of No Return: The Strike which Broke the British in Ulster (1975). London: Times Books/Deutsch. ISBN 0-233-96682-X
  • In Time of War: Ireland, Ulster and the Price of Neutrality, 1939–1945 (2001). London: Gill & Macmillan. ISBN 0-7171-2411-8 (1st ed. 1983).
  • Pity the Nation : Lebanon at War (3rd ed. 2001). London: Oxford University Press; xxi, 727 pages. ISBN 0-19-280130-9 (1st ed. was 1990).
  • The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East (October 2005) London. Fourth Estate; xxvi, 1366 pages. ISBN 1-84115-007-X
  • The Age of the Warrior: Selected Writings (2008) London, Fourth Estate ISBN 978-0-00-727073-6
  • Robert Fisk on Algeria (2013) Independent Print Limited

Video documentary

Fisk produced a three-part series titled From Beirut To Bosnia in 1993 which Fisk says was an attempt "to find out why an increasing number of Muslims had come to hate the West."[63] Fisk says that the Discovery Channel did not show a repeat of the films, after initially showing them in full, due to a letter campaign launched by pro-Israel groups such as CAMERA.[63][64]


  1. "Robert Fisk Biography". Independent. London. Retrieved 12 November 2012.
  2. "Robert Fisk lecture (audio)". Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences – Kingston University London. Archived from the original on 12 May 2013. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  3. Fisk, Robert. The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. Fourth Estate. pp. 1–39. ISBN 1-84115-007-X.
  4. "Honoured War Reporter Sides With Victims of Conflict". New Zealand Press Association. 4 November 2005.
  5. Cooke, Rachel (13 April 2008). "Man of war". The Guardian. London.
  6. Fisk, Robert (2006). The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East. London: Harper Perennial. p. 362–365, 369–370 & 385–386. ISBN 978-1-84115-008-6.
  7. Fisk, Robert (3 July 2010). "Deadly skies: The bloody truth about the Battle of Britain 70 years on". The Independent. London. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  8. "Robert Fisk lecture". LU News. Lancaster University. November 2006. Archived from the original on 10 December 2008. Retrieved 14 October 2008.
  9. "Former postgraduate students". Trinity College, Dublin. Archived from the original on 28 September 2008. Retrieved 26 July 2008.
  10. Robert Fisk (26 July 2008). "My days in Fleet Street's Lubyanka". The Independent. London. Retrieved 26 July 2008.
  11. Bronner, Ethan (19 November 2005). "A Foreign Correspondent Who Does More Than Report". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 July 2006.
  12. Fisk, Robert (2006). The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East. London: Harper Perennial. p. 973. ISBN 978-1-84115-008-6.
  13. Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation, 2005, p. 224.
  14. Fisk, Robert (10 December 2001). "My beating by refugees is a symbol of the hatred and fury of this filthy war". Archived from the original on 18 June 2006. Retrieved 19 July 2006.
  15. Fisk, Robert (17 January 2005). "Hotel journalism gives American troops a free hand as the press shelters indoors". Archived from the original on 27 March 2006. Retrieved 19 July 2006.
  16. Harris, Eoghan. Air-kissing the terrorists – call it Luvvies Actually, Sunday Independent (Dublin), 23 November 2003.
  17. Hoggart, Simon. A war cry from the pulpit, The Guardian (London), 17 November 2001.
  18. "Lateline – 02/03/2006: Robert Fisk shares his Middle East knowledge".
  20. "Anti-Soviet warrior puts his army on the road to peace", The Independent, 6 December 1993
  21. Naparstek, Ben (30 August 2008). "Watching the warriors". New Zealand Listener, Vol 215 No 3564.
  22. Fisk, Robert (2007). The Great War For Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. Vintage. pp. 29–30. ISBN 978-1-4000-7517-1.
  23. Fisk, Robert. "Robert Fisk on Bin Laden at 50". The Independent (London). 4 March 2007.
  24. Fisk, Robert (11 September 2002). "One year on: A view from the Middle East", The Independent (London).
  25. Fisk, Robert (25 August 2007). "Even I question the 'truth' about 9/11". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 27 August 2007. Retrieved 25 August 2007.
  26. Bolt, Andrew (29 March 2006). "Are they all mad?" Herald Sun (Melbourne).
  27. Fisk, Robert (26 March 2006). "Robert Fisk at Sydney Ideas 2006". ABC News Australia.
  28. Durodie, Bill (2008). Home-grown nihilism – the clash within civilisations (PDF). London: The Smith Institute. p. 125.
  29. Robert Fisk and Martin Bell. (10 November 2009) The lost art of reportage The Independent. 15:48–15:52 minutes in. Retrieved 2009-12-08.
  30. Miles, Oliver (19 November 2005). "The big picture". Guardian Unlimited. London. Retrieved 19 July 2006.
  31. "Robert Fisk: Terror of Power and Power of Terror". Making Contact. National Radio Project. 12 October 2010. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  32. Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation, 2005
  33. See, for example,, 14 October 2006. Retrieved 2 February 2016;, 20 April 2015. Retrieved 2 February 2016;, 24 April 2015. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  34. Rachel Cooke (13 April 2008). "Man of war". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 November 2014.
  35. Patrick Keatinge (2 December 2002). Ireland in International Affairs: Interests, Institutions and Identities: Essays in Honour of Professor N.P. Keatinge, FTCD, MRIA. Institute of Public Administration. p. 217. ISBN 978-1-902448-76-3.
  36. "Times reporter wins award". The Times. London. 15 December 1987.
  37. "Fisk wins Amnesty award". The Independent on Sunday. 7 June 1992. p. 18. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
  38. "Amnesty International UK (AIUK) Media Awards 1998 – Winners – Short-list – Judges". Archived from the original on 13 May 2001. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
  39. "amnesty international media awards – Media Awards Winners 2000". Archived from the original on 13 May 2001. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  40. Lancaster University. "Honorary Degrees". Lancaster University. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  41. "In the wars". The Irish Times (Dublin). 19 November 1991.
  42. List of 1999 winners Archived 20 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine. The Orwell Prize for Journalism.
  43. "Fisk wins award for political journalism". The Independent. London. 20 July 2001.
  44. "Previous Winners". Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.
  45. "Doctor of the University 1973–2011" (PDF). The Open University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
  46. University of St Andrews (21 June 2004). "Honorary degrees June 2004". The University of St Andrews. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  47. Carleton University (31 May 2013). "Honorary Degrees Awarded Since 1954". Carleton University. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  48. "About the Edward Said Memorial Lecture". University of Adelaide. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
  49. Ghent University (2006). "Honorary Doctorates (Dutch)". Ghent University. Retrieved 1 January 2017.
  50. American University of Beirut (2006). "Honorary Doctorates". American University of Beirut. Archived from the original on 1 August 2013. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
  51. Communications & External Affairs Office (2006). "Destinguished journalist receives Queen's honorary degree". Queen's University Belfast. Archived from the original on 4 June 2013. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
  52. "2006 Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize awarded to Robert Fisk". Lannan Foundation. Archived from the original on 22 May 2007.
  53. News, Press and Media (7 July 2008). "University Honorary Degrees July 2008". The University of Kent. Archived from the original on 15 June 2013. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
  54. "Five recipients to receive honorary degrees at Trinity College Dublin". 12 July 2008. Archived from the original on 11 December 2015. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  55. Jon Ihle (8 January 2009). "Trinity College awards harsh Israel critic". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
  56. Ben Schofield (16 July 2009). "Liverpool Bishops honoured by Liverpool Hope University". Liverpool Daily Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  57. Robert Fisk (18 July 2009). "Some lessions in sacrifice from Liverpool in two world wars". The Independent. London. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  58. "Robert Fisk wins International Prize". The Independent (London). 18 June 2011.
  59. Richard Spencer, Beirut, Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent | (18 April 2018). "Critics leap on reporter Robert Fisk's failure to find signs of gas attack". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  60. Mrie, Loubna. "The problem with leftist myths about Syria". Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  61. Nashed, Mat. "Pity the Fisk". alaraby. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  62. "Robert Fisk won't tell the truth on Syria because, like Bashar al-Assad, he fears it". International Business Times UK. 11 August 2016. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  63. David Wallis, ed. (2004). Killed: great journalism too hot to print. Nation Books. p. 388. ISBN 978-1-56025-581-9.
  64. Trager, Robert; Donna Lee Dickerson (1999). Freedom of expression in the 21st century. Pine Forge Press. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-8039-9085-2.

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