‘If you’re go­ing to be emo­tional ...go home’

Ahead of an ap­pear­ance in En­niskerry, renowned jour­nal­ist Robert Fisk tells our own Mary Fog­a­rty about reporting on vi­o­lence in the Mid­dle East, and why he wouldn’t even ex­ist if it wasn’t for Padraig Pearse...

Bray People - - NEWS -

FROM a start as a cub re­porter for the New­cas­tle Evening Chron­i­cle, award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and au­thor Robert Fisk went on to live in Beirut for more than half his life. He is still, he says, a ‘street re­porter.’

Be­fore Christ­mas, he re­ported on a sui­cide bomb­ing. Fisk de­scribed walk­ing amongst dead bod­ies, heads of corpses. He said the scene was ‘ghastly, grotesque, ob­scene.’

He will be in­ter­viewed by David McWil­liams in En­niskerry on Tues­day April 29 in an event to raise money for En­niskerry Heart­savers car­diac first re­sponse group.

A fre­quent vis­i­tor to Ire­land, Fisk knows Wick­low very well and is well aware of the need for de­fib­ril­la­tors in such re­mote ar­eas as En­niskerry and Glen­cree.

A his­to­rian at heart, he re­calls re­search­ing part of his the­sis on Ir­ish neu­tral­ity at the Ger­man ceme­tery at Glen­cree when he at­tended Trin­ity Col­lege.

Now a res­i­dent of The Le­banon, he is im­mersed in the com­mu­nity there, doesn’t grav­i­tate to the em­bassies or other ‘western’ jour­nal­ists yet re­mains in­her­ently Bri­tish. ‘I can speak Ara­bic, al­though I do make mis­takes, and I work for an English news­pa­per.’

His ar­eas of ex­per­tise in­clude Iraq, Syria, Egypt, the Gulf, Sudan and of course the Le­banon. How­ever, he was a cor­re­spon­dent in North­ern Ire­land which, like parts of the Mid­dle East he calls a ‘place of enor­mous tragedy’ which has en­dured ter­ri­ble vi­o­lence.

‘Clearly one is a wit­ness to his­tory,’ he said. But he is not to­tally com­fort­able with the term ‘ bear wit­ness.’

Fisk’s fa­ther was born in the late 1800s, and was sta­tioned in Cork fol­low­ing the 1916 Ris­ing be­fore go­ing to fight in the trenches of France. He missed the great Bat­tle of the Somme in which 20,000 Bri­tish soldiers died.

‘Had he been there, there would have been a good chance he would have died. And we would not be hav­ing this in­ter­view,’ said Robert, spec­u­lat­ing that in a round­about way Padraig Pearse was re­spon­si­ble for his very ex­is­tence.

His fa­ther told him war sto­ries. He was bit­ten by a rat in the trenches and had all his skin peeled off. He de­scribed ly­ing in a cathe­dral hospi­tal. The roof had been blown off and he re­mem­bered star­ing up at a gar­goyle dur­ing his re­cov­ery.

With his fa­ther, he saw rub­ble from World War II in Ham­burg when he was just four. His ed­u­ca­tion be­gan back then and con­tin­ued with an­nual trips to the Somme with his fam­ily. Al­though a shel­tered child in many ways, he gar­nered a valu­able bird’s-eye view of global pol­i­tics and an un­der­stand­ing of how World War II framed the his­tory of most of Europe.

As Mid­dle East­ern cor­re­spon­dent, Fisk en­coun­ters vi­o­lence which would arouse unimag­in­able hor­ror in most lay-people.

‘You’re not there to weep,’ he said. ‘You’re there to re­port. If you’re go­ing to be­come emo­tional, go home.’

How­ever the atroc­i­ties Robert has wit­nessed make him feel ‘pas­sion­ately an­gry.’ In­jus­tice is anath­ema to him, the in­no­cent vic­tim his ward.

‘I’m not de­sen­si­tised. If you were de­sen­si­tised you’d be bored. One of the rea­sons I’ve stayed so long is be­cause I want to know what hap­pens next.’

The Mid­dle East land­scape is not that of a foot­ball match, a sports event, but a place of ‘ bloody tragedy’ where a jour­nal­ist can’t sim­ply ap­ply ‘ bal­ance’ to each side. ‘ You must go to the scene and make up your mind,’ he said. Re­port the truth, in other words.

He and renowned Is­raeli jour­nal­ist Amira Hass were dis­cussing their pro­fes­sion and Fisk said, some­what loftily that jour­nal­ists are ‘ the first wit­ness to his­tory.’

‘Her far bet­ter def­i­ni­tion was “our job is to mon­i­tor the cen­tres of power,”’ he said.

Stay­ing alive is im­por­tant, of course, and Robert has con­tended with some ex­tremely dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions in­clud­ing a bru­tal beat­ing and bul­lets whizzing past his head.

In Syria re­cently he was in a church where the Is­lamists had burned bibles, ripped paint­ings. ‘I’ve got to get ev­i­dence of this,’ he said. ‘It was worth the risk of go­ing there.’

Some­times he has been so fright­ened he could hardly write. On one oc­ca­sion three po­lice­men lay ‘in bits’, dead out­side his ho­tel just sec­onds af­ter he made it in­side.

‘In the movies the hero al­ways sur­vives,’ he said. ‘You have to keep your wits about you and don’t get ro­man­tic.’

He gives lec­tures all over the world, many of them free of charge for cer­tain causes. ‘I said of course I would help,’ he said on the forth­com­ing En­niskerry Heart­savers fundraiser.

Their aim is to pro­vide ac­ces­si­ble Au­to­mated De­fib­ril­la­tors in pub­lic places, to teach mem­bers of the com­mu­nity how to pro­vide CPR, and to act as first re­sponse to pa­tients in the area who are suf­fer­ing with car­diac is­sues while an am­bu­lance is on its way.

They have al­ready fundraised and pur­chased three AEDs for the area, and are now rais­ing funds to pur­chase train­ing equip­ment and sup­plies for trained first re­spon­ders who will be on call with cen­tral am­bu­lance con­trol.

‘We will be work­ing un­der the um­brella group: WWCFR who, within the con­fines of Wick­low county have al­ready had over 2,500 call­outs since they were first es­tab­lished in 2004,’ said a spokesman.

The event will take place at the Sum­mer­hill House Ho­tel in En­niskerry on April 29. Tick­ets are €20 and avail­able from (086) 8584611 or (086) 3636226.

Robert Fisk will ap­pear at a char­ity event in En­niskerry on April 29

Fisk has lived in Beirut for half his life - but knows Wick­low very well.

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