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Review: Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation Сталин Send a noteboard - 31/08/2009 06:37:15 PM
I’ve been very conflicted about whether or not to write a review of Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilisation. For one thing, it’s non-fiction. For another, there are likely a lot of wotmaniacs who have read it. Finally, Fisk’s opinions are highly controversial and I find myself disagreeing with his world view generally.

That having been said, I think that it’s a book that people should read, because whether or not one agrees with Fisk’s positions, the questions he poses and the issues he discusses are questions that must be posed and issues that must be discussed. Many people – many intelligent people, even – believed George W. Bush’s assessment of why September 11th happened when he said, “They hate our democracy and freedoms.” I’m not attempting to refute the point that many Islamists reject our political system and hold it in the deepest of contempt. At the same time, the Bush view of why Arab Islamist terrorists chose to kill thousands of innocent civilians in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC is naïve and incomplete. Yet the Bush view is what many people have, either consciously or unconsciously, allowed themselves to believe in a fit of intellectual laziness, moral relativism or bigotry.

I personally found myself in a viciously personal argument with my own sister just after Christmas 2007 when I made the “mistake” of stating that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the attacks of September 11th and that bin Laden and Hussein hated each other. These are facts that even the Bush Administration ultimately admitted. However, millions of Americans can’t or don’t want to hear that thousands of Americans have died and tens of thousands more have been maimed so that we could take out a garden-variety dictator. They don’t want to hear that we did this after we were unwilling to commit US troops to the siege of Tora Bora, where unscrupulous Afghan “allies” were bribed into letting Osama bin Laden escape into Pakistan.

Fisk’s book lays out the tortured history of the Middle East in 1038 densely-packed pages. The font is small, the spacing is tight. He starts with Afghanistan, taking the reader through his own interviews with bin Laden and the Taliban and the time he held a Kalashnikov to defend himself from mujahedin in 1980 when he was in a Russian convoy to Kabul that came under attack. From there he turns to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the Iran-Iraq War, the Armenian genocide, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Algerian civil war, Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the ensuing Gulf War, the fallout and aftermath of that war and finally, September 11th and the War on Terror.

It must be noted, by way of criticism, that Fisk does a poor job of explaining what he thinks the United States should have done after September 11th. He discusses civilian casualties caused by errant bombs and intentional attacks on innocents with the same level of moral outrage, which I find inexcusable. He implies that he believes at least part of the absurd conspiracy theories surrounding the September 11th attacks. He expresses hatred and contempt for arms manufacturers that blatantly ignores the need for nations to defend themselves and fails to address the potential consequences for innocent civilians if adequate defense measures are unavailable. One particular example of this latter point is the way he explicitly lays the blame for all people killed by Kalashnikovs at the feet of the creator of the assault rifle, Mikhail Kalashnikov. His sense of anger is completely unmitigated by the fact (which Fisk relates almost as an aside as part of Kalashnikov’s story) that the idea for the rifle arose out of the terrible losses suffered by Soviet troops following the Nazi invasion of the USSR in 1941 and a desire to design a cheaply produced, easily operated weapon that the Russian troops could use to defeat the Nazi menace.

Despite the fact that Fisk’s own pacifist and anti-Western sentiments irritated me at times, the book nonetheless holds a wealth of information and forces the reader to confront the ongoing violence and slaughter that is seemingly endemic to large quarters of the Muslim world as well as the causes of this violence. To blame religion or culture would be to ignore dozens of other factors that have come together to create a “perfect storm” of conflict. As the details emerge regarding the actions of leaders, resistance groups, foreign governments and belief systems (political as well as religious), it becomes clear how daunting the problems facing the modern world really are.

Furthermore, by taking the stance that he does and eloquently arguing it, Fisk forces the reader to question preconceived notions about events and issues that make the news every day. The reader acquires a fresh perspective and will find his views changed, even if this change is a finely nuanced one.

Ultimately, anyone who reads The Great War from Civilisation from start to finish will find that his or her views on the Middle East have changed in some way. The change may or may not be one that Fisk hoped to achieve, but one thing is certain: the reader is armed with new information that is very useful to forming cogent and well-reasoned opinions about the “War on Terror”.
You can also write that as "Stalin" *MySmiley*
This message last edited by Rebekah on 01/09/2009 at 12:14:02 AM
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Review: Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation - 31/08/2009 06:37:15 PM 5084 Views
I can easily answer the first two hesitations... - 31/08/2009 06:50:20 PM 1487 Views
This does look like an interesting book. - 31/08/2009 06:55:09 PM 1424 Views
Thanks for the review - 31/08/2009 08:01:55 PM 1424 Views
I really need to read it. Thanks for the review. *NM* - 31/08/2009 09:31:37 PM 758 Views
I've started reading it. - 02/09/2009 05:34:12 PM 1379 Views
Thank you for the recommendation. - 31/08/2009 10:15:51 PM 1400 Views
What sort of time frame does he cover? - 01/09/2009 01:29:50 AM 1448 Views
It isn't a history book. - 01/09/2009 03:10:23 PM 1362 Views
It is an excellent book - 01/09/2009 12:18:51 PM 1325 Views
Care to recommend one or two to me? - 01/09/2009 03:11:27 PM 1345 Views
These are the main ones - 01/09/2009 03:40:35 PM 1353 Views
Hmmm - 01/09/2009 04:49:26 PM 1418 Views
Well - 01/09/2009 09:18:55 PM 1557 Views
Sounds like something I should probably read. *NM* - 02/09/2009 01:00:05 AM 694 Views

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