Robert Fisk spoke before a packed Kochoff Hall at the University of Michigan-Dearborn (UM-D) on December 20, 2006, on the subject "The Middle East: The Roots and Realities of Enduring Conflict(s)." Fisk was on a cross continent tour, sponsored by the Armenian National Committee of America, to promote his new book The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. His brief stay and talk in Dearborn were co-sponsored by the Armenian Research Center and the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and the Armenian National Committee of Michigan. The enthusiastic crowd of about 350 people, who enjoyed light refreshments before the event, consisted of faculty, students and members of the local community, mostly Armenian- and Arab-Americans.
Fisk was introduced by Dr. Daniel Little, Chancellor of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, who expressed his pleasure that the campus was host to journalists of his caliber. He also noted that Fisk had all the attributes of a successful journalist, including a sense of humor. Preceding Dr. Little's introduction, Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, the outgoing Director of the Center for Arab American Studies, welcomed the audience to the campus, and Dr. Ara Sanjian, the Director of the Armenian Research Center, discussed why Dr. Fisk's work was important for the Armenian American community.
Fisk, who holds a Ph.D. in political science from Trinity College, Dublin, spoke for about an hour and a half, yet he was so effective a speaker that time simply flew by. He kept the audience enthralled at his every word. His primary theme was that much of what we see happening in the Middle East is not really new; very similar events have occurred in the past, and we are falling into the same traps and modes of behavior as others in the past. Many of the examples he used to illustrate this point were from his books. He also made the observation, which all policymakers need to take to heart, that war is about suffering and death, not about victory or defeat.
Fisk also spoke on the Armenian Genocide, to which he has devoted a full chapter entitled "The First Holocaust" in his latest book. Over the past 30 years during which he has been based in Lebanon, Fisk has managed to interview many genocide survivors, as well as visit many death sites, including Der Zor. He has also acquired many British private papers which discuss the Armenian Genocide. He noted that his book is being translated into Turkish, including his chapter on the Armenian Genocide, which will probably make his translator and publisher liable to be charged under article 301 of the Turkish penal code for denigrating Turkishness. Although immune from persecution, since he is a non-Turkish citizen living outside of Turkey, he said he would go to Turkey if need be and put himself at the risk of being charged as well.
The lecturer also discussed how the Western mass media presents the world to its audience, listing some techniques used to distance the reader from "the other," and to marginalize and delegitimize "the other." In that same vein, he noted that instances of terrorism--both actual and potential--are used by governments, both in North America and across the Atlantic, to bring their citizens into a state of fear of "the other" and obedience to the government and its agents. Fisk admitted that he has often made himself disliked by establishment figures in many countries; his phone line in Beirut was tapped by order of the head of Syrian military intelligence when Syrian troops were stationed in Lebanon.
Fisk then showed a video of some of his reporting in Lebanon, noting his pleasure of being a journalist stems in part from being present while history is being made. The first part of this video showed the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. The second part dealt with the immediate aftermath of the car bomb assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, which took place only several hundred feet from where he was standing at the time. Finally, the last part concerned a trip to southern Lebanon and a UN observation post there before the Israel-Hezbollah fighting in the summer of 2006.
Fisk concluded his lecture by noting that "George W. Bush said 19 murderers changed the world forever [on 11 September 2006], but he [i.e. Fisk] will not let George Bush change his world, and we should not let him change ours either."
A lively question and answer session followed. Unfortunately, time was lacking for him to answer everyone's questions. The evening was concluded with Fisk signing copies of his books, The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East and Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon.
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