Osama bin Laden asked for him before the Sept. 11 attacks began. Actor John Malkovich reportedly said he'd like to shoot him. Afghan refugees in Pakistan pummeled him with rocks and bricks, sending rivulets of blood into his eyes. The late Daniel Pearl and his wife, Marianne, then tended to his wounds in their Islamabad flat.
But Robert Fisk, 55-year-old Middle East correspondent for The Independent, a London daily, seemed more than a little anxious when a self-described "70-year-old Mexican" asked a question during a recent speech in Los Angeles. "Do you know that the Mormons in Utah, in `Zion,' think they're Jews and are entitled to occupy Southern California, which is really Aztlan?" the Mexican shouted. "Yo soy Palestino!"
Fisk, fielding questions from more than 100 radicals jammed into a place called Beyond Baroque in the city's Venice neighborhood, was there to attack American and Israeli positions in the war on terrorism--the latest umbrella for U.S. radicalism.
For the price of a round-trip business-class ticket from his Beirut outpost--somewhere between $6,000 to $8,000--Fisk will come to your home, church, university or salon to discourse on the "real" situation in the Islamic world, his three meetings with bin Laden and his encounters with the Pearls, who offered a replacement for the book of contact names and numbers he lost when attacked by a mob of fleeing Afghans.
But he is oh, so understanding. "If I were the Afghan refugees of Kila Abdullah, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, I would have done just the same to Robert Fisk," he wrote, referring to himself in the third person. "Or any other Westerner I could find." Speaking with a reporter by telephone from Beirut, Fisk says the Afghan villagers he encountered "thought I was the person who killed their wives and so forth. These were people who had been most cruelly treated."
One colleague says this reflects Fisk's "humanism"--in this case a search to understand the motivation of his tormentors. But according to Deborah Orr, another columnist at The Independent, Fisk is "a polemicist working as a reporter." Orr says he "is highly regarded by the liberal elite, the left wing" in Britain. While she believes "it's a very good thing" to have one reporter like Fisk, Orr wouldn't want a cadre of them: "Fisk is desirable, but Fiskishness isn't."
His opinion pieces, presented as news reports, nonetheless have won Fisk an influential audience in Britain and the United States. Thanks to the Internet, his news and opinion articles are posted on left-wing Websites from London to Auckland, and his lectures, which drew handfuls in Washington a couple of years ago, now fill the halls. Fisk "expresses my views a lot better than I can," says Stephen Yagman, a Brooklyn-born "civil-rights" attorney who with his wife stood in line for an hour to hear him in Los Angeles. Yagman said he distrusts the American media's viewpoint and that he won't read the New York Times "because it is a habitat of Zionists. …