More hatred in Middle East than ever before - Fisk

01:43, Jan 31 2009

There is blood all over the floor of the emergency room at Baghdad's main teaching hospital.

A man walks in holding his severed arm, screaming. A soldier who has been hit by a shell is on fire, screaming: "Mummy, Mummy."

Upstairs, there is an old man with a rag stuffed into his eye socket his right eye has been blasted out of his head and blood is dripping down onto the floor.

The audience of several hundred sat in silence at Christchurch's Town Hall yesterday listening to Robert Fisk's recollection of the day Americans entered Baghdad, and his thought-provoking question: "Can you ever justify such pain and suffering tell me?"

Fisk, a British author and The Independent's Middle East correspondent, is in Christchurch for The Press Christchurch Writer's Festival.

Fisk delivered a raw and eye-opening account of his experiences in the Middle East, which have spanned over 32 years, drawing attention to the "hell disaster" stretching from the borders of what once was British India to the Mediterranean.

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"It's a beautiful place but it's getting more dangerous and it's getting more politically divided and it's filling with more hatred than I've ever seen in the Middle East before.

"I have never come across so much bitterness and contempt for the West as there is now in the Middle East today. Whether we can place that all at George Bush's preposterous response to 9/11, I don't know."

The dangers as a Western journalist are very real for Fisk who has lived through kidnapping attempts.

"I think we are all frightened for our lives working out there. But we also think that we should still be working there. And thank goodness, there are millions of Muslims who try to help us and realise what we are trying to do."

While some publications, particularly American, "pussy-footed" around the reality of the so-called "war on terror", Fisk tried to get across the reality of what the Middle East was like and that it had suffered enormously, he said.

"I think you should be objective on the side of those who suffer. It's a massive human tragedy and there are very serious issues of justice and cruelty involved.

"I don't think the fear of being called anti-semitic, which many journalists are worried about, should stop you reporting to the reality about what's happening.

"I don't think we care about Muslims in the Middle East. I would challenge anyone to name a single Iraqi out of the half million who have died since 2002. We care about us.

"We go to wars with ambitious ideas about bringing democracy to the Middle East. Most people in the Middle East want justice; then you can build democracy on top of that."

All military forces should be withdrawn from the Middle East, he said.

"What on earth were they doing? What did they think was going to happen. We shouldn't have ever been involved in the Middle East war.

"All the Blairs and Bushes experience is Hollywood. They watch movies and TV, and that, I think, is why they get very angry with us because we go and see the real thing. I don't like justifying wars.

"When you walk into the children's ward and see the screaming children covered in blood I think that is unjustifiable."

The Press