[Reader-list] Update on R. Fisk

zehra rizvi fatimazehrarizvi at hotmail.com
Tue Dec 11 00:42:29 IST 2001

robert fisk was beaten up by afghan refugees.  his report on the ordeal.  
what's really interesting is what he's thinking about as he is attacked.



>The Independent (U.K.)
>Monday, December 10, 2001
>My beating by refugees is a symbol of the hatred and fury of this filthy
>Report by Robert Fisk
>in Kila Abdullah after Afghan border ordeal
>They started by shaking hands. We said "Salaam aleikum" – peace be upon
>you – then the first pebbles flew past my face. A small boy tried to
>grab my bag. Then another. Then someone punched me in the back. Then
>young men broke my glasses, began smashing stones into my face and head.
>I couldn't see for the blood pouring down my forehead and swamping my
>eyes. And even then, I understood. I couldn't blame them for what they
>were doing. In fact, 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. Or any other Westerner I could find.
>So why record my few minutes of terror and self-disgust under assault
>near the Afghan border, bleeding and crying like an animal, when
>hundreds – let us be frank and say thousands – of innocent civilians 
>dying under American air strikes in Afghanistan, when the "War of
>Civilisation" is burning and maiming the Pashtuns of Kandahar and
>destroying their homes because "good" must triumph over "evil"?
>Some of the Afghans in the little village had been there for years,
>others had arrived – desperate and angry and mourning their slaughtered
>loved ones – over the past two weeks. It was a bad place for a car to
>break down. A bad time, just before the Iftar, the end of the daily fast
>of Ramadan. But what happened to us was symbolic of the hatred and fury
>and hypocrisy of this filthy war, a growing band of destitute Afghan
>men, young and old, who saw foreigners – enemies – in their midst and
>tried to destroy at least one of them.
>Many of these Afghans, so we were to learn, were outraged by what they
>had seen on television of the Mazar-i-Sharif massacres, of the prisoners
>killed with their hands tied behind their backs. A villager later told
>one of our drivers that they had seen the videotape of CIA officers
>"Mike" and "Dave" threatening death to a kneeling prisoner at Mazar.
>They were uneducated – I doubt if many could read – but you don't have
>to have a schooling to respond to the death of loved ones under a B-52's
>bombs. At one point a screaming teenager had turned to my driver and
>asked, in all sincerity: "Is that Mr Bush?"
>It must have been about 4.30pm that we reached Kila Abdullah, halfway
>between the Pakistani city of Quetta and the border town of Chaman;
>Amanullah, our driver, Fayyaz Ahmed, our translator, Justin Huggler of
>The Independent – fresh from covering the Mazar massacre – and myself.
>The first we knew that something was wrong was when the car stopped in
>the middle of the narrow, crowded street. A film of white steam was
>rising from the bonnet of our jeep, a constant shriek of car horns and
>buses and trucks and rickshaws protesting at the road-block we had
>created. All four of us got out of the car and pushed it to the side of
>the road. I muttered something to Justin about this being "a bad place
>to break down". Kila Abdulla was home to thousands of Afghan refugees,
>the poor and huddled masses that the war has produced in Pakistan.
>Amanullah went off to find another car – there is only one thing worse
>than a crowd of angry men and that's a crowd of angry men after dark –
>and Justin and I smiled at the initially friendly crowd that had already
>gathered round our steaming vehicle. I shook a lot of hands – perhaps I
>should have thought of Mr Bush – and uttered a lot of "Salaam aleikums".
>I knew what could happen if the smiling stopped.
>The crowd grew larger and I suggested to Justin that we move away from
>the jeep, walk into the open road. A child had flicked his finger hard
>against my wrist and I persuaded myself that it was an accident, a
>childish moment of contempt. Then a pebble whisked past my head and
>bounced off Justin's shoulder. Justin turned round. His eyes spoke of
>concern and I remember how I breathed in. Please, I thought, it was just
>a prank. Then another kid tried to grab my bag. It contained my
>passport, credit cards, money, diary, contacts book, mobile phone. I
>yanked it back and put the strap round my shoulder. Justin and I crossed
>the road and someone punched me in the back.
>How do you walk out of a dream when the characters suddenly turn
>hostile? I saw one of the men who had been all smiles when we shook
>hands. He wasn't smiling now. Some of the smaller boys were still
>laughing but their grins were transforming into something else. The
>respected foreigner – the man who had been all "salaam aleikum" a few
>minutes ago – was upset, frightened, on the run. The West was being
>brought low. Justin was being pushed around and, in the middle of the
>road, we noticed a bus driver waving us to his vehicle. Fayyaz, still by
>the car, unable to understand why we had walked away, could no longer
>see us. Justin reached the bus and climbed aboard. As I put my foot on
>the step three men grabbed the strap of my bag and wrenched me back on
>to the road. Justin's hand shot out. "Hold on," he shouted. I did.
>That's when the first mighty crack descended on my head. I almost fell
>down under the blow, my ears singing with the impact. I had expected
>this, though not so painful or hard, not so immediate. Its message was
>awful. Someone hated me enough to hurt me. There were two more blows,
>one on the back of my shoulder, a powerful fist that sent me crashing
>against the side of the bus while still clutching Justin's hand. The
>passengers were looking out at me and then at Justin. But they did not
>move. No one wanted to help.
>I cried out "Help me Justin", and Justin – who was doing more than any
>human could
>do by clinging to my ever loosening grip asked me – over the screams of
>the crowd – what I wanted him to do. Then I realised. I could only just
>hear him. Yes, they were shouting. Did I catch the word "kaffir" –
>infidel? Perhaps I was was wrong. That's when I was dragged away from
>There were two more cracks on my head, one on each side and for some odd
>reason, part of my memory – some small crack in my brain – registered a
>moment at school, at a primary school called the Cedars in Maidstone
>more than 50 years ago when a tall boy building sandcastles in the
>playground had hit me on the head. I had a memory of the blow smelling,
>as if it had affected my nose. The next blow came from a man I saw
>carrying a big stone in his right hand. He brought it down on my
>forehead with tremendous force and something hot and liquid splashed
>down my face and lips and chin. I was kicked. On the back, on the shins,
>on my right thigh. Another teenager grabbed my bag yet again and I was
>left clinging to the strap, looking up suddenly and realising there must
>have been 60 men in front of me, howling. Oddly, it wasn't fear I felt
>but a kind of wonderment. So this is how it happens. I knew that I had
>to respond. Or, so I reasoned in my stunned state, I had to die.
>The only thing that shocked me was my own physical sense of collapse, my
>growing awareness of the liquid beginning to cover me. I don't think
>I've ever seen so much blood before. For a second, I caught a glimpse of
>something terrible, a nightmare face – my own – reflected in the window
>of the bus, streaked in blood, my hands drenched in the stuff like Lady
>Macbeth, slopping down my pullover and the collar of my shirt until my
>back was wet and my bag dripping with crimson and vague splashes
>suddenly appearing on my trousers.
>The more I bled, the more the crowd gathered and beat me with their
>fists. Pebbles and small stones began to bounce off my head and
>shoulders. How long, I remembered thinking, could this go on? My head
>was suddenly struck by stones on both sides at the same time – not
>thrown stones but stones in the palms of men who were using them to try
>and crack my skull. Then a fist punched me in the face, splintering my
>glasses on my nose, another hand grabbed at the spare pair of spectacles
>round my neck and ripped the leather container from the cord.
>I guess at this point I should thank Lebanon. For 25 years, I have
>covered Lebanon's wars and the Lebanese used to teach me, over and over
>again, how to stay alive: take a decision – any decision – but don't do
>So I wrenched the bag back from the hands of the young man who was
>holding it. He stepped back. Then I turned on the man on my right, the
>one holding the bloody stone in his hand and I bashed my fist into his
>mouth. I couldn't see very much – my eyes were not only short-sighted
>without my glasses but were misting over with a red haze – but I saw the
>man sort of cough and a tooth fall from his lip and then he fell back on
>the road. For a second the crowd stopped. Then I went for the other man,
>clutching my bag under my arm and banging my fist into his nose. He
>roared in anger and it suddenly turned all red. I missed another man
>with a punch, hit one more in the face, and ran.
>I was back in the middle of the road but could not see. I brought my
>hands to my eyes and they were full of blood and with my fingers I tried
>to scrape the gooey stuff out. It made a kind of sucking sound but I
>began to see again and realised that I was crying and weeping and that
>the tears were cleaning my eyes of blood. What had I done, I kept asking
>myself? I had been punching and attacking Afghan refugees, the very
>people I had been writing about for so long, the very dispossessed,
>mutilated people whom my own country –among others – was killing along,
>with the Taliban, just across the border. God spare me, I thought. I
>think I actually said it. The men whose families our bombers were
>killing were now my enemies too.
>Then something quite remarkable happened. A man walked up to me, very
>calmly, and took me by the arm. I couldn't see him very well for all the
>blood that was running into my eyes but he was dressed in a kind of robe
>and wore a turban and had a white-grey beard. And he led me away from
>the crowd. I looked over my shoulder. There were now a hundred men
>behind me and a few stones skittered along the road, but they were not
>aimed at me –presumably to avoid hitting the stranger. He was like an
>Old Testament figure or some Bible story, the Good Samaritan, a Muslim
>man – perhaps a mullah in the village – who was trying to save my life.
>He pushed me into the back of a police truck. But the policemen didn't
>move. They were terrified. "Help me," I kept shouting through the tiny
>window at the back of their cab, my hands leaving streams of blood down
>the glass. They drove a few metres and stopped until the tall man spoke
>to them again. Then they drove another 300 metres.
>And there, beside the road, was a Red Cross-Red Crescent convoy. The
>crowd was still behind us. But two of the medical attendants pulled me
>behind one of their vehicles, poured water over my hands and face and
>began pushing bandages on to my head and face and the back of my head.
>"Lie down and we'll cover you with a blanket so they can't see you," one
>of them said. They were both Muslims, Bangladeshis and their names
>should be recorded because they were good men and true: Mohamed Abdul
>Halim and Sikder Mokaddes Ahmed. I lay on the floor, groaning, aware
>that I might live.
>Within minutes, Justin arrived. He had been protected by a massive
>soldier from the Baluchistan Levies – true ghost of the British Empire
>who, with a single rifle, kept the crowds away from the car in which
>Justin was now sitting. I fumbled with my bag. They never got the bag, I
>kept saying to myself, as if my passport and my credit cards were a kind
>of Holy Grail. But they had seized my final pair of spare glasses – I
>was blind without all three – and my mobile telephone was missing and so
>was my contacts book, containing 25 years of telephone numbers
>throughout the Middle East. What was I supposed to do? Ask everyone who
>ever knew me to re-send their telephone numbers?
>Goddamit, I said and tried to bang my fist on my side until I realised
>it was bleeding from a big gash on the wrist – the mark of the tooth I
>had just knocked out of a man's jaw, a man who was truly innocent of any
>crime except that of being the victim of the world.
>I had spent more than two and a half decades reporting the humiliation
>and misery of the Muslim world and now their anger had embraced me too.
>Or had it? There were Mohamed and Sikder of the Red Crescent and Fayyaz
>who came panting back to the car incandescent at our treatment and
>Amanullah who invited us to his home for medical treatment. And there
>was the Muslim saint who had taken me by the arm.
>And – I realised – there were all the Afghan men and boys who had
>attacked me who should never have done so but whose brutality was
>entirely the product of others, of us – of we who had armed their
>struggle against the Russians and ignored their pain and laughed at
>their civil war and then armed and paid them again for the "War for
>Civilisation" just a few miles away and then bombed their homes and
>ripped up their families and called them "collateral damage".
>So I thought I should write about what happened to us in this fearful,
>silly, bloody, tiny incident. I feared other versions would produce a
>different narrative, of how a British journalist was "beaten up by a mob
>of Afghan refugees".
>And of course, that's the point. The people who were assaulted were the
>Afghans, the scars inflicted by us – by B-52s, not by them. And I'll say
>it again. If I was an Afghan refugee in Kila Abdullah, I would have done
>just what they did. I would have attacked Robert Fisk. Or any other
>Westerner I could find.

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