Belfast Telegraph

Troubles steeled me for horrors of Middle East: journalist Fisk

Documentary: Robert Fisk
Documentary: Robert Fisk
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Veteran journalist Robert Fisk has spoken about how covering the Troubles prepared him for war reporting in the Middle East.

"I witnessed my first real battles and saw my first corpses in Belfast. It prepared me for the Middle East," he told the Independent newspaper.

Mr Fisk was speaking about his new documentary film - This Is Not A Movie - directed by Yung Chang, which looks at his many years reporting from the front line of war zones.

Compared to the Middle East, he said British Army intelligence viewed "the little civil war" of the Troubles as just a "low-intensity" conflict.

"I witnessed my first real battles - in the Falls Road and in Derry - and I ran across Belfast on Bloody Friday, in July 1972, and saw the bits of human beings left after 20 IRA bombs exploded across the city in an hour-and-a-half," he said.

He recalls witnessing a British soldier falling from the back of an armoured vehicle in Andersonstown, having just been shot dead by "a Provisional IRA man with very long hair hiding behind a dustbin".

On another occasion he saw a loyalist terrorist in a coffin surrounded by "brown-shirted militia mourners", who later turned out to be his murderers.

Above all, he said the biggest eye-opener that prepared him for surviving as a journalist in the Middle East was confronting the lies of Government officials and British Army officers.

Mr Fisk said he was labelled as "pro-IRA" when he wrote stories about soldiers brutalising Catholics, but equally suspected as an intelligence officer if he ever travelled with the "Crown forces" of Army or police patrols.

Northern Ireland, for him, became "an essential training ground for the betrayals, massacres and cynicism of the Middle East".

"The transition from Belfast wasn't from the frying pan into the fire. It was from imaginable violence to unimaginable cruelty on a mass scale," he said.

"I am thankful for those years in Northern Ireland. I think they helped to keep me alive in the later years."

Still a frequent visitor to Belfast, he said he feared the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement are being undone.

"I see the old enmities being defrosted and reheated by the UK's insane desire to suicide itself over Brexit," he said.

"And I fear the creature in Downing Street and his Cabinet midgets will tear Northern Ireland to pieces again. I pray not. But if so, I shall watch from the safety of the Middle East."

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