More than 400 people gathered at Hotel Minella in Clonmel last Thursday night to hear multi-award winning journalist Robert Fisk speak about his work and the political turmoil in the Middle East.
The Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent held the audience spellbound for more than two hours at the event organised by Clonmel Junction Festival, with Tipp FM head of news Trudy Waters introducing topics and putting questions to him.
Fisk spoke eloquently and passionately about the Syrian Civil War, the Arab Spring in Eygpt and Tunisia, the prospects for a resolution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, the Iraq War and life in Beirut, where he is based.
He said the West should send all the doctors, engineers and architects to the Middle East that its people ask for but should keep its soldiers out of the Muslim world, as it doesn’t belong to us.
He believed too much emphasis was put on the role of the internet in the Arab Spring, which he prefers to call the Arab Awakening or Revolution. He felt the trade unions played a far greater role but this was totally ignored by the media. “What was interesting was where the trade unions had been strong in Tunisia and Egypt there was much less bloodshed.”
Fisk railed against the “hotel journalism” of some war correspondents, who report on conflicts from the safety of their hotel. “While they are physically in Baghdad, they might as well be in Co. Mayo,” he said. And he was critical of journalists’ reliance on off-the-record briefings over the phone in reporting on conflicts.
During the question and answer session an Iraqi woman, who emigrated to Ireland in 1999 and now works in South Tipperary General Hospital, spoke movingly about how her country had changed so much since 2003 and she felt she couldn’t go back to Iraq because she feared there was no safety or security there.
Ireland was now her home and while we complained about the storms and electricity cuts at the moment, she reminded Irish people about the value of living in a peaceful society.
“At least all my children can go to school here. If I live in Iraq I can’t send my children to school”, she said.
Mr. Fisk heartily agreed.
The final audience question asked what people should do after reading Mr. Fisk’s reports.
The journalist encouraged those interested in the Middle East to visit the region (not the dangerous spots, he stressed) and report back to friends and neighbours on what they saw and even write about their experiences.