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Goodbye to the last heterodox of the Middle East

British correspondent Robert Fisk, at an event in Paris in 2005.FRANCOIS MORI / AP

When Robert Fisk traveled to the Saharawi camps of Tindouf (Algeria) in 1997, coinciding with the visit of former US Secretary of State James Baker, he was already a holy man of the international press. His grimace of skepticism at the young journalists who escorted him under the canopy of admiration gave by now the failure of the umpteenth UN mediation between the Polisario Front and Morocco. The veteran British correspondent, who has covered nearly every conflict in the Middle East over the past four decades, died of a sudden stroke in Dublin, his homeland of choice, on Sunday after he acquired Irish nationality and received his doctorate from Trinity College.

Born in Maidstone (southern England) 74 years ago and graduated in Literature from Lancaster University in 1968, Fisk was sent by the Sunday Express to Belfast at the height of the Northern Irish riots in 1972 before covering the Carnation Revolution in Portugal. But his destination was on the Corniche in Beirut, the promenade where he settled as a correspondent for the Times from 1976. The civil war in Lebanon, which lasted until 1990; the coming to power of the ayatollahs in Iran in 1979; Israel’s Lebanese incursions in 1982 and 2006, the wars in Iraq in 1991 and 2003, or the last decade of war in Syria were the scenes from which he reported on the ground. “With his courage and independence, he helped many people better understand the complexities of the Middle East,” Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin said goodbye to him on Twitter.

He was one of the first journalists to alert on the massacre in the Shabra and Shatila camps, in which at least 2,000 Palestinian refugees were killed by radical Christian militias in 1982 on the outskirts of the Lebanese capital in the face of the passivity of invading Israeli forces. Fisk recalled in this same newspaper his colleague and friend in Beirut Juan Carlos Gumucio twenty years after a massacre that they both reported on. “He was a man of resources, brave, cynical and deeply subversive in the best sense of that word,” read his obituary on the Bolivian reporter, who became a correspondent for EL PAÍS in Jerusalem and London.

The profile fits perfectly to the personality of the now deceased journalist, who expanded the coverage to the wars in Afghanistan and the Balkans or the conflicts in the Maghreb. Heterodox in his observations, systemically critical of the official version – he anticipated by denouncing the fiasco of the American pretext for weapons of mass destruction to attack Iraq – Fisk also did not usually lose his mocking irony. “Is it true that Gumucio remarries [con la célebre reportera de guerra estadounidense Marie Colvin]? ”Fisk shook his head in a village decimated by hundreds of cutthroats by fundamentalist gangs in the Mitiya of Algeria in the late 1990s.

So I had already broken up with him Times of Rupert Murdoch to sign for life for him Independent. In this newspaper currently published in Ireland, he achieved international recognition for his exclusive interviews with the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, before 9/11. Several books condense the journalistic work to which he dedicated his life, such as Pity of nation, about the recent history of Lebanon or the classic The great war for civilization: the conquest of the Middle East. Divorced since 2006, Fisk leaves no children.

A steely critic of the policies of the United States and Israel in the region, Fisk has been questioned at the same time for his news line during the war in Syria, in which he refrained from criticizing deliberate attacks by the Damascus regime against the civilian population. “Many media are confused by this conflict and show a deformed Syria,” recalls Natalia Sancha, EL PAÍS correspondent in Beirut, who told journalists by way of advice that they were waiting to receive accreditation at the Information Ministry in Damascus. Against the imposition of the rest of the media, he enjoyed the privilege of traveling the country without restrictions and without an official “companion”.

Without shunning self-criticism, the iconoclast Fisk rode polemics almost to his death. “I do not like the stories about the effect that the events they cover have on journalists, but those of the victims and survivors,” he summarized the central axis of his work in an interview with the Lebanese newspaper L’Orient le Jour. “As soon as there are problems,” he said, “reporters can always take out a first-class ticket and take a break.”