In This Review

The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East
The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East
By Robert Fisk
Knopf, 2005, 1136 pp

As the heft of this book indicates, Fisk, who has reported on the Middle East for almost three decades, has much to tell. His stories are largely about the wars, and the rumors of war, he has covered, including the turbulence in Afghanistan from the December 1979 Soviet invasion through the present, the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Christian vigilantes that followed, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. This is a very autobiographical work, and Fisk tells us that even as a child he wanted to be a foreign correspondent, fueled by the stiff conviction of father and family about the nobility of the United Kingdom's imperial mission. But instead of reporting on righteous deeds for queen and country, Fisk has come to see the Western "conquest of the Middle East" as founded on hypocrisy, arrogance, and self-delusion. Fisk knows his history, and his comparisons of Western intrusions past and present are apt. He does not, however, present a simple picture of a Middle East mistreated by outsiders. The horrors of Saddam Hussein's rule, the brutal Algerian civil war of the 1990s, Hafiz al-Assad's 1982 destruction of Hama, and the many other examples of obscene cruelty generated from within are duly noted. These spirited stories are reason enough to read this big book. An added bonus is the framing theme of Fisk as a modern Candide getting to know the Middle East.