It took an Englishman to explain the Lebanese civil war

I’m going to Lebanon in a few weeks, and I’ve been re-reading the classic history of the Lebanese civil war, Pity the Nation, by Robert Fisk. Fisk is an English journalist(who I mistakenly labelled “Irish” in an earlier version of this blog) who has been based in Beirut for more than 30 years.  He was the only foreign correspondent to stay in Beirut throughout the civil war except for side-trips to places like Afghanistan and Iraq. His book has become a sort of unofficial-official history since no Lebanese has managed to produce a version that all the former combatants accept.  He is devastatingly critical of all sides in the conflict, Lebanese and foreign.   He castigates the Christians, the Muslims, (Shia and  Sunni), the Druze, the Syrians,  the Iranians, the Israelis, the Americans, the French and the Saudis.  I’m sure there are others, that I’ve forgotten.  There were so many who joined in the effort to fuck up Lebanon.

Fisk’s book is utterly compelling.  I sat down to look at a few passages I had marked last time I read it, and now I’m reading the whole thing again, all 689 pages.  The story is horrible yet fascinating.  It is not the extent of the slaughter that amazes me but the fact that so much of it was done up close and personal, by hand.  Fisk writes about the Lebanese civil war from a position of moral outrage, deep sympathy for the victims and with a story telling style that makes an incredibly complicated, awful conflict both intelligible and endlessly interesting.

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