Twenty-five years after first setting foot on Lebanese soil, award-winning journalist Robert Fisk has revised his brilliant study of this troubled country, Pity the Nation
, for a third edition, to include the years since its initial publication in 1990. Artificially created as a country by the French in 1920, Lebanon's revenge was to "welcome all her invaders and then kiss them to death". Since arriving during the 1976 Muslim-Maronite civil war, Fisk has travelled its length to seek out, as well as provide, eye-witness account of combat and atrocity. The book's main pre-occupation is the Israeli invasion of the early 1980s and its terrible aftermath, including the appalling massacre of Palestinians at the Shabra and Chatila camps. Banned in Lebanon itself, the first edition of Pity the Nation
ended with close friend and colleague Terry Anderson still being held by Islamic Jihad. Inevitably, Anderson's release in 1991, along with other Western hostages such as Terry Waite and John McCarthy, emotionally informs the bulk of the new material, which also considers the Gulf War, Islamic resurgence, the collapse of the Oslo peace agreement and the bloody 1996 Qana massacre in a UN refugee compound by Israeli forces, to which Fisk bears terrible witness. He sees Yasser Arafat make the transmission from "terrorist to superstatesman to superterrorist", but by the end of this exhaustive testimony, virtually the last Western journalist left in West Beirut, he admits, "I still fear the monsters". And then Ariel Sharon is elected prime minister of Israel in February 2001.
Fisk, formerly of The Times and now Middle East correspondent for The Independent, writes as combatively as the events he so vividly describes. With a fastidious eye for detail, he rails against day-tripping reporters who betray truth with their clichés and loose language, constantly defending language against false appropriation: "terrorism", for example, wielded by one side to describe acts committed against them, deprives the term of any objective purpose and thus legitimises reprisal. He makes reparation with this unique and passionate analysis, still angry after all these years, which remains the most relentless and convincing account yet of the bloodiest quarter-century in Lebanon's history. --David Vincent