Unlike some, I feel sorry for Robert Fisk for getting the crap kicked out of him. It’s just callous to take pleasure in a man being beaten bloody. And it’s plain repulsive when a generally thoughtful person like Glenn Reynolds calls the beating “well-deserved.” (Tell me it’s just macho bluster, Prof.!)
But it’s repulsive when Fisk calls his beating well-deserved, too, as he does here:
And I realised there were all the Afghan men and boys who had attacked me who should never have done so but whose brutality was entirely the product of others, of us of we who had armed their struggle against the Russians and ignored their pain and laughed at their civil war and then armed and paid them again for the “War for Civilisation” just a few miles away and then bombed their homes and ripped up their families and called them “collateral damage”.
So I thought I should write about what happened to us in this fearful, silly, bloody, tiny incident. I feared other versions would produce a different narrative, of how a British journalist was “beaten up by a mob of Afghan refugees”.
And of course, that’s the point. The people who were assaulted were the Afghans, the scars inflicted by us by B-52s, not by them. And I’ll say it again. If I was an Afghan refugee in Kila Abdullah, I would have done just what they did. I would have attacked Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find.
This kind of exculpatory reasoning is disturbing, as it denies people any meaningful sort of self-determination and moral responsibility. To whatever extent Fisk is right about the West having harmed the Afghans, Fisk himself has done nothing. He is not a symbol of us any more than a randomly chosen Afghan is a symbol of them. The assailants did not know who he was. They had no warrant for believing him to be a cause of their grievances. They lashed out irrationally, wrongly.
Fisk, who wishes to insulate his assailants from responsibility, manages to insult them instead, and us, by casting them as mere conduits for the West’s brutal agency. Fisk says they “never should have done so,” but it’s not clear that he believes there was a real choice. In context, it sounds rather like “the world never should have been such that they felt they had to.” It is surely a virtue to sympathize with others and to strive to know what drives them. It’s no virtue, however, to sympathize so intensely that you would strip autonomy from your objects of sympathy in order to spite what they hate. If someone does something awful and wrong, at least give them the dignity of having done it of their own volition. If they are brutal, let them own their brutality. The West may be the source of some misery, but it doesn’t therefore have a monopoly on causing it.