On the evidence of Ethan Bronner’s condescending putdown of “The Great War for Civilisation,” we couldn’t help wondering: Is this what The New York Times really thinks, or is the paper’s deputy foreign editor just being a jealous American flag-wagger?
Contrary to Bronner’s review, we find Brit journalist Robert Fisk’s massive book enlightening, beautifully written, filled with the skeptical wisdom of bitter experience. It’s both an absorbing read and a thrilling ride. As mentioned before, Fisk’s skill at connecting past and present is unbeatable.
Besides, we love his unimportant details. For instance, trying to fly to Jalalabad, where he was to be met and escorted to the mountains of Tora Bora for one of his secret interviews with Osama bin Laden back in the pre-history of 1980, Fisk describes the circuitous route that began in Beirut:
This time, the journey was a combination of farce and incredulity. There were no more flights from Dehli so I flew first to the emirate of Dubai. “Fly to Jalalabad?” my Indian travel agent there asked me.”You have to contact ‘Magic Carpet.’ He was right. “Magic Carpet Travel” — in a movie, the name would never have got past the screenplay writers* — was run by a Lebanese who told me to turn up at 8:30 the next morning at the heat-bleached airport in the neighbouring and much poorer emirate of Sharjah, to which Ariana Afghan Airlines had now been sent in disgrace.
And the footnote’s finishing touch:
*The more dangerous the destination, the more fictional the name of the airline that flies there. The only direct flight from Beirut to the cauldron of occupied Iraq was run by another company called — yes, you guessed it — “Flying Carpet Airlines.”
Then there’s the important stuff, which comes to more than a thousand pages of finishing touches.
— Tireless Staff of Thousands