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                       Robert Fisk: Why does John Malkovich want to kill me?

                                             14 May 2002

                       It used to be just a trickle, a steady
                       drip-drip of hate mail which arrived once
                       a week, castigating me for reporting on
                       the killing of innocent Lebanese under
                       Israeli air raids or for suggesting that
                       Arabs as well as Israelis wanted
                       peace in the Middle East. It began to
                       change in the late 1990s. Typical was
                       the letter which arrived after I wrote my
                       eyewitness account of the 1996
                       slaughter by Israeli gunners of 108
                       refugees sheltering in the UN base in
                       the Lebanese town of Qana.

                       "I do not like or admire anti-Semites," it began. "Hitler was one of
                       the most famous in recent history". Yet compared to the avalanche
                       of vicious, threatening letters and openly violent statements that we
                       journalists receive today, this was comparatively mild. For the
                       internet seems to have turned those who do not like to hear the
                       truth about the Middle East into a community of haters, sending
                       venomous letters not only to myself but to any reporter who dares
                       to criticise Israel or American policy in the Middle East.

                       There was always, in the past, a limit to this hatred. Letters would
                       be signed with the writer's address. Or if not, they would be
                       so-ill-written as to be illegible. Not any more. In 26 years in the
                       Middle East, I have never read so many vile and intimidating
                       messages addressed to me. Many now demand my death. And last
                       week, the Hollywood actor John Malkovich did just that, telling the
                       Cambridge Union that he would like to shoot me.

                       How, I ask myself, did it come to this? Slowly but surely, the hate
                       has turned to incitement, the incitement into death threats, the
                       walls of propriety and legality gradually pulled down so that a
                       reporter can be abused, his family defamed, his beating at the
                       hands of an angry crowd greeted with laughter and insults in the
                       pages of an American newspaper, his life cheapened and made
                       vulnerable by an actor who without even saying why says he
                       wants to kill me.

                       Much of this disgusting nonsense comes from men and women who
                       say they are defending Israel, although I have to say that I have
                       never in my life received a rude or insulting letter from Israel itself.
                       Israelis sometimes express their criticism of my reporting and
                       sometimes their praise but they have never stooped to the filth
                       and obscenities which I now receive.

                       "Your mother was Eichmann's daughter," was one of the most
                       recent of these. My mother Peggy, who died after a long battle with
                       Parkinson's three and a half years ago, was in fact an RAF radio
                       repair operator on Spitfires at the height of the Battle of Britain in
                       1940.

                       The events of 11 September turned the hate mail white hot. That
                       day, in an airliner high over the Atlantic that had just turned back
                       from its routing to America, I wrote an article for The Independent,
                       pointing out that there would be an attempt in the coming days to
                       prevent anyone asking why the crimes against humanity in New
                       York and Washington had occurred. Dictating my report from the
                       aircraft's satellite phone, I wrote about the history of deceit in the
                       Middle East, the growing Arab anger at the deaths of thousands of
                       Iraqi children under US-supported sanctions, and the continued
                       occupation of Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza by
                       America's Israeli ally. I didn't blame Israel. I suggested that Osama
                       bin Laden was responsible.

                       But the e-mails that poured into The Independent over the next few
                       days bordered on the inflammatory. The attacks on America were
                       caused by "hate itself, of precisely the obsessive and dehumanising
                       kind that Fisk and Bin Laden have been spreading," said a letter
                       from a Professor Judea Pearl of UCLA. I was, he claimed, "drooling
                       venom" and a professional "hate peddler". Another missive, signed
                       Ellen Popper, announced that I was "in cahoots with the
                       archterrorist" Bin Laden. Mark Guon labelled me "a total nut-case".
                       I was "psychotic," according to Lillie and Barry Weiss. Brandon
                       Heller of San Diego informed me that "you are actually supporting
                       evil itself".

                       It got worse. On an Irish radio show, a Harvard professor infuriated
                       by my asking about the motives for the atrocities of 11 September
                       condemned me as a "liar" and a "dangerous man" and announced
                       that "anti-Americanism" whatever that is was the same as
                       anti-Semitism. Not only was it wicked to suggest that someone
                       might have had reasons, however deranged, to commit the mass
                       slaughter. It was even more appalling to suggest what these
                       reasons might be. To criticise the United States was to be a
                       Jew-hater, a racist, a Nazi.

                       And so it went on. In early December, I was almost killed by a
                       crowd of Afghan refugees who were enraged by the recent slaughter
                       of their relatives in American B-52 air-raids. I wrote an account of
                       my beating, adding that I could not blame my attackers, that if I had
                       suffered their grief, I would have done the same. There was no end
                       to the abuse that came then.

                       In The Wall Street Journal, Mark Steyn wrote an article under a
                       headline saying that a "multiculturalist" me had "got his due."
                       Cards arrived bearing the names of London "whipping" parlours. The
                       Independent's web-site received an e-mail suggesting that I was a
                       paedophile. Among several vicious Christmas cards was one
                       bearing the legend of the 12 Days of Christmas and the following
                       note inside: "Robert Fiske (sic) aka Lord Haw Haw of the Middle
                       East and a leading anti-semite & proto-fascist Islamophile
                       propagandist. Here's hoping 2002 finds you deep in Gehenna (Hell),
                       Osama bin Laden on your right, Mullah Omar on your left. Yours,
                       Ishmael Zetin."

                       Since Ariel Sharon's offensive in the West Bank, provoked by the
                       Palestinians' wicked suicide bombing, a new theme has emerged.
                       Reporters who criticise Israel are to blame for inciting anti-Semites
                       to burn synagogues. Thus it is not Israel's brutality and occupation
                       that provokes the sick and cruel people who attack Jewish
                       institutions, synagogues and cemeteries. We journalists are to
                       blame.

                       Almost anyone who criticises US or Israeli policy in the Middle East
                       is now in this free-fire zone. My own colleague in Jerusalem, Phil
                       Reeves, is one of them. So are two of the BBCs' reporters in Israel,
                       along with Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian. And take Jennifer
                       Loewenstein, a human rights worker in Gaza who is herself
                       Jewish and who wrote a condemnation of those who claim that
                       Palestinians are deliberately sacrificing their children. She swiftly
                       received the following e-mail: "BITCH. I can smell you from afar. You
                       are a bitch and you have Arab blood in you. Your mother is a
                       fucking Arab. At least, for God's sake, change your fucking name.
                       Ben Aviram."

                       Does this kind of filth have an effect on others? I fear it does. Only
                       days after Malkovich announced that he wanted to shoot me, a
                       website claimed that the actor's words were "a brazen attempt at
                       queue-jumping". The site contained an animation of my own face
                       being violently punched by a fist and a caption which said: "I
                       understand why they're beating the shit out of me."

                       Thus a disgusting remark by an actor in the Cambridge Union led to
                       a website suggesting that others were even more eager to kill me.
                       Malkovich was not questioned by the police. He might, I suppose,
                       be refused any further visas to Britain until he explains or
                       apologises for his vile remarks. But the damage has been done. As
                       journalists, our lives are now forfeit to the internet haters. If we want
                       a quiet life, we will just have to toe the line, stop criticising Israel or
                       America. Or just stop writing altogether. 
 

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