Fisk on his beating

sherrynstan at sherrynstan at
Mon Dec 10 11:40:09 MST 2001

The Independent (U.K.)
Monday, December 10, 2001

My beating by refugees is a symbol of the hatred and fury of this filthy

Report by Robert Fisk
in Kila Abdullah after Afghan border ordeal

They started by shaking hands. We said "Salaam aleikum" – peace be upon
you – then the first pebbles flew past my face. A small boy tried to
grab my bag. Then another. Then someone punched me in the back. Then
young men broke my glasses, began smashing stones into my face and head.

I couldn't see for the blood pouring down my forehead and swamping my
eyes. And even then, I understood. I couldn't blame them for what they
were doing. In fact, if I were the Afghan refugees of Kila Abdullah,
close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, I would have done just the same to
Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find.

So why record my few minutes of terror and self-disgust under assault
near the Afghan border, bleeding and crying like an animal, when
hundreds – let us be frank and say thousands – of innocent civilians are

dying under American air strikes in Afghanistan, when the "War of
Civilisation" is burning and maiming the Pashtuns of Kandahar and
destroying their homes because "good" must triumph over "evil"?
Some of the Afghans in the little village had been there for years,
others had arrived – desperate and angry and mourning their slaughtered
loved ones – over the past two weeks. It was a bad place for a car to
break down. A bad time, just before the Iftar, the end of the daily fast

of Ramadan. But what happened to us was symbolic of the hatred and fury
and hypocrisy of this filthy war, a growing band of destitute Afghan
men, young and old, who saw foreigners – enemies – in their midst and
tried to destroy at least one of them.

Many of these Afghans, so we were to learn, were outraged by what they
had seen on television of the Mazar-i-Sharif massacres, of the prisoners

killed with their hands tied behind their backs. A villager later told
one of our drivers that they had seen the videotape of CIA officers
"Mike" and "Dave" threatening death to a kneeling prisoner at Mazar.
They were uneducated – I doubt if many could read – but you don't have
to have a schooling to respond to the death of loved ones under a B-52's

bombs. At one point a screaming teenager had turned to my driver and
asked, in all sincerity: "Is that Mr Bush?"

It must have been about 4.30pm that we reached Kila Abdullah, halfway
between the Pakistani city of Quetta and the border town of Chaman;
Amanullah, our driver, Fayyaz Ahmed, our translator, Justin Huggler of
The Independent – fresh from covering the Mazar massacre – and myself.

The first we knew that something was wrong was when the car stopped in
the middle of the narrow, crowded street. A film of white steam was
rising from the bonnet of our jeep, a constant shriek of car horns and
buses and trucks and rickshaws protesting at the road-block we had
created. All four of us got out of the car and pushed it to the side of
the road. I muttered something to Justin about this being "a bad place
to break down". Kila Abdulla was home to thousands of Afghan refugees,
the poor and huddled masses that the war has produced in Pakistan.

Amanullah went off to find another car – there is only one thing worse
than a crowd of angry men and that's a crowd of angry men after dark –
and Justin and I smiled at the initially friendly crowd that had already

gathered round our steaming vehicle. I shook a lot of hands – perhaps I
should have thought of Mr Bush – and uttered a lot of "Salaam aleikums".

I knew what could happen if the smiling stopped.

The crowd grew larger and I suggested to Justin that we move away from
the jeep, walk into the open road. A child had flicked his finger hard
against my wrist and I persuaded myself that it was an accident, a
childish moment of contempt. Then a pebble whisked past my head and
bounced off Justin's shoulder. Justin turned round. His eyes spoke of
concern and I remember how I breathed in. Please, I thought, it was just

a prank. Then another kid tried to grab my bag. It contained my
passport, credit cards, money, diary, contacts book, mobile phone. I
yanked it back and put the strap round my shoulder. Justin and I crossed

the road and someone punched me in the back.

How do you walk out of a dream when the characters suddenly turn
hostile? I saw one of the men who had been all smiles when we shook
hands. He wasn't smiling now. Some of the smaller boys were still
laughing but their grins were transforming into something else. The
respected foreigner – the man who had been all "salaam aleikum" a few
minutes ago – was upset, frightened, on the run. The West was being
brought low. Justin was being pushed around and, in the middle of the
road, we noticed a bus driver waving us to his vehicle. Fayyaz, still by

the car, unable to understand why we had walked away, could no longer
see us. Justin reached the bus and climbed aboard. As I put my foot on
the step three men grabbed the strap of my bag and wrenched me back on
to the road. Justin's hand shot out. "Hold on," he shouted. I did.

That's when the first mighty crack descended on my head. I almost fell
down under the blow, my ears singing with the impact. I had expected
this, though not so painful or hard, not so immediate. Its message was
awful. Someone hated me enough to hurt me. There were two more blows,
one on the back of my shoulder, a powerful fist that sent me crashing
against the side of the bus while still clutching Justin's hand. The
passengers were looking out at me and then at Justin. But they did not
move. No one wanted to help.

I cried out "Help me Justin", and Justin – who was doing more than any
human could do by clinging to my ever loosening grip asked me – over the
screams of the crowd – what I wanted him to do. Then I realised. I could
only just hear him. Yes, they were shouting. Did I catch the word
"kaffir" –
infidel? Perhaps I was was wrong. That's when I was dragged away from

There were two more cracks on my head, one on each side and for some odd

reason, part of my memory – some small crack in my brain – registered a
moment at school, at a primary school called the Cedars in Maidstone
more than 50 years ago when a tall boy building sandcastles in the
playground had hit me on the head. I had a memory of the blow smelling,
as if it had affected my nose. The next blow came from a man I saw
carrying a big stone in his right hand. He brought it down on my
forehead with tremendous force and something hot and liquid splashed
down my face and lips and chin. I was kicked. On the back, on the shins,

on my right thigh. Another teenager grabbed my bag yet again and I was
left clinging to the strap, looking up suddenly and realising there must

have been 60 men in front of me, howling. Oddly, it wasn't fear I felt
but a kind of wonderment. So this is how it happens. I knew that I had
to respond. Or, so I reasoned in my stunned state, I had to die.

The only thing that shocked me was my own physical sense of collapse, my

growing awareness of the liquid beginning to cover me. I don't think
I've ever seen so much blood before. For a second, I caught a glimpse of

something terrible, a nightmare face – my own – reflected in the window
of the bus, streaked in blood, my hands drenched in the stuff like Lady
Macbeth, slopping down my pullover and the collar of my shirt until my
back was wet and my bag dripping with crimson and vague splashes
suddenly appearing on my trousers.

The more I bled, the more the crowd gathered and beat me with their
fists. Pebbles and small stones began to bounce off my head and
shoulders. How long, I remembered thinking, could this go on? My head
was suddenly struck by stones on both sides at the same time – not
thrown stones but stones in the palms of men who were using them to try
and crack my skull. Then a fist punched me in the face, splintering my
glasses on my nose, another hand grabbed at the spare pair of spectacles

round my neck and ripped the leather container from the cord.
I guess at this point I should thank Lebanon. For 25 years, I have
covered Lebanon's wars and the Lebanese used to teach me, over and over
again, how to stay alive: take a decision – any decision – but don't do

So I wrenched the bag back from the hands of the young man who was
holding it. He stepped back. Then I turned on the man on my right, the
one holding the bloody stone in his hand and I bashed my fist into his
mouth. I couldn't see very much – my eyes were not only short-sighted
without my glasses but were misting over with a red haze – but I saw the

man sort of cough and a tooth fall from his lip and then he fell back on

the road. For a second the crowd stopped. Then I went for the other man,

clutching my bag under my arm and banging my fist into his nose. He
roared in anger and it suddenly turned all red. I missed another man
with a punch, hit one more in the face, and ran.

I was back in the middle of the road but could not see. I brought my
hands to my eyes and they were full of blood and with my fingers I tried

to scrape the gooey stuff out. It made a kind of sucking sound but I
began to see again and realised that I was crying and weeping and that
the tears were cleaning my eyes of blood. What had I done, I kept asking

myself? I had been punching and attacking Afghan refugees, the very
people I had been writing about for so long, the very dispossessed,
mutilated people whom my own country –among others – was killing along,
with the Taliban, just across the border. God spare me, I thought. I
think I actually said it. The men whose families our bombers were
killing were now my enemies too.

Then something quite remarkable happened. A man walked up to me, very
calmly, and took me by the arm. I couldn't see him very well for all the

blood that was running into my eyes but he was dressed in a kind of robe

and wore a turban and had a white-grey beard. And he led me away from
the crowd. I looked over my shoulder. There were now a hundred men
behind me and a few stones skittered along the road, but they were not
aimed at me –presumably to avoid hitting the stranger. He was like an
Old Testament figure or some Bible story, the Good Samaritan, a Muslim
man – perhaps a mullah in the village – who was trying to save my life.

He pushed me into the back of a police truck. But the policemen didn't
move. They were terrified. "Help me," I kept shouting through the tiny
window at the back of their cab, my hands leaving streams of blood down
the glass. They drove a few metres and stopped until the tall man spoke
to them again. Then they drove another 300 metres.

And there, beside the road, was a Red Cross-Red Crescent convoy. The
crowd was still behind us. But two of the medical attendants pulled me
behind one of their vehicles, poured water over my hands and face and
began pushing bandages on to my head and face and the back of my head.
"Lie down and we'll cover you with a blanket so they can't see you," one

of them said. They were both Muslims, Bangladeshis and their names
should be recorded because they were good men and true: Mohamed Abdul
Halim and Sikder Mokaddes Ahmed. I lay on the floor, groaning, aware
that I might live.

Within minutes, Justin arrived. He had been protected by a massive
soldier from the Baluchistan Levies – true ghost of the British Empire
who, with a single rifle, kept the crowds away from the car in which
Justin was now sitting. I fumbled with my bag. They never got the bag, I

kept saying to myself, as if my passport and my credit cards were a kind

of Holy Grail. But they had seized my final pair of spare glasses – I
was blind without all three – and my mobile telephone was missing and so

was my contacts book, containing 25 years of telephone numbers
throughout the Middle East. What was I supposed to do? Ask everyone who
ever knew me to re-send their telephone numbers?

Goddamit, I said and tried to bang my fist on my side until I realised
it was bleeding from a big gash on the wrist – the mark of the tooth I
had just knocked out of a man's jaw, a man who was truly innocent of any

crime except that of being the victim of the world.

I had spent more than two and a half decades reporting the humiliation
and misery of the Muslim world and now their anger had embraced me too.
Or had it? There were Mohamed and Sikder of the Red Crescent and Fayyaz
who came panting back to the car incandescent at our treatment and
Amanullah who invited us to his home for medical treatment. And there
was the Muslim saint who had taken me by the arm.

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.

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