Mass migration of refugees to Europe is greatest defeat for Isis - Fisk

Posted May 06, 2016

The biggest defeat Isis has suffered is that refugees fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq have come to Europe instead of migrating to the territories controlled by the jihadist militant group, according to journalist and author Robert Fisk.

Fisk gave a public lecture, entitled ‘Life After Isis’, to a capacity audience of 1,100 at O’Reilly Hall in University College Dublin. The lecture was organised jointly by the UCD Law and Philosophy societies.

President Michael D Higgins, his wife Sabina, and the Palestinian ambassador to Ireland, Mr Ahmad Abdelrazek, attended the lecture.

“Their [refugees’] failure to go to the lands of Isis for their refuge was the biggest social, military, political defeat that Isis has suffered since it was created more than two years ago,” Fisk said.

“Those refugees came to be with us, they did not go to be with Isis and that was the most optimistic thing that I felt I could report from the Middle East in many, many months.”

The Independent journalist said that 100 years ago in 1916 the Great Powers of Britain and France created the borders that defined the new states of Iraq and Syria when they signed the Sykes-Picot agreement.

Refugees from Syria and Iraq had now turned their backs on the Sykes-Picot agreement. They have rejected the 100-year-old deal because the Western powers that signed it had repeatedly failed to keep the promises they made to bring independence and democracy to the countries they had occupied.

“I suspect that what we've seen with these refugees coming to us is, in a way, these people turning their back on the borders we built for them, and when they arrived in Europe, in Greece or in Italy, they turn their back on our borders as well,” he said. 

In his hour-long lecture, Fisk also said that looking back on the media coverage of the Arab revolutions, one of the interesting subtexts that journalists had largely overlooked was the importance of trade unions.

In 2006, cotton spinning factory workers in Egypt who were members of independent trade unions staged a revolution in the industrial town of El Mahalla.

The workers, who called for the overthrow of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, succeeded in securing their demands for improved living and working conditions.

He said these trade union members were the first industrial workers to protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

As a consequence trade unions were a “mainstay” of overthrowing the Mubarak regime and were a “major threat to any future regime if ‘democracy didn’t work’.”

He said that the machine-like way in which Isis destroyed cultural treasures and artworks suggested they had no emotions.

“I still think they have the emotions of an anti-aircraft missile or a helicopter gunship – they are a weapon...Whose weapon are they?"

The lecture was one of the special events organised for the 50th anniversary of the UCD Philosophy Society.

After the lecture, Fisk took part in a question-and-answer session with the audience. The Q&A was chaired by Professor Fran O'Rourke, UCD School of Philosophy.

At the end of the session, Robert Fisk was presented with Honorary Life Membership of the UCD Law Society.

Robert Fisk is an author and journalist who has worked as a Middle East correspondent for several different media outlets since 1976 and for The Independent newspaper since 1989. He also reported on the Northern Ireland troubles in the 1970s.

He has published six books, the best known among them his 2005 work, The Great War for Civilisation, a critique of the West and Israel’s handling of the Middle East conflict and Pity the Nation, an account of the Lebanese Civil War 1975-70, which he also reported on.