Of all the sad, true tales to come of the Syrian civil war over the last 20 months, a bizarre story by journalist Robert Fisk in The Independent may be the most ludicrous. And ludicrously off-base. After opening this weekend piece with a weird anecdote about a Venezuelan general and a German solider in World War I, "Inspector Fisk" (as he refers to himself more than once in the story) attempts to unravel "The Case of the Swedish weapons in Syria," as the headline so ominously frames it.
While interviewing a Syrian general in Aleppo, Fisk was apparently shown a suspicious "plastic packet containing three pink sticks of what looked like gelignite." The sticks had been confiscated from the Syrian rebels and bore an address in Sweden.
Odd, right? So Fisk traveled from Aleppo all the way to Kungsbacka, Sweden, to a mysterious factory with the name Hammargrens Pyroteknik in order to get to the bottom of this foreign weapons cache. The shocking twist? Hammargrens is a children's fireworks company and the "weapons" are actually road safety flares that were sold to Volvo, to put in trucks that were bought by Syria ... in 1999. Rather than admit to the harmlessness of these death sticks, Fisk concludes by chiding Europeans to "be a little more careful what we send to less stable parts of the world."
I'm worried the latest Fisk article is actually a cry for help, and that it might be time to stage an intervention.— Paul Hamilos (@PaulHamilos) November 5, 2012
Fisk is veteran correspondent with deep connections to the Middle East and long career covering tough international wars assignments. (He's one of the few Western journalists to have interviewed Osama bin Laden. More than once.) However, takedowns of his foreign policy ideas have become a bit of a sport on the internet. His dispatches have become so widely attacked that over the last decade his name has become a verb for "tearing apart an internet argument line by line." According to Fisk's story, his name also means "fish" in Swedish.
In addition to the bizarre non-conspiracy theory, some are also questioning Fisk's closeness to the Syrian regime suggesting he is not being critical enough of Bashar al-Assad's party line. Just a few weeks ago The Independent had to issue an apology after Fisk reported a claim from the Syrian foreign minister that turned out to be false.
Others take Fisk to task for his philosophical wonderings about the flares—which could theoretically be used to start a house fire—while ignoring the actual weapons currently flooding Syria via Russia, Iran, and even Switzerland. Swiss-made hand grenades, including the one next to the flares in the picture above, have become a hot item in Syria, after being re-exported via the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
Oh, and there's one final surprise note in Fisk's story. Hammargrens Pyroteknik doesn't even make the flares. They were manufactured in the United States. So not only are the "Swedish weapons in Syria" not weapons, they aren't even Swedish. Maybe Syria isn't even in Syria anymore?