Back to the Drawing Board

BY JAMES KING
EURO-STUDY ABROAD
6/3/09

For me, reporting from a foreign country is like a vacation. It follows the cliché: “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I like the work. Coming to Ireland and spending a day sightseeing was great, but I’m here to work, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.

Given my affinity for action, travel and leisure, I love the idea of being an international journalist. I always thought that for most stories, physically being there was a luxury but not a necessity, with traveling being one of the perks of the job.

I thought a lot of international stories could be done, poorly, but done over the phone. Two days in Ireland made me realize the importance of embedding yourself in the story.

It occurred to me that after a month or so of preliminary research, my story idea about the state of peace in Ireland is based entirely on the perceptions of others, most of them Irish. After learning about the concept of free-speech in Ireland, they seem like propagandists.

My original story idea was how the Irish peace process could serve as a model for the resolution of similar conflicts in other parts of the world. My belief, based on what I know from arguably biased sources, was that Ireland is currently at peace. I was wrong, and it’s something I never would have understood without seeing it for myself. The perception is that religious conflict in Ireland is near its end. But given what I’ve seen for myself, that’s far from the case.

Ireland is not at peace—from the murder of a police officer last month to the beatings and murder of Catholic soccer fans in the north just last week. Even toilets here serve as religious discussion boards. IRA propaganda graffiti is scribbled on bathroom stalls, only to be countered by more graffiti from someone opposed to the IRA. The fact that Sinn Fein memorabilia, decorated with Kalashnikov rifles and grenades, is flying off the shelves at the Sinn Fein political store tells me that the conflict is alive and well.

Peace, by comparison, is not necessarily peace. In the last 20 years things have gotten better, but in a country with fewer people than the City of Phoenix, the frequency of violence is alarming. Most of the people I’ve spoken with refer to the incidents discussed above as a “blip,” and it’s encouraging that the new adjective to describe the conflict is “fragile,” not “deadly.” Unfortunately, to me, “fragile” means teetering on the brink of regression to a violent time and place where a tiny minority of the population wants to go. What many of the Irish do is shrug these incidents off as unfortunate aftershocks of the earlier violence.

One of our lecturers asked a great question today: When is a conflict over? It seems to me that you can defeat an army, kill a terrorist or give up territory, but so long as the ideology of hatred still exists, the conflict will live on forever, well after those who facilitate the violence.

So, while each side pats itself on the back for not retaliating the cop’s murder, the praise-train may be premature. What makes people think all is forgotten? The retaliation could come next week, next month or even next year. Things may be fine today, but knowing the cyclical nature of hatred, violence and revenge will continue to go round and round and round until the source of the animosity—the ideology—is gone for good.

The status of my story is now up in the air. Not a panicked, unorganized up in the air. More of a calm and exciting unknown idea within a topic, which I feel will create itself when I hit the pavement and talk to enough people.

Erin go Brach! I’m hittin’ the streets.

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One Response to Back to the Drawing Board

  1. cschwalbe says:

    Nothing beats on-the-spot reporting. I once had an editor who thought you could report and write stories from books and articles. No way! You need to experience things for yourself. What a different version of Northern Ireland we learned after visiting Belfast and talking to people there.

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