Wednesday, August 11, 2010

And now for something completely different: the Irish Anti-War Movement

Note: this is not a blog about politics. This post is about a political group as a community with an alternative perspective and not a discussion of the rights or wrongs of the main substantive issues of interest to that group.

Many of the topics I write about - coffee, plays, Japanese cuisine - are entirely delightful subjects. Some people might (wrongly) regard them as trivialities, but they are important not only in their own right but because they are part of a broader concept of how people in Dublin share their city with each other. Sometimes I think I should have called this blog "Dublin Subcultures", because I have a strong if not yet proven belief that Dublin is full of interesting goings-on that most people simply filter out or never hear about.

For the sake of doing something entirely different to my normal routine I went along at the weekend to the 'Day School' being run by the Irish Anti-War Movement.

The event cost €5/€10 depending on employment status; I rather honestly pointed out that I was in work, but countered that (due to time constraints) I was only turning up to hear a single session. Reasonableness was achieved and everyone was satisfied.

The panel of speakers at the session ("Islam and resistance") were genuinely well chosen, almost shockingly so. I had feared that I would hear four similar speeches, each more angry but less informative than the last. Instead the speakers each presented an entirely distinct topic of discussion. First up was a brief commentary about warfare in early Islam - a subject I already knew a little about thanks to my good friend Wikipedia. Next up was a professor from DCU, who gave a fascinating speech categorising Islamist groups into five distinct types. Broadly speaking he described each type by three main factors - guns, institutional politics, and charity work.

The third speaker talked about resistance as a culture, a way of life. I think he was the one who pointed out that Afghani fighters in the 1980s were portrayed as the good guys; now they're shown... differently. (Have a look at that James Bond film from the 1980s - I think it's The Living Daylights. Mujahideen as plucky heroes!) The final speaker discussed her view that the media incorrectly depict Islam as monolithic and unchanging. All very interesting, and with good chairing ensuring that neither the speeches nor the audience comments/questions ran on much too long.

I however wasn't there just to hear these speeches; I wanted to get some feel for the people themselves and their attitudes. And on this point I must admit: I mostly failed. For the first time since I started blogging, I lost my nerve; later in the evening I happened to wander by the bar of the Central Hotel intending to chat to the people at the Day School - Blogging Skills 101, really. But... I just walked on by. I felt like an interloper. Despite the very fractured nature of radical left-wing politics, they seemed to all know each other and get along well enough over a pint. They weren't unfriendly towards me; I just felt like I'd be getting in the way.

If I were to be critical, I'd express some surprise at how little interest they showed in a newbie. They seemed wary of strangers, as if half suspecting that anyone they didn't know might be (if I can put it this way) working for The Man. Possibly even The Israeli Man. Perhaps that was just a preconception on my part.

The attendees at the event were a complex, motivated, and varied group of people, and beyond that I can't fairly comment.

Ahmed El Habash speaking about warfare in early Islam.

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