There was no way I wanted to miss Robert Fisk's lecture in Stirling, so I was not critically put off by the irritating call notice which referred to him as the “revered foreign correspondent”.
“Sound”, “respected”, “influential” would have been fine but “revered” does rather take us into that stratosphere of adulation in which we kneel down and cast aside, like Pilgrim's bundle of sin, all our unworthy critical thoughts. The worry of course was not about Fisk himself, who I imagine would be embarrassed by such an oily phrase, it was about the problematic nature of the regard in which some people appeared to hold him. The problem is not the celeb -- it's the celebrants, the people who don't grant to the hero the minimal right to talk bollocks on occasion.
In the event the lecture was far from bollocks, it was hugely interesting, illuminating and sobering. New to me was the possibility that instead of dampening down the insurgence in Iraq the capture of Sadam Hussein had given it new impetus, since potential fighters who had hitherto been put off by the fear that the ex-dictator would be the beneficiary of any rebellion against the occupiers could now take up arms with more confidence.
He admitted (as Lindsey Hilsum has done) that hands-on journalism in Iraq is now next to impossible. Hilsum says that reality is too dangerous for most foreign journalists so they have to rely on our own “lack of illusion”. This of course puts a higher premium on the judgement of the journalists we tend to trust. I did wonder about Fisk's judgement when he asserted that we could be sure that the people of Baghdad were not that night discussing in their homes the pros and cons of the draft constitution (this was on the eve of the referendum) but were focussed on garnering the scarce necessities of life.
As a piece of rhetorical hyperbole to highlight the distorted agenda of Iraq stories in the western media it was maybe OK, but since on his own admission he didn't really know what was going on inside people' s homes he was simply guessing or extrapolating. (Note to self: carry critical faculty with you at all times.) Anyway, I am looking forward to the new Fisk book.
More notes to self...
Another Note To Self is a fresh realisation of the power of unexamined assumptions which, like stereotypes, give us a dangerously simple map of the environment.
The context is the beginning of an emerging people's disarmament project, Faslane 365, and the assumptions were my negative ones about which doors would be politely kept shut as we approached people about this ambitious plan to blockade Faslane naval base continuously for a year.
After mobilising in the last six years or so for mass blockades of the base, expectations about how certain organisations or groups will or will not respond have acquired a settled and potentially misleading pattern. It has been so refreshing to find surprising doors swinging open. This is especially good for people like me whose progress is dogged rather than lateral.
Autonomy and conformity
Back to school last week to meet a sharp, friendly , open-minded but very conservative group of sixth formers studying war and peace. As is common with such groups they began by being appalled by property damage as an element of peaceful disarmament, but the two-hour discussion soon began to cover Life, the Universe and Everything, with a fair bit of the time spent on autonomy. This in a school where the snazzy electronic notice board intersperses events and team news with the bare slogan UNIFORM! at each cycle.
Indeed, school uniform is now practically covering Scotland like an irritating rash, prompted apparently by post-Dunblane security fears but also by HMI claims that dress conformity goes along with achievement. I am told I am overstating the case when I say it is a sign of an increasingly rigid society. I wonder. Anyway, time to go out, so it's on with my woolly hat, badge strewn jacket and bovver boots.