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Slugger O’Toole: Blogging in a Combat Zone

           “There was Slugger O’Toole who was drunk as a rule
             And fighting Bill Tracey from Dover
               And your man Mick McCann from the banks of the Bann
                 Was the skipper of the Irish Rover… “

     The question here is whether blogging is good for peace… in Sri Lanka?  in Kashmir?  in the Middle East?  Here‘s the start of an answer, from Belfast.

    Blogs like Slugger O’Toole and its offspring are a new diplomatic channel easing “the troubles” in Northern Ireland.  Author Mick Fealty conceived the blog a year ago as a sort of newsletter to the legendary sailor who went down with the ship, “The Irish Rover,” between Cork and New York in 1806.  Slugger O’Toole, the blog, was to be an open and independent conversation, a refuge from soundbite television, from established biases in the Belfast papers and “the limitations of the printed page.”  Widely read now in Ireland, England and the U.S., Slugger O’Toole overflows with Comments on the finest details of an ancient conflict (lots of back-and-forth this week about the wearing of IRA T-shirts featuring the image of a sniper).  Slugger is a space where new voices emerge, using both Gaelic and English languages.  It’s a place where “Catholics and Protestants are fairly comfortable,” Mick Fealty told me.  “At least they’re in the same room.”  Which is not to say that minds are changed, but Mick Fealty suspects that the rhythm and rules of his blog help people out of ruts.  “The dynamic of the blog keeps people moving forward,” he said.  “It doesn’t encourage people to linger over hurt or offense.”  He keeps a light rein on personal flaming.  Soccer rules apply: “play the ball, not the man.”  In Mick Fealty’s own comments, the polite, persistent pressure is on (Protestant) Unionists to put forth a vision of the future beyond simply “no” to (Catholic) Republican nationalism.  “There’s been a huge deficit on the Unionist side of the discourse,” he says.  So he combines honest brokerage with a certain amount of political judgment. For his dialog blog (diablog?) to work, Mick Fealty said, it is critical that it’s not a government initiative.  “Independence is the key.”  Also: serious mindedness, openness, emotional honesty.  A blend of detachment and commitment.  “And a certain amount of innocent naivete,” he added.  Listen in with peace blogger Mick Fealty, and keep an eye on Slugger O’Toole.

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