Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Commemoration in Conflict Comparing the Generation of Solidarity at the 1916 Easter Rising Commemorations in Belfast Northern Ireland and the 1948 'Nakba' Commemorations in Ramallah, Palestine

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Commemoration in Conflict Comparing the Generation of Solidarity at the 1916 Easter Rising Commemorations in Belfast Northern Ireland and the 1948 'Nakba' Commemorations in Ramallah, Palestine

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article takes as its focus the generation of solidarity through the commemoration of key and defining moments in modern Irish and Palestinian history, namely; the 1916 Easter Rising and the 1948 Palestinian Nakba. The paper explores the means by which annual commemorative rituals that take place in areas experiencing conflict, or a period of transition away from conflict, are constructed in such a way as to strengthen social cohesion between groups for whom the past is relevant. Reflecting on data gathered through semi-structured interviews with key respondents and ethnographic observations made over a three year period, (2010- 2013), the article reveals a more cohesive approach to commemoration in areas where the level of on-going conflict remains particularly high (Palestine) and more fragmented and disjointed ritual activity when the commemoration takes place against the backdrop of relative peace and stability (Northern Ireland). In accounting for the difference in approach to constructing commemorative events against a conflicted or transitional background, the conclusion is reached whereby it is suggested that the relatively peaceful political climate, characterised through a reduction in violence with a once hostile 'other', permits for the emergence of heterogeneity, with rival factions permitted space to promote alternative interpretations of the past and different visions for the future through the highly public median of the commemorative ritual. Far from being events that generate a sense of social cohesion between groups for whom the past is relevant, commemorative rituals which take place in a hostile environment can be arenas of dissent; opportunities for marginalised factions to challenge the often state-sponsored hegemonic narrative, thus revealing the limits to the solidarity thesis.

Keywords

Commemoration, Conflict, Irish Republicans, Palestinian Factions, Solidarity

Introduction

The study of rituals has been the focal point of much anthropological and sociological research ever since Durkheim's (1912) pioneering study in the often-cited text, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. The purpose of the comparative work presented in this paper is not on ritual per se, rather it focuses on the presentation of solidarity through a special form of ritual performance, namely that of the public commemoration. For the past four years my research interests have centred upon the construction of the commemorative event as a means of expressing solidarity within participating groups for whom the remembered past is relevant. Situated in the context of two cities at different stages on the spectrum of violent conflict, Belfast in Northern Ireland and Ramallah in the West Bank, Palestine, this paper compares the socio-political context in which the two chosen commemorations (the 1916 Easter Rising, and the 1948 Palestinian Nakba) take place and reveals the manner in which the events are constructed in such a way as to strengthen solidarity between groups involved in the commemorative act. Such solidarity, it is argued, is particularly important to groups that are in situations of ongoing conflict, or transition from conflict. It is therefore important to note - and this is the point I ultimately arrive at - that what is actually displayed in these commemorative events (sometimes in highly pressurised political and military circumstances) is the limits of solidarity.

Commemoration, we find, can be as much about managing (or even displaying) factionalism and dissent as generating solidarity and social cohesion. Availing of qualitative methods deriving from the ethnographic tradition, interviews with key informants and event observation, the research analyses a range of data gathered from two highly significant commemorative events. Those selectedthe 1916 Easter Rising commemorations in Belfast and the 1948 Palestinian Nakba commemorations in Ramallah - are the most important annual commemorative events for the communities concerned. …

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