Assumptions challenged after meeting with Dublin City Interfaith Forum

As a student of journalism, it’s my learning objective and professional goal to report as truthfully and as neutrally as I can. But we all have our biases and preconceptions.

What intuition doesn’t tell you about journalists, and something that I’ve been growing more comfortable with over my four years at the Media School, is that they accept those biases and move past them instead of shutting them out and pretending they never existed. This notion is essential to good reporting, because without it, the author is ignoring what grounds him or her as an observer rather than just the omnipotent writer.

A perfect example of this lesson is my meeting with the Dublin City Interfaith Forum this previous Monday. I had come to Ireland seeking to report on the relationships between minority religious groups and the Christian majority and what problems may exist there. If it’s anything like the United States, I thought, there would be plenty to write about.

But naturally, Ireland is unlike the U.S. and in some ways very unlike the rest of Europe. Most of the immigrant communities on the island are new. So new that they’ve largely found their voice on the political stage without the typical civil rights struggles like those in the U.S. and U.K. But based on my assumptions (and maybe some naiveté), this fact wasn’t clear to me when I boarded the plane at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Early Monday morning, my classmates and I drove to the north side of Dublin to our meeting place with the Interfaith Forum at the Anwar-e-Madina Sufi Mosque. The Forum is composed of local and religious leaders representing many of Dublin’s various faiths, from Catholicism to Judaism to Islam to Sikhism. These leaders meet bimonthly to discuss the assorted issues and successes of their respective communities in Dublin, ranging from communications with police to multicultural education in primary schools.

Because of my preconceptions, at first I found it difficult to believe when the Mosque’s Imam, Jameel Mutoola, told us that living as a Muslim in Ireland was “fantastic.”  With the dramatic increase in Islamophobia in recent years due to extremist attacks and the refugee crisis, I expected relations to be strained at best.

Yet upon hearing the responses of the other forum members and seeing the reverence they have for each other, my assumptions began to break down.

Ireland still has its own problems with diversity integration to be sure. It’s one of the only countries in the European Union that does not have official hate crime legislation, causing some to believe that affected minorities are not receiving the justice they deserve.

But if the Dublin City Interfaith Forum taught me anything during my time with them, it’s that despite their differences and the problems of other faith forums around the world, these various communities in Dublin can still meet amicably, respect one another and face local challenges together. It’s a lesson of expectation versus reality that I won’t soon forget.