The Middle East correspondent explains why he thinks public space is necessary and highlights its intrinsic democratic dimension. He says that the Internet can never be a true public space and that his favourite public spaces are markets.
Shared Spaces recorded this conversation with the Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn in May 2015 when he visited the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) to give a lecture titled “War and the Islamic State”, which was part of the “Ideas and the World” cycle. Cockburn says that he believes it is essential to have meeting places “where people feel they can go easily”, although there are now “less and less places where this can happen”.
He says that having public spaces shows a certain predisposition to democracy and, by way of underpinning his argument, he suggests that if the residents of Damascus and Baghdad had been able to interact more safely, and if they had been able to exchange ideas in a more secure public space, their current situations would probably have been different.
Cockburn also remarks that, in his view, unlike a physical space, the Internet is not a true public space, mainly because of its anonymous nature. In this regard, he points to the paradox that even though it is a space where one can go to find a range of views, it ends up being a sounding board for different groups. These, he says, turn to the Web to find opinions coinciding with their own, so they end up thinking that everyone agrees with them.
As for his favourite public spaces, Cockburn says he loves markets, “the life of markets, the feeling that here are lots of people buying and selling things, meeting, talking, eating and so forth”. He almost always visits markets wherever he is, and notes that although there may be no electricity and the usual shops might not be open, “You have markets everywhere even when the situation is very bad”.