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‘Concerned Citizens’ in Iraq and elsewhere

In a comment to the previous post, dsquared pointed out a story about the US making new alliances in Iraq. Extract:

Abu Abed, a member of the insurgent Islamic Army, has recently become the commander of the US-sponsored “Ameriya Knights”. He is one of the new breed of Sunni warlords who are being paid by the US to fight al-Qaida in Iraq. The Americans call their new allies Concerned Citizens.

“Concerned Citizens” is indeed wonderful, as though such people were peeping out from behind their net curtains at youths defacing postboxes and rushing to ring the Neighbourhood Watch hotline. The extent to which anyone in Iraq currently enjoys all the rights and institutions that enable people living in more fortunate countries to describe themselves as “citizens” is also quite debatable.

On the other hand, I’m not overly enamoured of “warlords” either, as the newspaper report flatly describes Abu Abed and his fellows. I fear that the practice of calling militia leaders in certain countries warlords operates in two undesirable directions at once — firstly, it makes them sound like brutish historical throwbacks, a mere bunch of battling savages, perhaps because they don’t have F-16s and “smart bombs” at their command; but secondly, to my ear at least, it also sounds quite cool and glamorous, as though they are characters out of Tolkein in leather straps and flowing fur capes.

Turning for guidance to the OED, we find that its first citation, from Emerson as recently as 1856, uses “war-lord” exactly in the sense of my first implication, as a fearful figure from a less civilized era. Emerson notes gladly that:

Piracy and war gave place to trade, politics, and letters; the war-lord to the law-lord.

Other uses of “war-lord” are given, meanwhile, from 20th-century western accounts of the rum goings-on in China, another place of exotic archaism; and it is also used as a translation of one of the titles of the German Kaiser, not to be trusted.

It’s hard to escape the suspicion, then, that “war lord” as it is most often used nowadays encodes some amount of xenophobia and moral superiority. Happily, there is no inescapable reason why it should. The OED defines a warlord simply as: “A military commander or commander-in-chief.” I therefore suggest that the US government should begin referring proudly to George W Bush as a warlord. This would be a thrilling coup of public diplomacy. It would call to mind irresistibly the exciting medieval-themed gorefests of many videogames; as well as, perhaps, Lord Vader. What better way to get disaffected American youth finally behind the Iraq adventure?

  1. 1  Guano  November 16, 2007, 12:41 am 

    There is in fact an article in the latest Foreign Affairs, the journal of Chatham House, which makes just this point about Somalia: labels such as Islamist and Warlord are used to bolster certain narratives that may not be entirely correct.

  2. 2  John Fallhammer  November 16, 2007, 5:07 pm 

    I think my understanding of “warlord” is largely shaped by the fact that it was the name of a WW2 comic I read in the 70s – “Achtung! Englisher schwein! KABOOM Arrrrrggghhh!!!”, etc. So it doesn’t actually say anything much to me.

    I think the daleks had a warlord at some point – maybe The Black Dalek?

    In the sense that a warlord is someone whose power derives from control of a military force rather than law or democratic mandate or whatever, it doesn’t seem unreasonable, implying primarily that Iraq just doesn’t have structured law and government. “Gangster” would probably be more accurate, but that’s another can of words.

    “Concerned citizens” is hilarious. Utterly wtf bonkers. It seems to be more specifically “concerned local citizens” though, often shortened to CLCs by the military.

    There must have been a meeting to think that one up, somewhere in Washington. I can just imagine it.

  3. 3  Steven  November 16, 2007, 6:32 pm 

    In the sense that a warlord is someone whose power derives from control of a military force rather than law or democratic mandate or whatever

    …like I said, it’s a perfect description of George W. Bush.


  4. 4  Tawfiq Chahboune  November 19, 2007, 11:24 pm 

    I think you’ve missed the most important part of all this, Steven. Up until very recently all attacks on the occupying forces were said to be the exclusive work of “Islamofascists” and Baathist “fascists”, which of course was, and is, not true (unless 80% of Arab Iraqis are “fascists” for supporting attacks on the occupying forces and refer to those doing so as the “honourable resistance”).

    So the U.S. is now allying itself with the “fascists” who attacked their troops so as to defeat the other “fascists” who are still attacking U.S. troops. I’d certainly like to hear that defended by the pro-war “Left”, who foamed at the mouth at any distinction between the anti-occupation resistance and the vicious jihadi chauvinistic terrorists. Since they won’t be able to do so, they’ll resort as usual to complete silence (as they did during the destruction of Lebanon, arms sales to Saudi Arabia, etc) and/or slurs of “pro-fascism” and “objectively pro-fascism”. Orwell wept.

  5. 5  FlipC  November 21, 2007, 11:31 am 

    The point everyone’s missing about calling them Warlords is that at some point Bush is going to get fed-up with them and call for Xena to sort them out.

    I agree with Concerned Citizens, on the grounds that it automatically makes everyone else Unconcerned Citizens; and who cares what happens to them?

  6. 6  opit  December 9, 2007, 7:15 am 

    Rather redolent of the whole narrative exercise : “The facts are what we say they are.”

    Islamofascism was late to the game.
    Al-Qaeda ( a CIA controlled faction )
    Taleban ( Arab missionaries )
    Islam ( world religion – historically challenged repeatedly over centuries by Christianity, to no avail )
    “Islamofascists” This a sect or something ? I’ll guarantee nobody in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan knows WTF it refers to. For that matter, neither does anyone else.

    Lovely. A wholly imaginary scenario is the basis for ‘explanations’ of what is going on.
    Do you ever use the expression “Lying like a flat fish” ? “Floundering around’ is all that will ever happen when discussing this bumpf.

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