March 31, 2006

Civil Wars 

Wellington commented on my yesterday's post saying:
I cross my fingers, but I do agree. A while ago I stopped posting about the Iraqi "civil war" (although I keep monitoring it) exactely because I'm convinced the situation is not crumbling as so many seem to think.
I've been thinking about this whole situation for a while, and now I can write down my conclusions.

I think that many, especially those on the anti-war side, are using the expression "civil war" regarding Iraq as a code-word to further their own agenda. There are also people using this term perfectly in good faith, anyway.

Before using meaningfully an expression like this it is necessary to define it properly; otherwise it becomes just another nearly meaningless code-word thrown around (that's what happened to terrorist/terrorism). I know it sounds terribly relativistic, but I think the concept of civil war is strictly related to Western society and institutions.

Civitas is a Latin word meaning "city" (see the common root?), as in city-state; and not only as a physical place, but also as its society and institutions of the city-state. Cives are its citizens. While war was a rather common occurrence between different city-states (and kingdoms etc), the life of cives was normally peaceful, and disputes between them were settled relying on the rule of law and governmental authority.

Civil war then means war within the civitas (and by estension, all kind of states): an exceptional and unusual condition when the cives directly use violence against each other to settle their disputes - in general but not only, power over the whole city-state or parts thereof. An important discrimination factor is that during a civil war, otherwise peaceful citizens take up arms or at least support the active fighters; criminal activities are generally excluded from this scenario because they already operate violently outside the rule of law. As it happens frequently, a state of civil war is a matter of kind and degree, and its borders are pretty blurred.

The American Civil War is known in Italy as the Secession War (Guerra di Secessione), and I think it's a quite accurate description: the Confederation wanted to secede from the Union and form another indipendent entity beside it rather than gain control of the whole United States (at least as far as I know). However, we can see secession wars as a category of civil wars.*

But what about a tribal society, as it exists in Iraq (and much of the Middle East and Central Asia)? Tribes live in a perennial state of struggle against each other, that sometimes becomes open conflict. The ideas of a state, government and rule of law are hazy and have lower priority than tribal loyalty and interests.

The "western" concept of civil war does not fit well to a tribal society, I think. Lee Harris uses the expression tribalist anarchy:
In tribalist anarchy, there is no central government, no central security force, no central army. There is no Leviathan in the form of a state that can stand above the feuding tribes and that can force them to stop their feuding -- and force them, often, through acts of spine-tingling ruthlessness, the way that all modern states have historically crushed all those within their territory who
persisted in tribalist feuds.

Under conditions of tribalist anarchy, instead of there being one centralized power, power is disbursed and diffused through the tribes themselves. The result is that there is no higher power that can restrain the power struggles that begin to erupt among the various competing tribes. There is no state-controlled professional army, made up of soldiers who have sworn to put loyalty to the state above loyalty to their differing tribes, and whose gut loyalty is, in fact, loyalty to the state. Instead, there are only informal and spontaneously generated militias or paramilitary groups, each of which is permeated with the tribal spirit, just like the boys in a gang. Each, that is to say, makes up an Us, and looks upon the rival gang -- or tribe -- simply as Them. If you are not one of us, then you are one of them -- and that is enough to make you my enemy.
I think this is a good description of the phenomenon - but unfortunately the use of civil war to indicate any form of violent struggle within a state is so radicated that I don't see it going away anytime soon. Though, the news cycle made its course and now there isn't much talking about the Iraqi "civil war".

* Italy, since the Unification in 1861, had its own civil war: it began in 1943 when Mussolini, backed by the Nazis, instituted the Saló Republic controlling most of the North and lingered until 1948 with the Communists taking revenge upon the ex-Fascist and priests and innocents caught in the mess. Several thousand people were killed in those reprisals (and some weapons caches from that age still exist).


In the Iraqi case I think "sectarian violence" could fit the profile.

Sorry if I link to my own post:




Ciao, scusa l'OffTopic, ma visto che sei intervenuto sul post del Pentagono ti fornisco il link ad un'inchiesta che ho fatto:


Ci dovranno essere dei miglioramenti, chiaramente.

Ciao, e grazie.

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