The Times’ biting wit

Christine Hauser of the New York Times must have had to refrain from smiling to herself as she penned her account of Palestinian officials agreeing to form a new, permanent government in the wake of the impending November 4 dissolution of the current, temporary cabinet.
“The Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat asked the prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, to form the cabinet, Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said today, according to news agency reports from Ramallah in the West Bank.
‘President Arafat and the Fatah Central Committee have unanimously asked Abu Ala to form a new Cabinet based on the current one,’ Mr. Shaath said, using Mr. Qurei’s nom de guerre.”

Hauser’s right, of course. Though she’s ostensibly discussing the creation of a Palestinian government, using the more conventional notions of “pseudonym” or “fictitious name” lacks the ever-so-clever double entendre of the French nom de guerre, which is also used in a pseudonymous capacity, but literally means “a war name, or a name used in the course of fighting.”
So, when does this government-creating end and the fighting resume? I was so busy quibbling over semantics that I forgot, whose turn is it?

5 replies on “The Times’ biting wit”

The various monikers for the old-line Fatah stalwarts (Arafat = Abu Amar, Abbas = Abu Mazen, Qureia = Abu Ala) were taken by them during the old PLO days, when they very much considered themselves “at war.” It seems that a nom adopted during a guerre remains a nom de guerre regardless of whether the guerre might be over (which, in this case as you correctly point out, it isn’t). If you referred to the now-retired General Schwartzkopf as “Stormin’ Norman,” that would still be a nom de guerre, even though we aren’t at war with Iraq anymore. Oh, wait…
In any case, journalists use this formation to refer to the pet names of Arafat, et al. as a matter of course, so I think you’re reading a bit much into this.

yeah, i love parsing words. i was also considering linking to this camille paglia fluff piece as well, but didn’t bother. selections: “As a writer, I’m inspired not just by other writing but by music and art and lines from movies. I think that’s what’s missing from a lot of blogs. Most bloggers aren’t culture critics but political or media junkies preoccupied with pedestrian minutiae and a sophomoric “gotcha” mentality. I find it depressing and claustrophobic. The Web is a wide open space — voices on it should have energy and vision.”
maybe i’m too meta. oh well.

Actually, the name “Abu Ala” means nothing more or less than “Ala’s father” and it’s a fairly standard, familiar usage in Arabic-speaking countries. The kid’s name that’s used is almost always that of the oldest son, so not all offspring are treated equal. There’s definitely politics involved in the public referring to a political/military/whatever figure in such a chatty, personal way, but it’s not a “pseudonym” or a “fake name,” it’s just another way to refer to a man in a traditional, patriarchal culture.

Absolutely right… In fact, I’m pretty sure that the big three Fatah Fathers’ “Abu” names do refer only to their eldest sons. But it gets a bit confusing because some other well-known fellas took more symbolic names, like Abu Nidal (father of the struggle), Abu Jihad (father of jihad), and Abu Sayaff (father of the sword).
– Abu Nobody (that I know of)

Comments are closed.