Mea Culpa: nothing very communal about this community

Questions of style and language in last week’s Independent, reviewed by John Rentoul

Saturday 04 September 2021 21:30
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<p>One of the last US planes out of Afghanistan</p>

One of the last US planes out of Afghanistan

We referred several times to “the international community” in our coverage of the west’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. There are usually better words to use. In a report of Boris Johnson’s comments after the bombings of Kabul airport, for example, we said he appeared to be sending a “message to the new regime in Kabul that it has a shared interest with the international community in seeking to prevent Afghanistan falling prey to terror groups”. We could have just said “other countries” or “the rest of the world”.

It has become a stock phrase that is used to mean a kind of imaginary United Nations, but not the UN itself, or we would say that. It is imprecise but also slightly hectoring, as if the nations of the world ought to behave like a polite committee in a village hall. It implies that the nations of the world share a common interest, which they pursue in a collective spirit, which is somewhat jarring in the reporting of a scramble to get out of Afghanistan in which rivalrous nations have bickered, blamed each other and manoeuvred for advantage.

Is it safe to come out? My battle against “ongoing” is still going badly, although we didn’t have any uses last week of “the ongoing pandemic” for what feels like the first time since March 2020. Perhaps that means it really is over.

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