Unsurprisingly in our violent world many militias have sprouted from wars that have at best only partially resolved the ills of the societies in which they have occurred. They range from the spectacularly brutal Lord’s Resistance Army to the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Instability spawns militias and few regions of the world are as unstable as the Eastern Congo with its huge mineral wealth attracting every kind of private organisation, its ethnic diversity which has spawned numerous marauding militias that in many cases have broken away from the ethnic group they originally represented to become unattached working for their own – often murderous – survival. The largest and most prominent formation of militias in the Middle East has occurred in Iraq since the US-led invasion of March 2003. Thus, the Sons of Iraq militias numbering between 80,000 and 400,000 composed primarily of Sunnis are a response to extreme anti-Sunni violence from the Shiite community. At the end of December 2011 the last US troops were withdrawn from Iraq and despite arguments to the contrary the US has left behind a country that is ripe for militia activity. Militias in the Philippines or Pakistan or in certain countries of Latin America, where they have become more or less endemic, are now an “accepted” ingredient in these countries. Militias thrive on an adrenaline of their own long after the violence which h gave rise to them has passed into history.
In this groundbreaking book the rise of militias – from demilitarisation after conflict – has become a way of life and they are examined in depth in Sudan, Timor-Leste, the DRC and Afghanistan. Of the Philippines the authors claim that it has a “long history of insurgency and sectarianism, and militias have been a common phenomenon, especially on the violence-plagued island of Mindanao.” In other words, militias have become a way of life and may act as violent sectarian political parties existing in a limited area where their impact is most destructive because they are not challenging the major forces of stability in the country as a whole. In their conclusions the authors make two statements: militias are important because they revolve round the notion of “self-defence” even if this is heavily manipulated by the militia itself or its state sponsors; and research on militias suggests that only groups worth recognising are those which demonstrate survivability. The authors’ final plea is for a better understanding of the context in which militias survive so that – perhaps? – they can be absorbed into their societies and cease to be militias. In fact, all the accumulated data presented in this book suggests that militias have become a permanent if fluid phenomenon in our world and are here to stay.