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Is The Term 'Chiraq' Offensive?

By Samantha Abernethy in News on Jun 10, 2013 10:10PM

Graph created by VICE

The term "Chiraq" has been casually tossed around in recent years. We don't know the origin, but we know Urban Dictionary's definition was written in February 2012. Of course it references Chicago's violence epidemic, dubbing it a war zone similar to that of Iraq. The parallels are undeniable, but the term makes us queasy. Does it downplay the wars overseas? Is it just attaching a negative stigma to Chicago?

The HBO show VICE aired an episode on Friday of its documentary series titled "Chiraq" that explores street violence in Chicago. VICE writes:

The lethal combination of gangs and guns has turned Chicago into a war zone. To see why the Windy City, now dubbed "Chiraq," had the country’s highest homicide rate in 2012, VICE visits Chicago's most dangerous areas, where handguns are plentiful and the police and community leaders are fighting a losing battle against gang violence. In the neighborhood of Englewood, we patrol with police, visit with religious leaders, and hang out with members of gangs - soldiers in a turf war that has spread into new communities as projects are destroyed and residents are forced to move elsewhere.

Toward the end of VICE's segment on Chicago, the narrator says "younger kids in Chicago ... have so internalized their situation by proudly calling their city Chiraq and themselves soldiers or savages."

The narrator goes on to say "the South Side of Chicago is basically a failed state within the borders of the U.S."

We're not sure what it is about "Chiraq" that bothers us. Perhaps it's that it implies there are two sides to the war, both suffering fatalities. The last time we checked the innocent bystanders are not armed soldiers fighting a war, but neither are the civilians in Iraq. Perhaps "Chiraq" is oversimplifying the problem. There aren't two sides, and this isn't a war with a definitive end.

Watch a preview of the VICE episode below.