July 2, 2012
Not a handbook, but a library, and, an essential collection of over twenty studies providing the history and dynamics of ethnic conflicts in eight arenas around the world, along with documenting the theories of conflict resolution and their efficacy. For interculturalists, this is both overwhelming and challenging.
The Introduction, written by the authors, is extremely valuable for reading and understanding of the rest, an overview of "Models and Theories of Ethnic Conflict." First it would seem that equal status contact in positive controlled environments would be a preferable strategy for reconciling individuals in conflicted, particularly minority-majority situations. But while individual connection may benefit, systems of distinctions backed by political dynamics reinforce distinction and conflict. Thus civil wars and partitions are often inevitable "solutions."
Acculturation is unfortunately a very long term and not an inevitable outcome. Globalization seems to produce ambivalent outcomes as well, pointing to the fact that the variables are not adequately understood or not researched. Hence, the importance of the some twenty individual studies in this volume. They are organized along geographical lines, to some degree sharing ethnic origins, rather than other classifications of theory, origins, etc. Perhaps, as the authors raise the question, ethnic conflict could be inevitable, but in any case research and exploration may diminish its costs.
Part One addresses the Pacific Rim, Hawai'i, New Zealand and the Philippines. In Hawai'i we begin with what some might call a qualified success story, unification of diversity around common economic goals and their realization, catalyzed by the labor movement, not without the cultural assistance of a benign "aloha" philosophy in the most ethnically diverse of US states. The author documents the history of colonization and decolonization and discussion of several theories of how culture functions for individual and group identity. TMT (Terror Management Theory) in particular underlines the importance of culture in reducing the anxiety and pain, the "terror" of non-identity. Recognizably indigenous methods of conflict management hold promise where they exist and can be brought to bear on crises.
Not unlike Hawai'i, New Zealand's population has been historically fraught with struggle over resources and population practices reinforced by discrimination. Unlike the mix found in Hawai'i, here the immigration patterns have long been in favor of white settlers and only recently more flexible, but still a struggle. Perhaps the late arrival of more diversity plays a role in the difficulty of forming a commonly accepted national identity.
The story of the Philippines is somewhat different in the specific mixture of religious elements and animosities between the Muslim Moro and the Catholic Filipinos. Despite several hundred years of Spanish aggression toward these "Moors" the situation became more critical under US colonialism which tended to exercise full control over the islands and eliminate local autonomy and communal property rights, e.g. in this case war with the independent Sultanates and in particularly the encouragement of migration to Mindanao, altering the balance of demographics in favor of the Christians. This chapter is focused on the events and effects of colonization in the contested areas and not a discussion of the Americanization that is currently making the Philippines a prime supplier of call center services. A large part of the chapter is dedicated to peace building strategies, everything from micro-level local and educational efforts at ecumenical and social dialogue to macro-level governmental diplomatic initiatives.
Part Two explores conflicts in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and India. When I first visited Sri Lanka in the late 1960's the brewing of ethnic conflict was visible on the horizon. This erupted into full scale conflict that lasted over a quarter of a century, coming to a questionable resolution in 2009. Sri Lanka is another case where British colonialism exploited both people and land and where national independence left conflicting ethnic and religious groups with conflicting class and racial differences. Militarization and repeatedly failed negotiations culminated in all out war of elimination of the Tamil powers and the question of how survivors would be integrated into the society. Peculiar to this conflict is the role of gender issues, in particular the victimization of women and their subsequent involvement in the peace process.
Malaysia is another instance of British interests altering the demographics by the importation of labor, which subsequently provided fodder for ethnic conflict. The ethnic bias was the principal cause of the expulsion of Singapore from the Malay States in 1965. Subsequently prevention of ethnic unrest has required constant attention to levels of sensitivity and sensitization of the population. "Muhibbah" is the term used as a slogan for the constant active pursuit of tolerance and harmony as Malaysia approaches the status of a fully developed country.
With over two thousand ethnic groups, India is a wonder for the world of diversity with a largely spiritually driven ethos of maintaining harmony and while the situation is not always ideal, the Indian success calls into question much of our thinking about the inevitability of conflict and the theoretical and practical means we employ to manage it. Some of the elements in the prevention and overcoming of conflict in the Indian context are discussed, among these a tendency to synthesize opposites, a strong tradition of dialog, the use of stories instead of positions as influence strategies, a traditional system (Panchayat) deliberating disagreements, and popular manifestations of spirituality in communities leading to the celebration of differences in holidays and festivities. Caste conflict continues to exist, but various Hindu-Muslim divides tend to grab the larger attention, especially when they are regionally based. The author concludes from the Indian context that we should be possessed of the conviction that peace is the normal state of affairs and that conflict is the aberration. Several pages of appendices to this chapter are helpful for getting a panoptic view of celebrations and shrines, language-state identities, as well as religious and linguistic demographics
Part Three is focused solely on Ethno-Political issues in China. Ten thousand years of Chinese history lead to the major division of peoples, according to the center and the periphery. China, as other authors have observed is essentially a civilization, to whom the concept of nation states is scarcely much more than a hundred and fifty years old, largely fueled by China's attempts to repulse foreign interference, at the same time as it was influenced to reform its governmental systems, with the consequence that peripheral areas such as Mongolia and Tibet became problematical.
Most interesting is the 1950s reorganization of ethnic identities resulting in the reduction of hundreds of groups into fifty-five widely distributed nationalities plus the Han mainstream, constituting roughly 90% the population. Extensive government management of ethnic affairs has been reasonably successful, and current conflict tendencies have to do with disparity of wealth, mainstream political influence in spite of considerable regional economy, the power of the market economy creating a kind of ethnocentric dominance, and finally a growing misfit between the planned economy of communist times and the increasingly mobile market economy. Pro-independence forces in recent years attacked Han dominated business interests and their owners. The authors conclude the chapter with an appeal for dialogue and education and suggest that some US models of diversity management might prove of value, particularly at this point in history when enormous influences of westernization are trying to be digested in the Chinese fashion.
In Part Four there are four studies, one focused on the most obvious, The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the other three related to Turkey both internally and one on the Cyprus question. The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is historically recounted in considerable detail. It is important to remember that Israel is a young state trying to manage as many diversities along with the enduring challenge of conflict with the Palestinians who themselves are far from monocultural. Most of the world knows more about this conflict that it does about the others described in this book, unless, of course, it is a conflict within their own borders. Nonetheless, the authors focus on not just the historical facts of the occupation and settlement and the massive demographic changes due to immigration, but on the construction of identities within both groups along the lines of ethnicity, religious and cultural connection, as well as political and familial adherence. There are not a lot of suggestions here about breaking this stalemate other than the encouragement of educational processes that might reduce the acuity of identity differences. This chapter has a nice historical overview of the Arab-Israeli conflict in table form.
The first chapter in this part on ethno-political conflict in Turkey focuses on the resolution of the Kurdish issue, significant because Kurds, in fact a stateless nation, make up perhaps as much as 20% of the population of Turkey. Sporadic uprisings and the militarization of the PKK have waxed and waned. Now there is motivation for the resolution of this conflict and some insights due to the interest that many Turks are taking the necessary steps for candidacy in the European Union. There was a larger recognition of Kurdish language and culture and some encouragement of local administration. This progress was interrupted in 2010 with violent outbursts. The Kurdish question, particularly since the arrival of countless Kurdish refugees from Iraq, has become an international issue and while violence continues, there is a greater recognition on the part the Kurdish administration of the Kurdish people and their needs. This chapter also provides a nice timeline highlighting the history of the conflict over the last thirty years.
The second chapter on Turkey addresses the situation of Turkish Armenians, a burning issue since the establishment of the post-Ottoman modern Turkish state and the reorganization of Turkish demographics expelling Christians from the larger part of Anatolia and paradoxically the settlement of most Turkish Armenians in the metropolitan confines of Istanbul today. When history is long and complicated and again shows the hand of Western powers, particularly Britain, in sharpening the conflict. The consequences of the First World War involve the reorganization of the demographics again, and the formation of the contemporary Turkish state involved a great loss but the rich ethnic diversity of Anatolia.
After recounting in significant detail the events from the latter part of the nineteenth century through the mid-1920s, and noting the formation of the Armenian Diaspora the authors turned their attention to interview research that inquires about the ethnic status of Armenians in Turkish society as well as their social an economic status, their perceptions of treatment and level of feelings of security. With so many complex historical causes, it is hard to reinitiate dialogue between Turkey and Armenia as well as between Armenian Turks and the neighbors. This Chapter 2 provides a timeline beginning with the fall of Constantinople in the middle of the fifteenth century and ending with the most recent protocols between the Turkish and Armenian nations.
Finally in this part, there is a chapter on the Cyprus conflict. Here the history is far more recent. The unity of Cypriots in their efforts to overthrow British colonialism not much outlast the establishment of the Republic, resulting in a costly division of the island into two ethnic parts failing to develop a workable government, falling into armed conflict requiring United Nations peacekeepers who continue to be part of the scene even today. It is certainly one place in the world where culture and political conflict have hardened to the point where it will take a long term of dialogue and peace initiatives for successful cohabitation to occur.
Part Five looks at two Balkan areas of conflict, Croatia and Kosovo, long one of the most volatile regions in the world, Balkan nations are not only beset by their rivalries with each other but by unending conflict within the tiny nation states. The nursing of grievances goes back hundreds of years. This analysis, using Vukovar as an example, looks basically at the deterioration of ethnic relations in the wake of the disintegration of Yugoslav Republic and the old communist ideology of togetherness. Ethnic identity quickly became a tool of political agendas, giving rise to fear and anxiety about the other and about the future period, unwillingness to discuss what was going on seems to have contributed to increasing the distance between people of different groups. The author then addresses the challenges of rebuilding community and chooses social reconstruction rather than reconciliation as the theme of this work, finding reconciliation fraught with inner contradictions when it comes to effectively repairing relationships.
Next within the Balkan geography is the conflict between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo asking how to cultivate trust in the wake of a deadly conflict. Numerous theories of trust formation in this seemingly intractable situation are put forward, evermore pressing with the declaration of Kosovo's independence, and the need for national healing and cohesive identity.
Congo and Uganda are discussed in the Central African Part Six of the book. Central Africa has been shaped in the main not by ethnic identities but by colonial interests, and the post-independence history of its nations has been a seemingly endless story in every identification, still complicated by foreign interests and above all by questions of the distribution of land in the goods of sustenance. Governments such as that of the DRC are at a loss to control these interests and provide credible social services for their constituencies, which make the country the second most ethnically diverse place in the world after India, and perhaps the most conflict ridden. There is a question however as to whether ethnicity rather than economics and political manipulation is a primary cause of conflict or simply a labeling process that enables conflict and repression to have specific constituencies and targets and you have a rationale for crossing national boundaries, involving as it does now a dozen other African states. Indeed, de-ethnicizing the conflict may be key to rebuilding forms of government stability.
Not far away in Uganda, ethnic identity in tribal identification as well as religious affiliation stand at the heart of divisiveness and, repeatedly are exploited by warring interests. It is hoped the fragmentation of identities can be superseded by identities that can promote intercultural harmony. The solutions in which the authors report on seem to be more of the kind of Western psychological tactics full of what "should" be done, and perhaps conducive to more of the same conflict already premised on ethnic identity.
Part Seven focuses on Western Europe, Spain, France and The Netherlands, where the relationship to Muslim neighbors and immigrants are sensitive issues intensified by current financial crises in the mouths of politicians and the minds of the population. First looking at Spain we are faced with the paradox and that is, despite the labels of Muslim and Christian the cultures of Morocco and Spain have a common heritage. This is not a conflict between nations but rather a question of the Moroccans making up the largest migrant community in Spain. The authors take a look at basic Arab values and how they see themselves and are seen by others. They take a similar view of Spanish culture and self-perception. Conflict here however is seen in the light of historical bias and racial stereotyping with centuries of background. Today the conflict resides in differing expectations of immigrants in host communities and the strategies that they choose around participation and assimilation.
Most interesting is the discussion of "second-generation" conflicts, the internal ones of those torn between "super loyalty" to their origins, and "super integration" into the youth culture of the country. This is a critical study in separation and inclusion for all immigrants in the search for new identity. The authors largely look at amelioration of the immigrant situation in terms of providing better legislation and plans for access to Spanish nationality, education and social services, discussing both the national plan and that of Cataluña. Is it too much to assume, however that some elements of common culture and history may in fact be at work in preventing the kind of ethnic violence and acted out xenophobia which we've seen in other places in Europe?
Turning our attention to France, conflict centers on immigrants and asylum seekers from the Maghreb. In France there's been substantially more violent conflict then there has been in Spain. In addition, France's republican ideals tend to create unwelcoming positions when public policy is articulated. Immigration is not new, and in fact France is one of the leading recipients of immigrants in Europe. When this changed is the increasingly African nature of those who are entering, with the largest levels of resentment aimed at Muslim newcomers. In the name of liberty and equality, old Republican attitudes aimed at diminishing the influence have religious ideology in public took aim at the veiling of women, creating a very high level anti-Muslim sentiment, where in a sense the ban on the burqa dominated the discourse and in fact distracted the country and its politicians from far more pressing affairs.
In a country where intellectual accomplishment is highly valued it is not surprising that half a dozen theories are brought forward to explain, or perhaps to explain away the causes of ethnic discontent. Of course it's not logical, but we would be a lot happier if it were. Other than increasing acceptable social contact as part of the inclusion process there seems to be little else in terms of concrete strategies despite the fact that both the French majority and the migrant population seem committed to the republican ideal of immigration and citizenship.
The Netherlands, subject of the next chapter, has now outlived its reputation of tolerance. This may have had its glorious moments, but as one who was lived there for several years, it became clear to me that Dutch tolerance was more of a passive matter of allowance for differing forms of thinking and behavior--"as long as it doesn't bother me." Islamic immigrants have come to lie at the heart of a polarization ethically and politically in the Netherlands, their numbers and influence being severely inflated. There is no anti-Islamic history in the Netherlands to parallel its anti-Catholic sentiments. Rather it is a recent phenomenon triggered by a very sudden increase in the number of newcomers who seem to have more rigid values that seemed unfamiliar to the Dutch hosts, despite the fact that research shows that this is not the case. Interestingly as a final note, there seems to be substantial acceptance of various aspects of Dutch culture by Muslim groups, even affecting their worship practices.
In Part Eight, Latin American ethnic conflicts in Mexico and Peru's Sendero Luminoso. When it comes to Mexico, we tend to hear less about ethnic conflict than we do about the drug wars and the carnage they cause. However, it is useful to remember that the establishment of Mexico as we know it today is also a fruit of European colonization, and in particular of the suppression of indigenous peoples. This study refocuses our attention on the Zapatista movement which represents attempts to reform governance as more tolerant and inclusive, urging Mexico to redefine itself as a pluricultural society with indigenous languages and cultural resources. Unrecognized by many, Mexico shares a bit of the demographic distribution of indigenous peoples torn apart by nation-making, as we noted in the case of Africa. Many of these indigenous groups people are spread across Central American borders. Despite this fact however mestizo identity and historical symbolism have become integrated into the Mexican national sense of self, while indigenous groups with renewed awareness of themselves and their history resist such identification, seeing it as the result of the abuses of colonialism. The author of this chapter provides a very nice chart classifying into families the indigenous languages of Mexico and relating them to the groups and territories of origin. As I write, elections are taking place in Mexico with conflict about the outcome already raging before the ballots are cast. It will be interesting to see what develops.
Turning southward to Peru, we see conflict typified in a revolutionary movement, which like many such focuses on class distinctions rather than ethnic ones, though the class distinctions are sometimes made according to these lines. The ruthlessness of the Shining Path is hard to parallel. This Maoist group terrorize the Highlands where, though it aimed at representing the indigenous peoples, largely failed to sustain their imagination and in many cases became seen as one more set of oppressors. The authors in their discussion raise questions about how the history of the Shining Path may shed light on other such insurgencies connected to ethno- political conflicts and the behavior of policymakers in the face of such challenges as well as the human rights abuses that are likely to occur on all sides.
In the Conclusion, Part Nine, the editors along with Susanne Gabrielsen nicely close the volume with the same concern for learning and application that the Introduction began with. What to do? What have we learned that should affect policy and practice as we try to move toward peaceful cohabitation of the planet? Even those readers or users of this volume who have limited interest will certainly benefit from understanding the dynamics. So the book is extremely instructive about the nature and history of the conflicts that it researches. This concluding chapter reiterates the complexity of ethnic conflicts and the roles played by inherited and created identities. There is no doubt as to the amount of destructive violence and unmerited suffering that these conflicts can cause, how easily they can arise, and how long they can last.
The second part of this concluding chapter looks at some of the common characteristics found in ethnic conflicts. Repeatedly we see colonization usurping the goods, the lands, and the lives of the colonized. Even in places where colonization has not occurred in the modern age, historical disagreements and grievances and the stories and legends created about them can revive even ancient animosities that can align themselves ethnically or along the lines of social and economic status period reactions of ethnocentrism giving rise to bias, prejudice, and negative stereotypical qualities ascribed to those who are different from us. These all play a role in creating a sense of fear, threat, and insecurity on both sides, then marginalizing certain groups. And of course there was always the influence those in search of power to use the faith of people and their religious differences along with other identity symbols to achieve their ends. There is some discussion how well meaning outsiders, or not so well-meaning ones, can judge or interfere in local ethnic conflicts and sow the seeds for future ones. Preaching in this area can be platitudinous though, in many cases, it seems that it is the only thing that helpless observers can have recourse to.
This reader is grateful for the space is given at the beginning to introduce us to the authors and contributors. It gives the volume a user friendly feeling.