Wednesday, March 29, 2006

avoiding civil war

politics, life: i read an interesting article in slate titled four strategies for averting civil war by gary bass. in it, bass writes:

In the wake of Bosnia and Rwanda, the assumption is that ethnically divided countries can never function. But countless countries at risk of civil war have been able to avoid going over the cliff. The most famous example is South Africa. Under apartheid, the country was widely seen as a likely candidate for a massive and devastating all-out civil war, yet despite some substantial violence, it managed to transform into today's multiethnic democracy.

i think there's a lot of truth to this. i recall during the yugoslavian break up, the same type of analysis permeating the news. essentially it boiled down to: these people hate each other, have for hundreds of years, there's nothing that can be done to stop it. its often academics interviewed and quoted by the news that re-enforce this perhaps by their tendency to discuss a modern issue in the context of hundreds or thousands of years of sectarian/tribal/whatever strife. the impression is that this is unnavoidable. one of bass's most interesting points to me, is what he calls "no bowling alone." bass writes:

When ordinary people come together across ethnic lines to form unions, political parties, soccer leagues, or movie clubs, their social connections can help prevent civil strife.

The scariest rift in India is between Hindus and Muslims. That division ripped the country apart in 1947 and at worst could do so again. But Ashutosh Varshney, a University of Michigan expert on Indian politics, points out that Hindu-Muslim riots usually happen only in certain of India's cities and very rarely in the countryside. Why are some places, like Bombay and Ahmedabad, so much more volatile than others?

Varshney's answer, updating Tocqueville, is that intercommunal civic life in India has been a powerful force in preventing Hindu-Muslim violence. In Hyderabad, Varshney argues, Hindus and Muslims don't come together in social and economic life. In places like Calicut and Lucknow, by contrast, members of the two groups mix in groups like trade unions, business associations, and professional organizations of teachers and doctors.

this is a great point. would be wonderful if indian, and other sectarian challenged societies, went on sustained campaigns to create more opportunities for cross sections of their populace to interract.

i lived in chicago for a number of years during college. i recall a friend of mine who was of croatian descent. he'd talk about how much hatred there was between his community and the serbians (clearly he had absorbed some of it) - this was all during the croatian independence conflict. peers of his, born and raised in america, were hauling off to go fight in the conflict. he felt tremendous guilt for studying while his friends were defending their ancestral land.

here in the states, in one of the most segregated cities in the world, the serbian immigrant community neighborhood happens to live essentially across the street from the croatian. on the weekends the youth would take turns throwing garbage and things at the others' churches. anyway, we had a serbian in a bunch of our classes who was totally brilliant; my friend was an average engineering student - confronting this fact was a source of constant annoyance for him. the serbian was utterly disinterested in the conflict, another source of annoyance for him. my friend was forced to interact with this fellow, and other students of many nationalities. it was interesting seeing his views widen over our four years there. i am convinced, after this collegiate experience, he served as a voice of moderation and reason amongst his community.

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