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The Solution to Ethnic and Racial Civil Conflict

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The Solution to Ethnic and Racial Civil Conflict
Jacqueline Zhang
GOVT 150W Introduction to International Politics

Within a period of three months in 1994, an estimated five to eight hundred thousand people were killed as a result of civil war and genocide in Rwanda. Large numbers were physically and psychologically afflicted for life through maiming, rape and other trauma; over two million fled to neighboring countries and maybe half as many became internally displaced within Rwanda. This human suffering was and is incomprehensible. Similar ethnic and racial civil conflicts have deeply scarred countries and are threatening to break out in many places around the globe. Too much blood has been shed for ethnic and racial causes and too many have died in ethnic and racial wars. In accordance to the constructivist model of nationalism, identity (re)construction solves ethnic and racial civil conflict.

For the purpose of demonstrating how identity (re)construction solves ethnic and racial civil conflicts, “solve” can be defined as 1) to explain and 2) to put an end to, settle. In addition, “explain” means to make clear the cause, origin or reason of. Furthermore, an ethnicity is a population of human beings whose members identify with each other, on the basis of a real or a presumed common genealogy or ancestry. The term race refers to the concept of dividing people into populations or groups on the basis of various sets of physical characteristics (which usually result from genetic ancestry.)

Literature Review
In contrast to constructivists who argue ethnic and racial identities are flexible social constructions that can be manipulated by political entrepreneurs and more or less freely adopted or ignored by individuals, primordialists see ethnic and racial identities as fixed by linguistic, thinking and behavioral background. Prominent primordialist theorist Clifford Geertz proposed his famous concept of “primordial attachment” in the article “The Integrative Revolution: Primordial Sentiments and Civil Politics in the New States.” He believed people were born into a particular religion, language, and social practice. Naturally, beyond personal affection, political alignment, practical necessity, and common interest, people are always bound by blood. Geertz argued for inherent ethnic and racial ties, the natural connections among those people and the divisions with others thereof. He coined the term “ancient hatred” to explain the causes of ethnic and racial conflicts and to prove that these ethnic and racial civil conflicts are unavoidable and extremely difficult to solve. However, the primordialist view of Geertz to simplify ethnic and racial hatred down to natural ties is incomplete, if not wrong. The resentment between two geographically close ethnicities and physically resembling races cannot be simply attributed to a natural tendency, and the flexibility of ethnic and racial identities cannot be simply denied because of the strong ties caused by birth. Primordialist statements arguing for inevitability of the mortal conflicts and the desolate impossibility to deter ethnic and racial wars are irresponsible claims. Far from the pessimism prevailing in primordialist view, ethnic and racial conflict can actually be ended via means of 1) suppression, 2) consociational democracy or 3) democratization. Forcible suppression of one side and complete victory for the other will reduce violence and at least temporarily stabilize the region. Consociational democracy, as proposed by Arend Lijphart, achieves ethnic peace through fair and equal share of governmental power. Democratization transforms national identity problems into constructive dialogues between ethnic or racial groups, provides political equality between groups and hands state (the winning government in power through free and fair election) legitimacy to construct national identity. As stated earlier, identity (re)construction also serves to end ethnic and racial civil conflict.

Origin of Ethnic and Racial Civil Conflict
Identity construction explains ethnic and racial civil conflict. It is not only possible but also prevalent, and it makes clear the reason of ethnic civil conflict. Officials in power use artificial propaganda to widen the differences and narrow the similarities between various ethnic and racial groups to create large-scale ethnic or racial conflict that was not there before. According to constructivist scholars Robert Donia and John Fine, distinct ethnic identities did not exist until late 19th century when the nationalism movement began. Despite the pre-modern world was limited and not as “global” as the world today, it was nevertheless consisted of ethnically diverse groups and had wars based on territories, religions, wealth, power etc. However, when religious communities and dynastic realms were prevailing, the need and condition for culturally similar people to form a “nation” were not present. No matter how the borders changed, almost all the countries would tolerate ethnic diversity and practical compromises. Ethnic rivalries and violence were not part of pre-modern world’s heritage. For centuries, the world had developed a rich tradition of diversity, pluralism and toleration that had flourished until recently. Despite the late emergence of ethnic identities, many people nowadays strongly identify themselves as a member of one ethnicity and many more died because of it. In his book Imagined Communities: Reflection on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Benedict Anderson raised the question of what makes people live, die and kill in the name of nations. He then proceeded to answer by defining the state as something different from an actual community because “it is not (and cannot be) based on everyday face-to-face interactions between its members.” With the erosion of religious communities, the declining of dynastic realms and the rise of print capitalism in the late 19th century, nationalism took form in Europe and arose. “Nations” became the imagined objects of affection. Through mass propaganda such as vernacular poems, songs, war monuments and memorials, the political but “natural” love for the nation and thus willingness and readiness to die for it were also widely accepted. As seen with nationalism, the construction of ethnic and racial identities was through organized, propagandized manipulation. The non-existence of distinct ethnic and racial identities and its construction thereof can be demonstrated through the example of Rwanda Genocide. Before they were colonized, ethnic and racial differences between Hutus and Tutsis were not very clear; they shared the same language, respected the same traditions and inhabited the same land. There was also no cultural or folkloric custom specific to either Hutus or Tutsis. Before the German and Belgian colonization, the Hutus and Tutsis lived together for hundreds of years. The colonial period had a distinct role in creating and exacerbating the differences between Hutus and Tutsis. Originally, the denotation of Hutu and Tutsi’s social distinction was only a division of task, not a separation of ethnicity. It was the Germans and Belgians who created “tribes” based on aesthetic physical impression and told the Tutsis that they were superior to Hutus. During the period prior to the genocide, Rwanda’s Prime Minister Kambanda, had sanctioned a climate of hatred and paranoia and incited violence, and ultimately sanctioned mass murder. Because of the 1963 and 1990 invasions by the Tutsis, Kambanda wanted to create a Hutu state without Tutsis. In addition, the journal Kangura openly called for ethnic hatred and the ethnical genocide. Furthermore, a large portion of the military or militarized Hutus was also using this massacre of Tutsis as an opportunity to take revenge on the socially powerful people. They could now steal and kill elite Tutsis at will and be awarded for it. As demonstrated here, the construction of Hutu-Tutsi identities led to the civil war that eventually caused at least 750,000 people’s lives.

Solution to Ethnic and Racial Civil Conflict
Identity reconstruction puts an end to ethnic and racial civil conflict. Keeping in mind of the constructivist model, which asserts that 1) individuals have multiple ethnic (and potentially racial) identities and 2) the identity with which individuals identify fluctuates depending upon a particular causal variable, reconstruction of identities can put an end to ethnic and racial civil conflict. This can be achieved through the deconstruction of the xenophobic myth about ethnicity and race and the reconciliation of the differences and hatred through reconstruction of identities. Being the famous theorist in the primordialist camp, even Stephen van Evera proposed to solve ethnic and racial conflict through the removal of xenophobic myth about ethnicity and race by encouraging honest histories of inter-group relations. Oftentimes, as a result of a long period of negative experience, opposite sides in the ethnic and racial conflict portray the other as monstrous and murderous. However, they cannot forget they share similar, if not the same, geographical, cultural and linguistic root. If only they would be willing to sincerely discuss histories and trace their footsteps, then they might realize what they have in common is more than they do not. Van Evera also proposes to use economic leverage to promote peaceful conduct. In this way, outside powers can enforce peace temporarily in the hope that reduced security threats would permit moderate leaders within each group to facilitate honest dialogues about their inter-group histories instead of launching untruthful propagandas. In addition, constructivist Holly Williams concluded ethnic and racial identities are both fluid and endogenous. Through the case of increasing immigration and participation of ethnic minorities and empirically examining 20 countries in Latin America, Williams proved the reconstruction of identities to be possible and the constructivist model to be valid. Contrary to primordialist opinions, Williams’ study demonstrated that countries with more immigrants showed less ethnic-linguistic and racial fractionalization because immigrants do in fact reconstruct their identities, assimilate and inter-marry. She attributed this phenomena to three causes: 1) immigrants accept the duty to compromise their own cultures 2) individuals who leave their homeland voluntarily have weaker ethnic identities and 3) states that allow more immigration have more liberal and tolerant cultures. This demonstrated that as long as each side has successfully deconstructed the xenophobic content of one another, they would embrace and emerge to have new identities reconstructed. The plausibility and effectiveness of identity reconstructions to racial civil conflict is shown with South Africa. The National Party legally enforced a system of racial segregation, apartheid, from 1948 to 1990. The apartheid government formalized and expanded segregationist policies that had existed less formally under colonial rule. Institutionalized racism stripped South African blacks of their civil and political rights and instituted segregated education, health care, and all other public services, only providing inferior standards for blacks and other non-Afrikaans. Internal resistance was met with police brutality, administrative detention, torture, and limitations on freedom of expression. However, after a most peaceful transition to a democracy with the 1994 election, the newly elected government was able to resolve this racial conflict through identity reconstruction. As proposed by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, besides economic reparations to the victims and their families of gross human right violations, symbolic reparations were also implemented through 1) individual benefits such as exhumation and reburials 2) community benefits such as renaming streets and facilities and 3) national benefits such as a day of remembrance and reconciliation. As described by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela, South Africans were reconstructed to identify themselves as citizens of a Rainbow nation. In this rainbow nation, black and white alike are entitled equality. Today, South Africa remains the most advanced country in Africa, with thriving cities that are integrated into the global economy. Millions of blacks have been educated and risen out of poverty and there has been no significant racial conflict since 1994. As demonstrated through the reconciliation in South Africa, identity reconstruction indeed puts an end to ethnic and racial conflict.

As identity construction explains ethnic civil war, identity reconstruction also settles ethnic civil war. As demonstrated, distinct ethnic identities are artificial products of propaganda and their creations are the cause of terrible wars. Deconstruction of xenophobic myth about ethnic identities and reconstruction through shared social, cultural and political roots can actually solve the conflict and return stability.
Clearly, identity (re)construction solves ethnic and racial civil conflict.

[ 1 ]. David Millwood. "The International Response to Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from the Rwanda Experience." Steering Committee of the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda.
[ 2 ]. “Solve,” and “explain,” Oxford English Dictionary.
[ 3 ]. Diffen. "Ethnicity vs Race." - Difference and Comparison.
[ 4 ]. Chaim Kaufmann, “Possible and Impossible Solutions to Ethnic Civil Wars,” International Security, Vol. 20, No. 4 (Spring, 1996), p. 140.
[ 5 ]. Clifford Geertz, "The Integrative Revolution: Primordial Sentiments and Civil Politics in the New States," In Old societies and new states: the quest for modernity in Asia and Africa, (New York: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1963), pp. 105-157.
[ 6 ]. Ibid.
[ 7 ]. Ian Lustick, “Stability in Deeply Divided Societies: Consociationalism versus Control,” World Politics, Vol. 31, No. 3 (April 1979), pp. 325-344.
[ 8 ]. Arend Lijphart, "Consociational Democracy," World Politics, Vol. 21, No. 2 (January 1969).
[ 9 ]. Marjolein Bomhof, "Democratization: Resolution of National Identity Issues." Social Cosmos (October 2002).
[ 10 ]. Robert J Donia, and John V. A. Fine, Bosnia and Hercegovina: a tradition betrayed, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.)
[ 11 ]. Benedict R. O Anderson, Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, Rev. and extended ed., (London: Verso, 1991..); print capitalism: printing began in 15th c, aimed at Latin readers, but this market was saturated after 150 years, and focus shifted to vernaculars. Between 1820 & 1920 national print-languages were of central ideological and political importance in Europe. The concept of “nation”, once invented, became widely available for pirating, and was imported to a diverse array of situations and ideologies.
[ 12 ]. Anderson, Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism.
[ 13 ]. Alain Destexhe, Rwanda and genocide in the twentieth century, (New York: New York University Press, 1995.)
[ 14 ]. John Mueller, “The Banality of Ethnic War,” International Security, Vol. 25 (Summer 2000), pp.42-70; Linda Melvern, Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwandan Genocide, 2004 (London: Verso), p. 1.
[ 15 ]. Viera Bacova, "The Construction of National Identity on Primordialsm and Instrumentalism," Human Affiars, Vol. 8, pp. 29-43.
[ 16 ]. Stephen Van Evera, "Managing the Eastern Crisis: Preventing War in the Former Soviet Empire," Security Studies, pp. 361-381.
[ 17 ]. Ibid.
[ 18 ]. Holly Williams, "Ethnicity Reconstruction: The Effect of Immigration on Ethnic-Linguistic Fractionalization in Latin America."
[ 19 ]. United States Institute of Peace. "Truth Commission: South Africa." United States Institute of Peace. (accessed May 7, 2014).
[ 21 ]. Greg Myre . "20 Years After Apartheid, South Africa Asks, 'How Are We Doing?'." NPR, May 6, 2014, edition.

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