The issue of ethnic and ethnic conflict have always been an intriguing topic to dwell on since both these issues have compelling impact in the world of security, more so they have risen steadily after the end of the cold war. Ethnic conflict remains an issue that needs to be dealt with the right perspective in order for us to find the solutions to overcome any misconceptions that come with it. More often than not, in discussing the paramount issue of ethnic conflict, we tend to be misguided by what can be constituted as ethnic conflict or whether it can be associated with racial conflict collectively. On the same note, we cannot run from the fact that the argument of ethnic/ethnicity correlates with conflict, thus the vital concern arises: is ethnic conflict inevitable? In this relation, this essay of mine would be focusing on the standpoint that ethnic conflict is not inevitable, and the following pages would hopefully show the correlation of certain aspects and perspectives that would build the grounds to support my argument.
What is ethnic conflict?
To help us understand more on what is meant by the phrase ethnic conflict, first and foremost it is vital for us to be able to understand the meaning of ethnic first. As for this, let us take a look at the definition given by Horowitz (1985:17-18): “ethnic groups are defined by ascriptive differences, whether the indicium is colour, appearance, language, religion, some other indicator of origin, or some combination thereof.” On a different angle, ethnic can also be defined as a group of people who share the same inherited cultures and the way of life and are not influenced by biology factor (Macionis 1998:215), in which people from the same ethnic group would thus have similarities with respect to language, religion and ancestry. From this point of view, case in point would have to be the former Yugoslavia, with its three ethnic groups namely the Serbians, Croatians and the Bosnians. From the physical manner of appearance (in terms of race), all of them are similar but, in a true sense they have distinctive attributes from the aspects of language, culture and religion. Having said that, it would be a bit demanding to try to define the meaning of ethnic conflict. There are of course different school of thoughts and theories related to the connotation of ‘ethnic conflict’. Some say that the term ethnic conflict or ethnic warfare should not be coined at all on the pretext that it is being instigated by certain quarters of combatants or groups that intended to fight and kill on behalf of a particular entity or individual (Mueller 2000). To some extent this essay partially shares the same sentiment with Mueller’s argument. However on a similar note, this essay feels strongly that ethnic conflict carries with it the notion of prejudicial attitudes and actions by the intended states, constituents and political actors, whereby the long embedded series of injustice and feelings of oppressions and dissatisfactions escalades into acts of resentments and rebellions. Therefore, it is worth mentioning that this essay at the same time opposed strongly to the idea that ethnic conflict is derived from hundreds of years of hatred between religions and tribal unconformities.
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Case in Point
In conferring the essential part of the term ethnic conflict, this essay shall establish the common grounds between ethnic conflict that happened in the former Yugoslavia and also in Rwanda. This is somewhat crucial in aligning to the idea that ethnic conflict is nonetheless not inevitable, whereby eventually it can be avoided if certain policies or strategies were to be implemented or being put in place. If we look at the Balkan states, the scenario is different with a complex history and shrouded with interwoven factors of history, ethnic structures and prejudice. One of the chief reasons why conflict (rather ethnic conflict) happened in the former Yugoslavia is due to their indisputable cultural diversity and also the act of upholding one’s status quo amongst the ethnics. The scenario is overwhelming, whereby in a relatively small country, there are four types of native languages and three religions, all of which relate mutually with cultures from seven bordering countries, but unfortunately, having five different citizenships in the autonomy of Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Croatia. The fall of the communist regime in 1980 had witnessed the Serbs, Croats and the Muslims to be entangled in ethnic conflict in the 1990s. In this relation, this essay firmly stood to the idea that the turning point that escalades and geared the Balkan states to be entrenched in a horrific conflict is none other than the act of political actors who chose power over humanity. After the fall of Socialism, the emergence of the extra radical Slobodan Milosevic had worsened the scenario. Milosevic always echoes the agenda of ‘national question’. The intended agenda contemplates the ideas to unite all the Serbs in one particular country, to be free and segregated from the non-serbians (Reidlmayer 1993). The domino effect that follows from that dreadful agenda resulted in the Albanian minority being outcaste from Serbia. Chains of events also witnessed the ‘ethnic cleansing campaign’ in which the Bosnians were killed and chased away from their homes, women being raped and men were sent to detention camps. On top of that, we can see the ultimate motive of Milosevic whereby he persistently try to widen and augment the influence and superiority of the Serbs in specific potent areas of education, economy, military and politics throughout Yugoslavia. At the end of the day, it boils down to the creation of unjust allocation of wealth and socio-economy disparity. To make matters worst, the economy and arms embargo by the west led by the US and the European Community had turned out to be in favour towards the Serbs resulting in the deterioration of ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia (Fogelquist, 1995).
Moving on to strengthen the essay’s argument, let us shift the focus to the ethnic conflict that happened in Rwanda which had catapulted the horrible genocide in 1994. It is a well known fact that the ethnic conflict in Rwanda was between the Tutsis and the Hutus, through which the Hutus were the dominant side. If we look at the history part of it, the clash between them correlates with the aspect of colonialism. During that time, when the Belgians and the Germans colonised their land, the minority Tutsis had been given the opportunity to receive education and opportunity to be absorbed into the state administrative. However, this policy or action had been deemed as unjust by the majority Hutus. Hence, resulted in socio-economic inequality and left a deep scar with regards to the relationship amongst the ethnics. Moreover, the Hutus was being left out in terms of development and being less favoured. The defining moment came in 1961, when the Tutsis won the national election and this had caused uproar from the Hutus. Eventually it had culminated into a terrible ethnic conflict between the two ethnics and nearly a million life perished (Neil Weiner 1994).
Fundamental Factors and How Ethnic Conflicts Can Be Avoided
Based upon the findings and information given in the above case in point, this essay shall furnish several key factors that act as a catalyst for ethnic conflict to transpire. Nonetheless the following factors might differ between different countries. For starters, this essay believes that the underlying principle for any ethnic conflicts to manifest itself the different views or treatment being given to a people or individual by a different group of people/individual. Apart from that, a possible ethnic conflict could happen if certain quarters of people have the idea that the colour of your skin, differences in cultures, religions and social class can be put as a benchmark to differentiate social class or position in a society. Relatively speaking, discrimination is also a destructive medium that would escalate into ethnic conflict.
This essay also opines to the fact that the establishment of ethnic/race based organisations would cause more harm than good in a sense that they only open their door to individuals from their own ethnicity and more often than not they only fight for the rights and importance of the people/ethnic that they are representing. The outcome for having these kinds of organisations would certainly be a negative one indeed, showing how great an impact of ethnicity that could happen within a society. At the end of the day, ethnic-based organisations/societies can be exploited to diverge themselves and to be polarised in a negative direction of echoing one’s ethnic superiority.
Another fundamental factor is the prominent cultural diversity which contributes to the advancement of ‘status quo’ aspiration amongst ethnics. By having this kind of aspirations, the crucial part of national integrity is often being neglected; hence tension among ethnics would be spreading gradually. As continuity to the previous point, it is worth mentioning that the elites often manipulate ethnic or racial sentiments to gain political mileage or personal agenda by deceiving or spinning sensitive issues. As reported in the article Leave None to Tell the Story; Genocide in Rwanda, Human Rights Watch (March 1993): “This genocide resulted from the deliberate choice of modern elite to foster hatred and fear to keep itself in power. This small privileged group first set the majority against the minority to counter a growing political opposition within Rwandaâ€¦these few power holders transformed the strategy of ethnic division into genocide”.
The power of the mass media is also one of the intrinsic elements that are worth highlighted in scrutinising the issue of ethnic conflict. In Rwanda for example, the radicals, political actors and the structured mass Medias employed the vulnerability of ethnicity as instruments to gain and gauge popular support so as to exclude political rivals (Aapengnuo 2010). The mass media plays a pivotal role in escalating the tension of ethnics, simply because people tend to believe to what they listen to or to what they are reading from, without seeking for the truth beyond it. That is the nasty reality of the mass media.
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In any ethnic conflicts or clashes, recorded throughout the world, from the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sudan, Sri Lanka, just to name a few, they all share the same outcome; deaths, destruction of properties and social instability. Many innocent lives perished and the bitterness of the memory would always linger to those victims of the traumatic experience. The following details are views of this essay, to insinuate that ethnic conflict in a particular country can be avoided by implementing several strategies, new policies and corrective measures. One of the potent measures is by eradicating poverty holistically, without any favours towards any race and ethnics. In line with this, restructuring of the society must be done to reform the economic imbalances amongst ethnics. Therefore, ethnics should not be labelled or confined to specific settlements and economy activities. In other words, in any societies in the world, common interest with just treatment amongst ethnics/race should be put above the interest of certain group of people.
The second measure that needs to be addressed in a serious manner is undoubtedly the freedom and rights of individuals. In this relation, human rights or the individual rights should be guaranteed by the constitution. Through this noble way, the creation of a just society would take place and every individual would be given equal rights, treatment and opportunity to savour the wealth of their nation. Consequently, the distribution of wealth should be done accordingly with no oppression against any other ethnics. To materialise this, any Political Organisations or Societies established on the grounds of ethnicity should be abolished. Instead, a coalition of multi ethnic’s political organisation should be embraced and fostered to create an organisation with common grounds and mutual understanding between members.
The education systems also play a role in upholding peace and unity in a multi ethnic country. With knowledge comes power, thus a holistic education system which encompasses good values should act a catalyst to bind the younger generation with the same national agenda to create a sense of belonging towards their country. Through education, unity and understanding can be nurtured; therefore it would eventually eliminate the egocentric of one’s ethnic. Early detection is also the key to avoid the spreading of ethnic tension from becoming uncontrollable and difficult to address with. Clamping down the initial stage of ethnic tensions is a more viable and practical way, more over it is more cost effective (Aapengnuo 2010). To make this as a feasible method, the diligences of government officials / workforce is very crucial in carrying out their duties addressing the complaints, grievances and resentments from every ethnic group. If the people at large is satisfied with how the government deals with their complaints or unhappiness, the strain and flame of ethnic tension would subsequently be contained.
This essay believes firmly to the idea that ethnic conflict is not inevitable, in a sense that it can be prevented from happening or the spreading of it can be avoided. This essay also conveys two cases in point, namely the conflict in Yugoslavia and in Rwanda in order to give a clear perspective on what is meant by ethnic conflict and its causal effects. This essay also intend to conclude that in any recorded ethnic conflicts, a majority of them, if not all, have similarities on the contributing factors that led to the clashes. It is undoubtedly true that ethnic conflict is a complex matter to deal with. The problem lies within the myriads of historical aspects of politics, economy, social class and history. From the political point of view, the question or rather the problem of ethnics cannot be separated from the notion of distinguishing between the majorities and the minorities. In terms of economy, unequal portion of the economy cake will instigate or ignite the flame of ethnic conflict. The same goes to the differences in cultures, spoken languages, religions and accepted norms; all these are also contributing factors, which would worsen the situation if they are not to be dealt accordingly.
Amidst all the arguments and perceptions, ethnic conflict can be prevented if certain pro-active measures and constructive policies are being implemented. In searching for an idealistic nation, of course there will be different point of views in achieving the intended goal. The differences of opinion amongst ethnics might be influenced by the reality of politics and the society itself. But again, it is up to the people of any multi-ethnic country to make a mature decision whether to let their country to be engulfed in conflicts or whether to live in unity with equal rights to every citizen. So, is ethnic conflict inevitable? The answer is noâ€¦
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