Rewards Not Bombs: The Answer to Ethnic and Religious Conflict

By Gerrand, James | The Humanist, November 1999 | Go to article overview

Rewards Not Bombs: The Answer to Ethnic and Religious Conflict


Gerrand, James, The Humanist


Does any reasonable person still believe that the recent bombing by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization--which destroyed thousands of lives and billions of dollars of infrastructure and other property in Kosovo and the rest of Yugoslavia--has solved the Balkan conflict? On the contrary; all the evidence indicates that it has made conditions there worse and intensified ethnic and religious hatreds.

Is there a solution? Yes. All it requires is the application of the method most often used to overcome conflicts at a personal level: rewarding good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior A good example of this is the dramatic reduction in the use of corporal punishment in schools.

But, one might ask, while issuing rewards isn't difficult to apply to personal conflicts, how would one apply it on the governmental or even international level, as with the Balkan conflict?

In this century there have been two attempts to peacefully resolve international conflicts. After the horrendous destruction caused by World War I, the League of Nations was established in 1920 with its chief agenda the prevention of war. It had some initial success; however, by the 1930s, the national interests taking over in such countries as Germany, Italy, and Japan caused its failure. World War II followed.

After this even more murderous and destructive world conflict--which witnessed both the Holocaust and the use of atomic bombs--the United Nations was established in 1945. Its main agenda was the peaceful resolution of conflict. It also has had some limited success, but there have been more and frequent wars--in Korea, the Middle East, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and now the Balkans.

These two failures to peacefully resolve international conflict show the need for a more radical approach.

The first thing to note is that in many of the recent conflicts--in the Balkans between Muslims and Orthodox Christians, in the Middle East between Jews and Muslims, in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics, in India and Pakistan between Hindus and Muslims--the people have been tribalized through their religion. Religion has fostered the theme "we against they": we have the right way, we are the chosen people; they are the unbelievers, they will oppose us in our God-given ways.

So, instead of all the inhabitants of a community or region working together for their common benefit, they seek their own tribal interests and rewards. When different aims of this sort are in opposition, conflict arises, usually ending in armed struggle.

How can governments provide rewards to avoid such conflicts? The United States, as the first secular state, set the goal of people working together for the common benefit when it was established in 1789 as a democratic community based on the pursuit of happiness, equality for all, and separation of religion and government. …

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Rewards Not Bombs: The Answer to Ethnic and Religious Conflict
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