Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Religion
Langan, John, Theological Studies
In the post-Cold War period, it is no longer the global, nuclear, ideological confrontation of the superpowers and their networks of alliances that dominates our thinking about issues of peace and political order. It is the conflicts of nationalities, of ethnic groups, of communities divided by historic struggles and parochial allegiances that have come to the center of the stage. The struggles of Croats and Serbs, of Armenians and Azeris, of Hutus and Tutsis, of Ulster Protestants and Catholics, of Palestinians and Israelis, of Tamils and Sinhalese are not struggles which are satisfactorily explained by the categories of Cold War thinking on either side, or which were eliminated or even fundamentally modified by the great international conflict that went on for over four decades.
William Pfaff speaks of the desire of the peoples in what had been Soviet-controlled Europe to "become free again to be themselves - which logically implied, of course, the possibility of their becoming again, as many of them had been in the past, not at all democratic, but authoritarian in government, intolerant of religious and ethnic difference, and aggressive towards their neighbors."(1) The grievances and fears of Quebecois in Canada, of Russians in Ukraine and Estonia and Kazakhstan, of Hungarians in Slovakia and Romania, of Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia, of Catholics in Sudan and Ulster, of Kurds in Iraq and Turkey, of Zulus in South Africa, of Armenians in Turkey, of Turks in Germany, of Basques in Spain and France are not identical in shape or meaning to the grievances and fears of Marx's proletariat or of Mao's peasantry. The parties in these conflicts cross the class lines charted by Karl Marx and Max Weber; they are concerned with cultural issues and the shape of community even more than with economic processes and outcomes; they challenge political institutions and national boundaries rather than economic institutions and systems. They may indeed be related as oppressed and oppressors, but this relationship springs from histories of conquest and subjugation rather than from the forces and relations of production. In a contemporary world which largely acknowledges the validity of democratic ideals and the need for democratic practices, the crucial divide in most cases is the difference between majority and minority status, though it is, of course, possible for minorities to oppress majorities as was the case, for instance, in South Africa.
Ted Robert Gurr, of the University of Maryland, offers a useful mapping of the forms of ethnic conflict in the contemporary world in his 1994 presidential address to the International Studies Association. He divides them into three groups on the basis of their orientation to state power. The first is ethnonationalism, in which "proportionally large, regionally concentrated peoples" pursue independent statehood or extensive regional autonomy and have "exit" as their objective.(2) The wars following the collapse of Yugoslavia and the secessions of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia exemplify this pattern. The second is the struggle for indigenous rights, which are "the preoccupation of conquered descendants of original inhabitants" who aim at "autonomy" in order to protect their lands, resources, and culture "from the inroads of state-builders and developers."(3) The recent rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico fits this pattern. The third is the contention for power in which the players are "culturally distinct peoples, tribes, or clans in heterogeneous societies who are locked in rivalries about the distribution of or access to state power," and in which the players often have a regional base and may on some occasions opt to follow the strategy of ethnonationalism.(4) Examples of the third group are found mainly in Africa, but also in Afghanistan and Cambodia. Gurr remarks: "It is also evident that power contention was and is the source of much more severe conflicts than ethnonationalism or indigenous rights. …