Politics of ‘Ethnic-Conflict’

In contemporary politics, the State has ensured that it monopolizes ‘war’ and thus enjoys the prerogative of defining what amounts to ‘war.’ The problems and challenges arising out of these wars have emphasized the ‘centralizing’ and ‘nationalizing’ character of the ‘modern state.’ The unwillingness of ‘states’ to confront and address legitimate aspirations of people have enhanced a spiral of political violence on the ground. Further, most governments have chosen to categorize indigenous peoples struggle as ‘ethnic conflicts’ or ‘tribal wars.’ It is tragic that history has reached a time where social movements and political struggles for basic rights are being referred as ‘ethnic conflict.’

For those closely following liberation struggles would have noted that it is the oppressor who determines the nature of conflict and not the oppressed. Often in order to maintain their security and cohesiveness, mobilization for safety and protection takes place along lines of ‘identity and ethnicity.’ However, it would not be fair to define these acts of mobilization as ‘ethnic.’ The notion that a political conflict is ‘ethic’ grows when there is failure to recognize the underlying political issues that have caused the acrimony. 

It is common practice for States to draw boundaries based on ethnic and culture, thus feeding and surviving upon divisive policies. These state boundaries often ignore the historical and traditional relationships shared between different communities. The objective is to enforce a state identity and to instill fear, insecurity and division over resources and territory between communities. Further divisions are created when electoral policies are drawn on ethnic lines. These deliberate policies divert attention and focus of indigenous people away from challenging the legitimacy of the state.

The ploy in creating an image of the ‘other’ is a dehumanizing process that personalizes the identity and nature of the ‘other.’ In time, those who are not like you, or those who do not share the same values and lifestyles are perceived as being a potential threat to ones existence. This form of psychological warfare makes people insecure while increasing their need to constantly reaffirm and manifest their identity for their survival. As a result time collapses and identity is frozen in time.

The space for negotiating is reduced because it is in the nature of a state to ensure assimilation into the dominant mainstream, threatening the very core of people’s identity. Identity, when perceived as a source of conflict has frightening consequences. Furthermore, resources of resolution to such conflicts are reduced extensively because the real political issues have been sidelined by the State and there are no clear lines between armed combatants and non-armed civilians. The way the ‘powers that be’ are determining world affairs and conceptualizing world systems, the possibilities for a clash of civilization may not be too far off!