Book Review: Ethnic Conflict: Religion, Identity, And Politics

Ethnic Conflict:  Religion, Identity, And Politics, edited by S.A. Giannakos

To be sure, there are a lot of ethnic conflicts that have existed in the world and this book only covers a small amount of them.  That said, if you like to read about the connection between religion, identity, and politics in the field of ethnic conflicts this book certainly has a lot to offer for itself and it is certainly a book that is easy enough to appreciate even though melancholy in what it talks about.  Given that there are so many conflicts around the world, and some of them close to home, it is worthwhile to consider what common elements sit at the basis of these conflicts.  This book did provide some insights about the nature of these conflicts and how they are manipulated and mishandled and become larger issues then they would really need to be.  And while the essays are written by different people, there are still elements of similarity between them given the same focus that all of them have despite the varying conflicts that they cover.  And one sees from these essays that conflicts frequently have political roots but not necessarily ones that people are willing to admit, which makes it harder to deal with them, of course.

This book is more than 200 pages long and is divided into ten chapters, each of which is written by a different author, sometimes with help.  After acknowledgements the editor begins with an introduction (1) to the discussion of the role of religion, identity, and politics in ethnic conflicts, while pointing out that there are a lot to choose from.  After that there is a primer for analyzing ethnonational conflict (2), which discusses the question of ethnicity and the sometimes shifty definitions of nationalism.  After that the editor returns to discuss the patterns of geopolitical interaction in Southeastern Europe that have consistently led to patterns of conflict if certain factors are present (3).  There is a discussion of exile and repatriation and the challenges it presented for refugee Guatemalan women who fled during the Civil War in that country (4).  This is followed by an essay that looks at religion and national identity in the USSR and its implications for post-soviet politics (5).  Two authors collaborate on a chapter that discusses ethnic conflict in Georgia and how it has been fostered by Russia as well as by Georgia’s unfortunate geography (6).  The problems of democratic governments and the rivalry for the only positions that matter in Africa is the subject of the next chapter (7).  After that there is a discussion about political centralization and social conflict in Indonesia (8), as well as a discussion of sources of and responses to violent conflict in South Asia (9).  After a chapter on the search for an effective formula to solve and prevent ethnic conflicts (10), the book ends with information about contributors and an index.

Why is it so hard to prevent ethnic conflict?  For the most part, the ethnic conflicts that exist within countries are not complicated or difficult to understand.  Historical grievances are exploited by politicians in order to increase conflict that calls for their leadership.  People see upward mobility and find themselves unable or unwilling to do what it takes to enjoy it.  A centralization of power increases the gulf between winners and losers in electoral battles and makes it impossible for there to be enough offices worth competing for to reduce conflict between rival groups.  These are not complicated problems, but they present difficulties because it requires substantial statesmanship and the willingness to build trust in order to resolve these problems to the satisfaction of everyone involved.  Frequently societies fail to provide enough opportunities for people to thrive in freedom and with the respect and honor of society as a whole, and frequently as well outside powers are willing and able to exploit divisions within a society for their own purposes.  Without a great deal of change in how we view intergroup relations, it seems that we will continue to have this sort of problem.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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