Promoting Ethnic Harmony.
THE HANDBOOK OF INTERETHNIC COEXISTENCE
Edited by Eugene Weiner
New York: Continuum, 1998
653 pp., paperbook, $29.95
This review was written in mid-April 1999 when the Kosovo crisis was in full swing, underlining the importance of the three assumptions which form the basis of this useful collection of essays: "First is the assumption that irreconcilable differences and intractable conflicts must not be permitted to escalate into total conflict; second is our assumption that our human fate is ultimately indivisible; and third is the assumption that helping people see the human face of others is an indispensable prelude to humane action." The aim of the handbook is to help ethnic groups within a single state to exist together despite conflicting interests as in many cases it is difficult to create new states on ethnic lines.
The efforts to create a totally independent state in Nigeria (the Biafra Civil War 1967-70) was put down by force, but the structure of Nigeria was modified from its original three units into over thirty today, each with a great deal of autonomy. There are strong possibilities that the south of Sudan will become an independent state, after some forty years of intermittent civil war.
There are, however, ethnic conflicts that do not have a territorial base and so do not lend themselves to a territorial division. Rwanda and Burundi are prime examples as Tutsi and Hutu live intermingled, originally divided by type of work rather than space. In other cases, the creation of a new ethnic-based state would disturb too many existing states and their interests, as the Kurds remind us clearly.
Thus, the question is how do we live together in relative justice and equality when we do not like each other, make little effort to know each other, and view the other as an enemy linked at least subjectively to outside hostile forces--the "Greater Albania" for Kosovo, Tamil Nadu India for the Sri Lanka Tamils, the Arab world for the Arabs in Israel.
The social costs of not finding answers to this question can be great.
As Eugene Weiner points out in his introduction, "It is overwhelming to contemplate the loss of life, mass dislocation, oppression, alienation, and protracted suffering through hunger, torture, and maiming that already exist, and that still await us if such a need [for ethnic groups to coexist in peace with one another] is not met. Unfortunately, there are few guidelines for effective action in situations of ethnic conflict... For the most part, the body of knowledge that does exist about coexistence has not been adapted to practical use by professionals who could make a difference in the field."
However, Weiner has edited not a handbook but a reader; 653 pages is difficult to hold in the hand while looking for answers to the question of what do I do when there is a mob in the street shouting "Kill all the...." There is a useful section on applied perspectives with articles by Morton Deutsch, John Paul Lederach, and Herbert Kelman on their approaches to conflict resolution work, but all have written at greater length elsewhere.
The book, as well as many of the articles, has good bibliographies, so that the reader can have an overview of much that has been written on ethnic tensions.
Intellectually, the most interesting section is the first "Philosophy of Coexistence," in which authors deal with the way in which the image of "the other" is formed and evaluated. Some of the writing is rather abstract if Friedrich Nietzsche is not one's bedside reading; but fundamental questions concerning self-identity are posed. Unfortunately, given that many of the ethnic conflicts are in Africa and Asia, there is very little on the formation of the concept of self, tribe, caste, and ethnic group among Africans and Asians. There is a useful essay by Ahmad Sadri, "Civilizational Imagination and Ethnic Coexistence," which deals largely with intellectuals in Iran. It is a useful introduction to the concept of civilizations in modern Iranian thought.
As the book has grown from the work of the Abraham Fund and its president, Alan Slifka, an important section is devoted to coexistence in Israel between Israeli citizens who are Jews and Israeli citizens who are Arab, usually Muslim or Christian. It is in this section that there are the most examples given of a "bottom-up" approach to mutual understanding and conflict resolution and answers to four basic questions:
-- What methods are available to maintain the conversation between ethnic antagonists?
-- What methods are available to ethnic groups dominated by others who are stronger?
-- What methods are available to educators who wish to prevent intergroup antagonisms and enhance coexistence?
-- What are the advantages and disadvantages of mediation when dealing with ethnic conflict once it has crystallized into a set of grievances? However, the problem with all "bottom up" efforts of workshops, summer camps for children, workcamps, etc., is the problem of scale. Such efforts do have an impact on participants, probably for the majority in a positive direction, but they touch only a small number of people. How does one reach a larger number of people, recalling that those preaching a narrow ethnic nationalism often have the use of mass media, schools, information centers, as well as the ability to play on the deeply rooted subconscious images of "the other"? This handbook is a useful tool, especially for those already aware of the theoretical literature. As the question of ethnic tensions is likely to grow in importance, it is necessary to widen the circle of those actively involved in conciliation efforts.
(c) 1999 International Journal on World Peace
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|Title Annotation:||'The Handbook of Interethnic Coexistence'|
|Author:||Wadlow, Rene V.L.|
|Publication:||World and I|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2005|
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