Murky Area of Ethnicity and World Order

  • SumoMe
The discipline of international relations delves into subjects of various natures and links them to the international scenario, elucidating their importance and relevance, on the way. One of the most interesting associations that this discipline has witnessed is that of ethnicity and world order. According to Anthony Smith, an ethnic community is a named human population with a myth of common ancestry, shared memories, and cultural elements, a link with a historic territory or homeland, and a measured of solidarity.
The term ethnic conflict is loosely used, to describe a wide range of intra-state conflicts that are not, in fact, ethnic in character. The conflicts in Somalia for example, are occasionally referred to as an ethnic conflict even though Somalia is the most ethnically homogeneous country in Africa. The conflict in Somalia is not between rival ethnic groups, but between rival gangs, clans and warlords, all of whom belong to the same ethnic group.  At the risk of stating the obvious, an ethnic conflict is a dispute about important political, economic, social, culture or territorial issues between two or more ethnic communities. Some ethnic conflicts involve little or no violence.
For more than 40 years of following the World War 2, few new states were created through ethnic secession. From Iceland’s independence to secession of the Baltic States, only two new ethnic states emerged: Singapore and Bangladesh, though the world saw the creation of many new states in Africa and Asia through decolonization. Yet, ethnicity was not the decisive factor in their formation (with the exception of Israel). In the past two years, however, more than 10 ethnically defined states have emerged.
The conventional wisdom among journalists and policy-makers is that ethnic conflicts have sprung up in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere because the collapse of authoritarian rule has made such conflicts possible. The lid on ancient rivalries, it is said, has been taken off, and long-suppressed grievances are now being settled. Scholars generally agree that this conventional wisdom offers an inadequate explanation of the causes of ethnic conflict. It fails to explain why conflicts and broken disputes are more violent than others. In short, this single factor explanation cannot account for significant variation in the incidence and intensity of ethnic conflict.
The terms ethnicity and world orderhave one thing in common: nobody knows what they mean. Their ambiguity goes beyond the essentially contested character of all political concepts. Both contain a mythical element that tempts one to interpret them ironically or cynically. All political ethnicity is, in a sense, a fictional identity an imagined community that creates confusion about family and political ties. In a politically divided world, the temptation to substitute the term world disorder for world order is at least as legitimate as using the latter when referring to an agreement between a few great powers and an international organization. The terms ethnicity and world order have nonetheless emerged at the centre of an international debate in the aftermath of the Cold War. This testimony to the sudden disappearance of the international community’s conceptual and institutional bearing.
Manpreet Sohanpal
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