It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural… Differences among civilizations are too basic… the interactions across the world are increasing, and they intensify civilization consciousness and awareness of differences between civilizations and commonalities within civilizations (Huntington 1993: 22).
Cultures are the underground rivers that run through our lives and relationships, giving us messages that contour our perceptions, attributions, incisiveness, and idea of self and other. This force of culture as being powerful and unconscious often drags conflicts on one end and also attempts to resolve these conflicts in evanescent ways. Culture is multi-layered; it is like ‘what we see on the surface may disguise differences below the surface’. This has also given rise to ‘Cultural Wars’ which many countries characterize it in their own way, for instance, Americans connote it as a clash between those values considered Traditionalist or Conservative and those considered Progressive or Liberals. These clashes begun in early 1920s when urban and rural American values came into true conflict. Canadians describes it as the diffusion between the different values of Canadians, for instance, West vs. East, Rural vs. Urban, or Traditional values vs. Progressive values. It can also be described as cultural wars between, Cosmopolitans vs. Parochialism, Secular vs. Moralist, Tolerance vs. Racism and so on.
Besides, it has also given rise to Multiculturalism, which has become an intimate concept nowadays in debates, newspapers, political discussions, political science, sociology, academics etc. It is an estate which already prevails in many parts of the world, Europe, Asia, Africa, America, because of the actual ubiquity of various religions, immigrants, ethnicities. Multiculturalism is something which points towards a development in not-too-distant future whose challenges we must be prepared to meet. It is a normative concept, where it does not point to an existing or a coming state, but rather to bring distortion in political and ways of thinking imperative in order to meet the demurs of various cultural groups living together according to the rules and ideas they foresee as morally right.
CULTURALISM: Hard and Soft
What we can perceive as a system of ‘Individualism’ is to commit oneself to live in whatever way she or he wishes to, pay homage to whatever God one wants to or no God at all, one can concede to whatever cultural, sexual or gender preference without discrimination from society. One can dress in whatever way one finds attractive or culturally right or individually appealing. But sometimes this assortment of cultural expression might appear destructive, provocative or outrageous to other cultural and religious groups which fail to understand acceptance as a virtue.
In terms of culturalism, the concept of ‘Soft’ culturalism is the rights of individuals to protect their cultural integrity. Moreover, the cognizance of the diversity of cultures in a society denotes that all individuals can exercise their autonomy and express themselves freely as long as they don’t impinge upon the freedom of others. Besides, a community may legally and socially enforce its own policies and traditions, whatever it holds sacred. In a more exaggerated form, the community may even catalyze its own police force and legal system; this draws our attention towards the ‘Hard’ version of culturalism. Since most societies and institutions do not adopt extremes of either ‘Soft’ or ‘Hard’ versions, the question that surfaces is whether an alternative that synthesizes the two extremes to achieve a political utopia. As we live in a sociocultural world that can be broken down into localized ethnic identities, we have witnessed a recurrence or persistence of conflicts on local, national and international fronts born out of a struggle against a cosmopolitan alliance of cultures and identities. For instance, ethnic conflicts have perpetually distraught the world of Balkans, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Indonesia, Middle East, Afghanistan and myriad other locations becoming possibly the most important source of conflict in the new and old wars of today. The question that arises is whether globalization is merely responsible for dissemination of unpublicized ethnic conflicts and their retention in public memory through New Media or could it be possibly be contributing to the existing chronic conflict or even creating new conflicts?
To apprehend ethnic conflicts, it is important to figure out the term ‘Ethnicity’; the grin and bear relationship between more or less bounded groups or social extensions which remark themselves as being culturally different from each other. Ethnic identities are, moreover, based on comprehensively held approach of common origin and shared culture, and must be perceived as such by outlanders as well. There has been a cognate global discourse, or ‘grammar,’ about ethnicity which encompasses a great number of formal commonalities between ethnic groups who endeavor for acknowledgment of these conjugal features. The articulation on cultural heritage, shared folklore, and a history of oppression is shared by ethnic minorities far and wide. Ethnicity is simply an assortment of individuals for collective attainment which is embraced and used by politicians for political leverage. Thus and so, ethnicity, for them becomes a channel used to trigger a group for often economic and political interests. We ought to admit that these ethnic conflicts are merely one of many types of conflicts that plague the world. We can distinguish conflicts into six categories (i) Territorial border disputes (ii) Control over national governments (iii) Economic conflicts (iv) Ethnic (v) Religious (vi) Ideological. Yet these conflicts do not follow a firm categorization because they are not agreeably absolute but rather tend to be encompassing of a number of categories. That is, economic activities of the globalized world can just as easily be a patron to ethnic conflicts as traditional contentions may be. For this reason, ethnic conflict requires a careful case-by-case examination, especially in the rapidly globalizing context.
Both globalization and ethnic conflict cover broad fields that are composed of and projecting infinite variables. We can state that globalization has an intrinsic aspect where we have both homogenization and heterogenization. In a way we are becoming more alike and at the same time becoming more aware of our differences; we are developing understanding and recognizing its worth in some areas while there’s conflict surfacing in others. Although considering these ethnic conflicts in relation to globalization would not be just – underdevelopment, instability, forms of extremism, criminal activities can also exacerbate these ethnic conflicts. What we need is cooperation at large among governments, NGOs, militaries and private enterprises to sustain peace and prevent intensification of these conflicts. Ethnic groups, nations and international institutes need to ponder on their approach for adapting to this converging world, as either groups will endlessly clash or have to learn to blossom in diversity by building up commonalities rather than differences. However, this realization has not been entirely explicated into the practice of post-conflict planning following development and reconciliation. The pursuit of reconciliation in this mighty peace building paradigm is realized mainly through high-profile, top-down initiatives: truth commissions, legal practices, constitutional reforms, public apologies. Far from lessen the importance of such processes, we need to adopt a broader comprehension of conformity and should pursuit to put forward the potential of post-conflict strategies, pursuing it through advocating positivity, amplify social capital at the community level which involves fostering cooperative relations between the divided groups and overcoming the exclusive, bonding capital in the form of increased legibility of ethnic identifications. Thus, post-conflict reconciliation strategies do not fully use their adequacy because they fall through to address ethnic relations at all levels, including the local level, and also because of their perception of ethnic divisions in the aftermath of conflict as permanent. Rationality has shown that education may hold keys to ceasing or at least alleviating historical ethnic animosities. In my opinion, people should shift their earnestness by developing a global identity first and members of states and ethnic groups second; people need to learn to tolerate differences in order to coexist. But this is quite unlikely, given the drift of people to dispute all along history.
All populations have become increasingly diverse, and the citizens of all states are more diasporized, living or visiting outside their own countries… They need to be accommodated politically both within the evolving global network of international organizations and in the design of democratic states… All democracies need to make fundamental constitutional innovations that enable dispersed minorities, both at home and abroad to be better represented (Riggs 2002: 46).
~ Sahni is an International Relations student at O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonepat.