Ethnicity


By Qaisar Sultan

Homer’s tale of Troy foretold the world the division between East and West. The Greeks had to conquer and teach a “lesson” to their rivals in the East about the ethical and moral traditions of being a civilized guest and respectful to their women. Iliad was the first mythological or true story of the time of lore, where Agamemnon says: “Greeks do not commit murders of innocent people”. In this dialogue we see the subtlety of ethnic superiority to others. This ancient feelings haunted humanity forever. A culture develops norms that shape their way of living, feelings and convictions. If a group’s norms are challenged, they react with negative emotions. The Egyptians found Hebrews beneath them, and Moses had to command: “Let my people go free”. Here we find that the weak confront the strong- Too long of suffering of a group of people gives rise and induces the confrontation. The weak (Moses) found weakness in the dominating culture of Pharos ignorant of what they perceived the truth could be- That truth was one God of Abraham. Moses challenged the way the people of Egypt who enjoyed and benefited from the slavery. Moses wanted to change their faith in the deities that they believed in.  And at the same time the barbaric nature of the strong depicts the human nature in its pure animalistic form. But it was their way of life; their choice what to eat, how to live and what God to pray to. If they accepted God of Moses, they had to give up their way of life. So they had to resort to violence to keep the status quo.  The recognition of their belief system was important for the survival of their culture. It gave them power and resources. So they had to keep their ideology and way of life intact. In the countries where laws evolve and force people into more civilized and tolerant citizens, men can be restrained through the laws and enforcement. The tribal nature which is primordialistic, giving rise to external and internal corrosiveness, takes root with lack of education and absence of laws. The barbarian side of men comes in full force when they find ways to break the wall of law and enforcement. That is what we see in Pakistan. The state itself has broken the constitution and laws. The constitution and laws are more on ad hoc basis. There was no evolution of a civil society under the direct or indirect military rule. The military institution has destroyed every other institution, including the judiciary. It is the barbarism of the state that has been translated into a barbaric North West’s Taliban that is haunting the country. The only way to resolve disputes is to kill and torture. There is also an ethnic backdrop to this mayhem.  The idea that the religion should bring people closer has failed. The ethnicity has ascended the religious unity. The other side of it is that the religious minorities were treated very poorly in the religious state (Zia’s Pakistan) – Mind it that was not the dream of Quaid-e-Azam. The majority feels their God given right to burn churches, but no one can say a word about their religious sensibility, or lack of it.

We have found time and time again when the weak asked for fairness or justice, the strong demonized them as anti-state and violent, which is the turf that they both play upon. The emotions are pushed to the maximum threshold where the motivation to do harm by killing and destruction takes its own course. When the emotions are purposefully directed towards the opposing group or an ideology, they get coordinated to do harm. Almost all ethnic conflicts thrive in projecting with full emotions the inferiority of others and superiority of their belief, or their patriotism versus disloyalty of others.

We have seen this primordialist strands in Sinhala nationalism in Sri Lanka and resistance to their hegemony by Tamils. The Serbians started that in 1918 against Muslims. They killed thousands because they did not like their religion and way of life which was not drastically different than them. The continuation of that hatred which we call “ancient hatred” ended up in the genocide. We have seen that in Rwanda where both Tutsi and Hutu killed each other numbering over million innocent people. Uganda expelled Indians who lived there over one hundred years. In Darfur, the Arabs killed non- Arabs Soviet Union was divided into pieces- It did not end there. The new states are now in the process of unraveling into smaller states based on ethnic identities, such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia.  The East Timor, a weak and a tiny area fought for independence and succeeded.

The American story is a classic example of how a country can evolve into a state where a great number of majority votes elected a president from black minority, enslaved for over a century. If the prejudice has been wiped out, or if the American society has become a perfect society, the answer is: no, far from it.  We still find traces of that ancient animosity, sense of superiority, and sometimes hatred within the historical context.  The French thinker and historian, Tocqueville, after observing a new social order with a great emphasis on equality, described America the best: “a society of immigrants, each of whom had begun life anew, on an equal footing”.

What can be done when the state becomes the party to support the ethnic and religious bigotry? Instead of forging instrumentalist premise which is more ad-hoc in terms of the interests of a group, the mix of ethnic groups with varying aspirations are left with a sense of helplessness- That results in extreme emotions, spiraling into violent outburst. The instrumentality of group identification competing for resources and power has made America into a competitive but at the same time a tolerant society. Does it mean that the prejudice and bias do not exist? There will always be some competitive forces in a pluralistic society, fighting for the advantages and privileges. The laws of the land make obvious bias position hard, unacceptable and not viable for those ends- But on occasions the opposite happens in the dynamic societies. If the frictions put forth a competitive spirit, it is helpful. But as the societies would never be perfect till the end of the history, a lawful free society would serve the humanity best.  The important question is: Has this sense of ethnicity gone beyond the ambition to antipathy, past incentives to passion? The mass migration of the people and the unification of smaller states into larger countries have made the issue of ethnicity more pronounced and complex. India and Pakistan have been fighting the demons of their past – Smaller independent states have been lumped together as bigger countries, where the majority likes to keep the power and resources within that group. Nations go through their initial period bickering about every possible advantage, money power, and division of labor and allocation of resources. Time has come now that we must see ourselves as one nation. Based on provincial identities, we have divided ourselves almost into separate people. When there are separate languages, cultures and religions, the establishment has to be very careful in dealing with sensitive issues of the allocation of resources and division of labor. The political parties and their representation have become extremely parochial. Our problems in Baluchistan can put us back into a situation of 1971- Bangladesh has emerged as the only nation-state in the sub-continent with one language, culture and religion. The sense of injustice and inequity in countries lead to the idea of isolation based on pure ethnic and religious identities.

qaisarsultan@live.com

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