brni (brni) wrote,
brni
brni

a sense of injustice

I'm reading Religion and Nationalism in Iraq: A Comparative Study (ed. David Little and Donald K. Swearer). It's a write-up of a conference held in 2005, in which the growing crisis in Iraq was discussed in a comparative way with other recent Ethnoreligious conflicts (Sudan, Bosnia/Herzegovina, and Sri Lanka). One of my father's papers appears in this book (“Is Religion Disengaging Itself from Ethnic Conflict in Bosnia and Herzegonia?”), and he gave me one of his comp copies.

I'm still on the introduction, and am finding some interesting bits. The world appears to be devolving into ever greater numbers of ethnically and/or religiously based conflicts, with very few (successful) attempts to actually mitigate the problems, it makes sense to try to understand what it is that is happening, what lies at the root of the conflict.

If the idea of “nation” is understood as “a relatively large grouping of people who conceive themselves to have a communal past, including shared sufferings and shared achievements, from which...is derived a common culture...uniting past[,]...present and...future,” and the idea of “nationalism” is taken, at a minimum, to mean a claim by one or more “nations” to political authority over the inhabitants of a given territory, a “nationalist conflict” is a contest, sometimes violent, between two or more groups claiming the “right to rule” within a given territory based upon competing conceptions of nationhood. In short, nationalist conflicts are contests over which national ideal will prevail in a given nation-state. In common parlance, such conflicts are often described as “ethnic” or “religious,” or as “ethnoreligious,” because it is assumed that the competing ideals of nationhood are shared or strongly influencd by considerations of ethnic or religious identity or both.


The conflict is spurred in essence by various parties having developed a strong sense of group identity, which is tied to culture, ethnicity, language, mores, and religion, and when that set of commonalities intersects with government (or an organized resistance to some government), and some claim on territory, you get nationalism. And when more than one group of people have made claims upon territory and/or the government, very often you get war. More than that, though. The ethnoreligious construct defines a sense of “belonging,” which has as it's necessary foil the Other. The Other is not just someone who is not one of us. The Other is someone who, by just existing, threatens our very identity.

But beyond that [World Bank economist Paul] Collier also admits that during the course of even unexceptional national civil wars, grievances (presumably including ethnic and religious grievances)--and not just greed—do become potent in influencing the direction aand outcome of the war. He emphasises the importance of a “sense of injustice,” and a perception of discrimination in legitimating an insurgency, and in rallying recruits to the cause, and he explicitly mentions that grievances concerning areas such as equitable government provision for education and health must be taken into account in any sustainable peace settlement.


And it occurred to me that that, precisely, is what certain factions in the United States have been doing.

I can't count the number of times I have been told of the “persecution of Christians” in the United States. So here I am, looking at a country where you can't get elected president unless you're Christian and the president is obliged to say “God Bless America” at the end of every speech. Where national holidays and Christian holidays are synonymous, where the value of the currency is guaranteed by God on each and every bill and coin.

And given all that, for a long time I wasn't able to understand how people can believe that Christians are persecuted in this country. But I'm starting to see.

Ethnoreligious nationalism is not a “Natural State of Man.” It is, largely, a product of the nation-building processes of the last several centuries. The relative ease of movement and communication due to technological advances has engendered global dissemination of culture, and also backlash against that dissemination. Prior to this, control of a territory by some government or another was largely tactical and/or strategic; it was perhaps domineering, but not colonial. The Roman Empire was vast, but for the most part this simply meant that when Rome asked for soldiers or food or taxes, Rome got soldiers or food or taxes. Roman culture had influence, but little significant cultural impact on the common people of, say, Egypt, or Israel, of their cultures and religions and languages, as long as what Caeser wanted was rendered unto him. Monotheistic religions changed things somewhat, starting in the latter part of the Roman Empire, and in Islamic world, what with their claims to absolute truth and such, but there was not yet that sense of the inextricable coupling of religion, ethnicity, national identity and territory. Ethnoreligious nationalism is a construct, created first by a confluence of factors – the carving out of nations with multiple ethnic and religious groups within the same territory, and a disparate distribution of power (and therefore wealth, rights and privileges) between peoples – and then cynically exploited by the Miloshevices and Tudjmans of the world.

So.

Welcome to America, Melting Pot of the world, or, as some have said, the Salad Bowl of the world, a country in which Christians are by far the majority, where white men have historically maintained exclusive domination of political and economic power, and where Christians think they are being persecuted and white men think that they are an endangered species. Members of the dominant majority group do not just start thinking this way for no reason. This is the result of a long term campaign, waged in the media and in the churches, in order to construct exactly the sort of ethnoreligious nationalism that we've seen tear apart other countries. The names speak to this drive – Christian Identity, National Unity, and the like. In Sudan, the attempt by the government to Islamize and Arabize southern Sudan's population made “southerners more acutely conscious that they were not Arabs and not Muslims and that, unless they were willing to forfiet their identity, they had to fight the North.” In the United States today, we see an inverted version of this occuring. Christians are redefining themselves as the victims, as the people who are oppressed and persecuted, even as they oppress and persecute others, and thereby galvanize a movement to defend an identity that they have defined as being in danger of extinction.

We're fighting against humanism, we're fighting against liberalism ... we are fighting against all the systems of Satan that are destroying our nation today ... our battle is with Satan himself.
Jerry Falwell


In order to achieve particular aims – theocratic control of the United States government and imposition of a particular view of “God's Law” as the law of the land – enemies need to be identified and demonized, and the defeat of the enemy becomes necessary for the very survival of the group. There can be no compromise, and the idea that one should be free to differ from this absolute vision is itself the work of Satan.
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