Accomodating Diversity: National Policies That Prevent Ethnic Conflict

Deutscher, Irwin
Lexington Books, Lanham, MD, USA, or Oxford, UK.

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Cover of book This book begins by exploring the limitations of democracy in terms of the rights of minorities. Deutscher contends that this is the major shortfall of democracy after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 'It is my position that issues related to minorities emerge as the most dangerous threat to the process of democratization in nations which have freed themselves from oppressive regimes' (p. 13). Even though many have welcomed the recent Third Wave of democracy, Deutscher fears that new democracies may allow majorities to discriminate against minorities.

Deutscher next explains how ethnic and national identities were constructed or 'imagined' to quote Benedict Anderson. These forms of identity were first created in the West and ultimately incorporated in the Third World as peoples who never considered themselves ethnic or racial came to do so based on the ideas and labels colonial powers used in dividing and subdividing their regions of conquest. Americans, he argues, have effectively moved from a conception of their identity based on the melting pot to a view of their identity built on ethnic ancestry, creating a multicultural America in the process.

Deutscher attempts to find solutions to the problems associated with the poor treatment of minorities, but he argues that the only means that should be considered are those that do not further hurt anyone. He admits these measures are unlikely to eliminate violence against minorities but should help to reduce this violence. The first option in dealing with ethnic conflict he calls the enclave solution. Relying on the success of Switzerland and Ghana, Deutscher demonstrates that groups that are isolated from each other are unlikely to use violence against each other. Deutscher identifies immigration as a second solution to ethnic conflict. Here he suggests that immigration policy that respects the cultural tradition of recent arrivals results in a more successful assimilation of immigrants into the extant culture. This creates less resentment on the part of immigrants and existing nationals. Sweden seems to fit this model the best according to Deutscher. Another possible solution is partition, but this will only work Deutscher argues when two or more groups accept a clearly defined geographical border, have no history of political violence toward each other, are economically viable as separate political units, and when the larger group has a democratic tradition. This is rare in most states with ethnic conflict but helps explain the successful creation of two independent states from the former Czechoslovakia. Reconciliation is another option to minimize ethnic conflict. Reconciliation does less to provide justice from past wrong-doings than it does to prevent such ethnic abuses in the future. Reconciliation commissions allow the truth from the past to be identified as in South Africa without fear of future recriminations.

Beyond these state strategies, Deutscher focuses on the growing importance of international actors that can reduce ethnic conflict. Deutscher recognizes that globalization may also serve to undermine the cultural rights of groups as regional or international organizations seek to impose their conception of individual rights on those who conceive of rights and obligations differently. Deutscher also identifies the power and effectiveness of local organizations that seek to build a civil society across ethnic lines. He sites the emergence of many such groups after the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland as an example of the power of civil society to provide the social capital to undermine the likelihood of violent conflict between ethnic groups.

In this book Deutscher has attempted to build a body of social science knowledge that yields policy prescriptions that will bring about a more moral and just world. He specifically cites Podgorecki as his inspiration. While no one can question the goal of this work, one can question its effectiveness. This book relies heavily on newspaper as sources. Deutscher claims that these newspaper accounts provide anecdotal evidence useful in case study research, but the reader may desire that the author's musings be more linked to well-developed theoretical frameworks provided by more scholarly sources. If we are to ameliorate the problems associated with ethnic conflict, we will need deeper and more systematic analysis than this book and its cursory coverage of the issues related to ethnic diversity provides. In the end, Deutscher seeks to eliminate the problems of ethnic conflict by calling for the end of ethnic pride which he sees as false in that it claims credit for past achievements of others while denying responsibility for the wrongs committed by the ethnic group in the past. The author may correctly seek to end the wrongs created by ethnic conflicts. However, this will not be achieved by denying individuals the right to claim their own identity.

Timothy J. White
Xavier University