Partition as a Solution to Ethnic Conflict/Violence

Today in class we discussed ethnic identity and various types of inter-ethnic violence. We saw that a large literature in political science (and related disciplines) sees the very fact of cultural (and especially ethnic) heterogeneity is being the source of much that goes wrong within states and societies. In a previous post, I mentioned Robert Putnam’s recent findings that trust is lower in more heterogeneous societies; there is a burgeoning literature on the deleterious economic impact of ethnic (and other forms of) identity (public goods provision, for example, is lower in more heterogeneous societies).

If the very fact of heterogeneity is the cause of conflict and violence, then wouldn’t a reasonable solution to inter-ethnic conflict/violence be to create new more ethnically homogeneous states out of a single ethnically diverse one? Some argue that this may be a legitimate solution to the extant difficulties in Iraq. Chaim Kaufmann has argued in favor of just this approach. Here (pdf) is an article written by Nicholas Sambanis setting out, then critiquing Chaim Kaufmann’s hypotheses regarding the usefulness of partition to resolve endemic inter-ethnic violence.

You can view a fascinating BBC documentary on the partition of India in 1947 here. Here’s an important quote from the documentary:

“…as a British barrister draws a line on a map…”

Much of the violence that occurred during the partition was the result of Muslims and Hindus (of course, the Sikh/Punjab problem adds another layer of complexity altogether) trying to be on (or being forced to move to) the right side of that barrister’s line. Millions were killed.