Ethnic Conflict and Strife

A couple of days ago all blog posts seemed to be related to the theme “the social logic of politics”. Today, there seems to be a surge in episodes of inter-ethnic conflict worldwide. First, we learn from the Washington Post, that there is unrest and violence in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, where a week of increasing confrontations between native Tibetans and the Chinese government have turned violent, with native Tibetans battling with Chinese police and troops and also attacking ethnic Han Chinese, which is either unprecedented or extremely rare.

BEIJING, March 14 — A week of tense confrontations over Chinese rule in Tibet erupted in violence Friday, as hundreds of protesters clashed with police and set fire to shops in the center of Lhasa. Doctors reported dozens of wounded streaming into area hospitals, and one witness said the downtown area was “in a state of siege.”

The rare breakout of violence, the worst in 20 years in the capital city of a remote mountainous region that is the heart of Tibetan Buddhism, posed a challenge to the Chinese government as it prepares to host the 2008 Olympic Games in August. Seeking to make the Games a worldwide celebration of its swift economic progress during the past three decades, the Chinese government has steadfastly attempted to project an image of harmony and stability, even while tightening its grip over the restive region.

“This spiraling unrest has triggered the scenario the Chinese prayed would not happen,” said Robbie Barnett, director of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University. “Now we’re just watching the clock tick until people get off the street or the Chinese open fire.”

In a different part of the world, Malaysia, in which once again ethnic Chinese are involved, the New York Times reports on post-electoral tension on the island of Penang:

PENANG, Malaysia — Chanting “Long Live the Malays!” several hundred members of Malaysia’s largest ethnic group gathered Friday on this largely Chinese island, defying a police ban on protests and raising communal tensions after sharp electoral losses by the country’s governing party.

Newly elected state governments have moved rapidly to abolish some of the long-held privileges of ethnic Malays. Those efforts have challenged the core of Malaysia’s ethnic-based political system and inflamed the sensibilities of Malays. Until the March 8 elections, Malays thoroughly dominated politics through the country’s largest party, the United Malays National Organization, known by its initials, U.M.N.O.

The opposition parties that beat U.M.N.O. and its partners in five states say affirmative action should be based on need rather than ethnicity. But the opposition, too, is struggling to contain fissures along ethnic lines as a Chinese opposition party competes with its Malay counterpart.

“We’re living in very sensitive times,” said Tricia Yeoh, director of the Center for Public Policy Studies, an independent research center in Kuala Lumpur, the capital.

The affirmative action program favoring the Malays has been in place for more than three and a half decades and gives Malays everything from discounts on new houses to 30 percent quotas in initial public offerings of companies. It is known as the New Economic Policy.

Finally, in Iraq, where in the last four years the minority Christian community has been decimated, either through targeted killings or ethnic cleansing, we hear news of the killing of a prominent Catholic Bishop:

bishop_rahro.jpg BAGHDAD, March 13 — The body of a senior Christian cleric was found Thursday in the northern city of Mosul, two weeks after gunmen abducted him there and killed three of his associates.

The death of Paulos Faraj Rahho, 65, archbishop of Mosul’s Chaldean community, prompted expressions of remorse and condemnation from the Iraqi government and Christian leaders.

Pope Benedict XVI, in a message to the Chaldean patriarch in Iraq, called the killing an “act of inhuman violence that offends the dignity of the human person and seriously harms the cause of fraternal coexistence among the beloved Iraqi people.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said it was a crime of “aggression aimed at inciting sedition among” Iraqis.

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