What causes civil conflict?

In a series of recent articles, civil conflict researchers Esteban, Mayoral, and Ray (see this paper for an example) have tried to answer that question. Is it economic inequality, or cultural differences? Or maybe there is a political cause at its root. I encourage you to read the paper and to have a look at the video below. Here are a couple of images from the linked paper, which you’ll see remind you of concepts that we’ve covered in IS210 this semester. The first image is only part of the “Model of Civil Conflict.” Take a look at the paper if you want to see the “punchline.”

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Here is the relationship between fractionalization and polarization. What does each of these measures of diversity measure?

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And here’s a nice youtube video wherein the authors explain their theory.

Does Segregation lead to interethnic violence or interethnic peace?

That’s an important question, because it not only gives us an indication of the potential to stem inter-ethnic violence in places like Iraq, Myanmar, and South Sudan, but it also provides clues as to where the next “hot spots” of inter-ethnic violence may be. For decades now, scholars have debated the answer to the question. There is empirical evidence to support bot the “yes” and “no” sides. For example, in a recent article in the American Journal of Political Science [which is pay-walled, so access it on campus or through your library’s proxy] Bhavnani et al. list some of this contradictory evidence:

How to create peace between Protestants and Catholics in Belfast? Erect 18-ft high "peace lines"

How to create peace between Protestants and Catholics in Belfast? Erect 18-ft high “peace lines”

Evidence supporting the claim that ethnic rivals should be kept apart:

  • Los Angeles riots of 1992, ethnic diversity was closely associated with rioting (DiPasquale and Glaeser 1998),
  • That same year, Indian cities in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar, each of whichhad a history of communal riots, experienced violence principally in locales where the Muslim minority was integrated. In Mumbai, where over a thousand Mus-
    lims were killed in predominantly Hindu localities, the Muslim-dominated neighborhoods of Mahim, Bandra,
    Mohammad Ali Road, and Bhindi Bazaar remained free of violence (Kawaja 2002).
  • Violence between Hindus and Muslims in Ahmedabad in 2002 was found to be significantly higher in ethnically mixed as opposed to segregated neighborhoods (Field et al. 2008).
  • In Baghdad during the mid-2000s, the majority displaced by sectarian fighting resided in neighborhoods where members of the Shi’a and Sunni communities lived in close proximity, such as those on the western side of the city (Bollens2008).

Evidence in support of the view that inter-mixing is good for peace:

  • Race riots in the British cities of Bradford, Oldham, and Burnley during the summer of 2001 were attributed to high levels of segregation (Peach 2007).
  • In Nairobi, residential segregation along racial (K’Akumu and Olima 2007) and class lines (Kingoriah 1980) recurrently produced violence.
  • In cities across Kenya’s Rift Valley, survey evidence points to a correlation between ethnically segregated residential patterns, low levels of trust, and the primacy of ethnic over national identities and violence (Kasara 2012).
  • In Cape Town, following the forced integration of blacks and coloreds by means of allocated public housing in low-income neighborhoods, a “tolerant multiculturalism” emerged (Muyeba and Seekings 2011).
  • Across neighborhoods in Oakland, diversity was negatively associated with violent injury (Berezin 2010).

Scholars have advanced many theories about the link between segregation and inter-ethnic violence (which I won’t discuss right now), but none of them appears to account for all of this empirical evidence. Of course, one might be inclined to argue that segregation is not the real cause of inter-ethnic violence, or that it is but one of many causes and that the role played by segregration in the complex causal structure of inter-ethnic violence has yet to be adequately specified.

How much does political culture explain?

For decades now, comparativists have debated the usefulness of cultural explanations of political phenomena. In their path-breaking book, The Civic Culture, Almond and Verba argued that there was a relationship between, what they called, a country’s political culture and the nature and quality of democracy. (In fact, the relationship is a bit more complex in that the believed that a country’s political culture mediated the link between individual attitudes and the political system.) Moreover, the political culture was itself a product of underlying and enduring socially cultural factors, such as either an emphasis on the family, bias towards individualism, etc. Although Almond and Verba studied only five countries–the United States, West Germany, Mexico, Italy, and the United Kingdom–they suggested that the results could be generalized to (all) other countries.

How much, however, does culture explain? Can it explain why some countries have strong economies? Or why some countries have strong democracies? We know that cultural traits and values are relatively enduring, so how can we account for change? We know that a constant can not explain a variable.

The 1963 Cover of Almond and Verba's classic work.

In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Professor Stephen L. Sass asks whether China can innovate its way to technological and economic dominance over the United States. There is much consternation in the United States over recent standardized test scores showing US students doing poorly, relative to their global peers, on science exams. (How have Canadian students been faring?)

Professor Sass answers his own question in the negative. Why, in his estimation, will China not innovate to the top? In a word (well, actually two words)–political culture:

Free societies encourage people to be skeptical and ask critical questions. When I was teaching at a university in Beijing in 2009, my students acknowledged that I frequently asked if they had any questions — and that they rarely did. After my last lecture, at their insistence, we discussed the reasons for their reticence.

Several students pointed out that, from childhood, they were not encouraged to ask questions. I knew that the Cultural Revolution had upturned higher education — and intellectual inquiry generally — during their parents’ lifetimes, but as a guest I didn’t want to get into a political discussion. Instead, I gently pointed out to my students that they were planning to be scientists, and that skepticism and critical questioning were essential for separating the wheat from the chaff in all scholarly endeavors.

Although Sass admits that there are institutional and other reasons that will also serve to limit China’s future technological innovation, he ends up affirming the primacy of political culture:

Perhaps I’m wrong that political freedom is critical for scientific innovation. As a scientist, I have to be skeptical of my own conclusions. But sometime in this still-new century, we will see the results of this unfolding experiment. At the moment, I’d still bet on America.

Do you agree? What other important political phenomena can be explained by political culture?

The Partition of India in 1947

The importance of international borders can not be overstated. Despite predictions that the combined forces of globalization would undermine the importance and political meaning of borders, the territorially-defined state remains the world’s predominant form of political organization. As multi-national empires/states collapse, much of the violence that ensues is the result of efforts to draw and redraw what had once been internal borders. Here is a fascinating documentary about the partition of the Indian sub-continent, into India and Pakistan. The narrator observes:

As a British barrister draws a line on a map, the once peaceful land implodes. People are forced out of the villages they have lived in for generations. Fifteen million scramble to be on the right side of the border. At least one million die in the process.


Social Network Media and Revolution

In the wake of the revolutionary changes that have (hopefully) taken place in Tunisia and Egypt, much has been made about the role of social media–particularly Facebook–in facilitating the participatory aspect of the revolutionary end-game. (A Google search of `Facebook AND Egypt revolution’ turns up over 22 million hits.) The Globe and Mail’s  Chrystia Freeland is the latest journalist to address the phenomenon, quoting economists Daron Acemoglu and Matthew Jackson.

Freeland notes that social network media have helped resolve what social scientists refer to as the collective action problem.

“It is a question of co-ordinating people’s beliefs,” said Daron Acemoglu, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who, with Matthew Jackson of Stanford University in California, is working on a paper about the effect of social networks on collective action problems.

Protesting against an authoritarian regime is a prime example of this issue, Mr. Acemoglu said, because opponents of a dictator need to know that their views are widely shared and that a sufficient number of their fellow citizens are willing to join them to make opposition worthwhile.

“I need to know if other people agree with me and are willing to act,” he said. “What really stops people who are oppressed by a regime from protesting is the fear that they will be part of an unsuccessful protest. When you are living in these regimes, you have to be extremely afraid of what happens if you participate and the regime doesn’t change.”

That makes publicly protesting an oppressive regime a classic collective action problem: If everyone who wants regime change takes to the streets, the group will achieve its shared goal. But if too few protest, they will fail and be punished. Even if an overwhelming majority wants change, it is smart for individuals to speak out only if enough compatriots do, too.

To Freeland’s characterisation of the collective action problem I would add that the reason it is “smart for individuals to speak out only if enough compatriots do, too” is because each individual reasons in the following manner:

  • I am only one person; my individual marginal contribution to the probability of having a successful revolution is infinitesimally small.
  • Thus, my taking part or not will not be determinative. That is, the revolution will succeed or fail regardless with or without my participation.
  • Given the above, and given potential costs of participating, it is rational for me to not participate.

Social media, however, can help to change the calculus of participation by assuring the would-be participant that millions of others will also participate, thereby decreasing the potential costs of participation to any one individual. I do have an issue, however, with Freeland’s use of the Groupon analogy, which is based on the difference between the types of private goods Groupon specialises in and the truly public good that is a revolution.

The Sectarian Division in the Middle East

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have prompted similar uprisings in many other countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Though the vast majority of the populations in each of these countries are Muslim, the societies are far from homogeneous. In addition, to social class and ethnic cleavages, Brian Ulrich–Assistant Professor of Middle East History–notes the Sunni/Shi’a sectarian split within Islam:

The sectarian split between a Shi’ite majority and Sunni monarchy and minority matters, but not in a straightforward way. The country’s rulers have played a game of divide and rule, one which seems to have accelerated over the past few years which have seen an increase in anti-Shi’ite discrimination. Presumably hoping to keep smaller the popular base to which they must dispense patronage while tying that base to them ideologically, the Al Khalifa dynasty has portrayed Shi’ites as potential Iranian catspaws and pointed to Iraq as an example of the negative consequences of Shi’ite democratic empowerment. What you see in the government’s rhetoric is an attempt to cast the Shi’ites themselves as the sectarian ones primarily on the grounds of their Shi’ism, much like the Mubarak and Ben Ali regime claimed to suppress Islamic extremism.

Bahrain has also seen major protests before, with a 1990’s “intifada” almost exclusively Shi’ite demographically. During that period, the key to the uprisings’ longevity was a social base in the winding narrow streets of the Shi’ite neighborhoods in and around Manama that the mostly South Asian police had trouble penetrating.

Here’s the video of an interesting debate on the Shi’a/Sunni division in Islam, with some very interesting guests, including U. of Michigan Professor of Middle Eastern History, Juan Cole, who has a very informative blog on Islam and Middle East politics.

Germany’s National Soccer Team and Citizenship Law

Citizenship, O’Neil writes, is “an individual’s relationship to the state, wherein states swear allegiance to that state and the state in return is obligated to provide rights to those citizens.” Each state has the right to determine the basis upon which individuals-residents and non-residents alike–fulfill the requirements of citizenship. (Indeed, the extent of citizen obligations also varies from state to state.) As you know, there are three ways in which citizenship can be acquired: jus soli (birth on the territory of the state), jus sanguinis (on the basis of blood relations), and naturalisation.

Prior to changes in its citizenship law in the late 1990s, Germany was a state that based its citizenship law almost exclusively on jus sanguinis. That is, if one were (considered to be) a part of the German nation (“folk”), then one could relatively easily acquire German citizenship, even if they were not born on the territory of the modern German state. Conversely, even those who were born in Germany (and whose parents had also been born and raised in Germany) but were not nationally (or “ethnicity”) German could not obtain German citizenship. A vivid example of the impact the recent changes in German citizenship law have had on German society comes from international soccer (football, really!) where we can see the rosters of two respective German national teams. One of these rosters is the starting lineup for the 1974 World Cup Final (West Germany defeated the Johan Cruyff-led Dutch 2-1 in Munich), while the second is Germany’s starting lineup for the 3rd-place game (Germany defeated Uruguay 3-2) at this past summer’s World Cup held in South Africa. Which one is which? (Note, in order to be eligible to play for an international match for a country, the player must be a citizen of that country,)

N.B.: If you are a soccer fan, you’d be able to distinguish which roster belongs to which year on the basis of the position names (DM,, RW, AM, FW, etc.) alone! Soccer tactics sure have changed a bit over the last few decades!

China and Civil Society

This week in IS 210 we addressed the concept of civil society–its institutions, and the relationships thereof with the state and market sectors. As part of today’s lecture, we viewed an excerpt of a video recording of a roundtable discussion about China and civil society. In a highly informative presentation, George Mason University (Fairfax, VA) research professor, Carol Lee Hamrin, assessed the changes in Chinese civil society over the last few decades. As the power and reach of the Chinese party-state recedes it has opened up room for the increasing independence of civil society institutions and (especially) the commercialisation of the Chinese economy.

You can view the whole video here.

Independence Referendum in Southern Sudan

The most important international political event occurring this week is arguably the independence referendum in southern Sudan. Despite clashes a couple of days ago along the border separating the north and south, which left dozens dead, the New York Times reports that voting is peaceful. As The Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York notes, while the referendum may ultimately lead to a new state being created in the south, the cost “has been horrific.”

Southern Sudan has been consumed by devastating wars for most of the past half-century. An estimated 2.5 million people have perished in those wars, with atrocities on all sides that were shocking in their cruelty.

After decades of indifference by most of the world, the irony is that Southern Sudan suddenly became a fashionable cause over the past decade. Its oil exports became lucrative, forcing the north and south to try to settle their conflict in order to protect their revenue flows. Simultaneously, there was a rapid escalation of U.S. diplomatic pressure on both sides, including the threat of sanctions – partly because evangelical Christian lobbyists had persuaded Congress that it needed to protect the south’s Christians from Muslim persecution.

Here’s a fascinating set of maps creating by the BBC to show that the north and south of Sudan differ in more than simply ethnicity and oil wealth.

Here’s a report from Al Jazeera about some of the important issues related to the referendum:

German Chancellor Merkel–German Multiculturalism a Complete Failure

In a speech to the youth wing of her party last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel proclaimed multiculturalism in Germany a “complete failure.” Merkel’s remarks have caused some consternation both within Germany and abroad. Detractors have used the speech to highlight what they claim is an increasingly strident anti-immigrant (and particularly anti-Muslim) tone in the words and deeds of the right and centre-right in Germany. The clip below–from Al Jazeera’s English-language news program–places Merkel’s comments within the context of the contemporary debate in Europe on issues related to the assimilation/integration of Muslim immigrants. (Note the clip on the recent “burqa controversy” in France.

There is, I believe, a more charitable reading of Chancellor Merkel’s comments. The public debate in Germany on immigration, multiculturalism and the place of immigrants in German society has-for peculiarly German reasons–lagged the reality for a long while. It was not until the election of Gerhard Schroeder’s SDP/Green coalition in 1998 that the German citizenship law was changed to make it consistent with the social reality.