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Ethnic violence

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ethnic violence is a form of political violence which is expressly motivated by ethnic hatred and ethnic conflict. Forms of ethnic violence which can be argued to have the characteristics of terrorism may be known as ethnic terrorism or ethnically motivated terrorism. "Racist terrorism" is a form of ethnic violence which is dominated by overt racism and xenophobic reactionism.

Ethnic violence which is perpetrated in an organized, sustained form is known as ethnic conflict or ethnic warfare (race war), in contrast to class conflict, where the dividing line is social class rather than ethnic background.

Care must be taken to distinguish ethnic violence, which is violence motivated by an ethnic division, from violence that is motivated by other factors and just happens to break out between members of different ethnic groups (political or ideological).[1]

Violent ethnic rivalry is the subject matter of Jewish sociologist Ludwig Gumplowicz's Der Rassenkampf ("Struggle of the Races", 1909); and more recently, it is the subject matter of Amy Chua's notable study, World On Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. Some academicians would classify all "nationalist-based violence" as ethnic violence, a classification which would include the World Wars and all of the major conflicts between industrialised nations which occurred during the 19th century.[dubious ][2]

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Causality and characteristics

There are various potential causes of ethnic violence. Research which has been conducted by the New England Complex Systems Institute (NESCI) has shown that violence results when ethnic groups are partially mixed: neither clearly separated enough to reduce contact nor thoroughly mixed enough to build common bonds. According to Dr. May Lim, a researcher who is affiliated with NECSI, "Violence normally occurs when a group is large enough to impose cultural norms on public spaces, but not large enough to prevent those norms from being broken. Usually this occurs in places where boundaries between ethnic or cultural groups are unclear."[3]

This theory also states that the minimum requirement for ethnic tensions to result in ethnic violence on a systemic level is a heterogeneous society and the lack of a power to prevent them from fighting.[1] In the ethnic conflicts that erupted after the end of the Cold War, this lack of outer controls is seen as the cause; Since there was no longer a strong centralized power (in the form of the USSR) to control the various ethnic groups, they then had to provide defense for themselves.[1] This implies that once ethnicity is established, there needs to be strong distinctions, otherwise violence is inevitable.

Another theory supports the belief that a general feeling that security is lacking can cause ethnic violence, particularly when different ethnic groups live in proximity to each other. This feeling can eventually cause different ethnic groups to distrust each other, which leads to their unwillingness to peacefully coexist with each other.

The emotions that tend to cause ethnic tensions, which can lead to ethnic violence, are fear, hate, resentment, and rage. Individual identities might change throughout the years, but strong emotional issues can lead to a desire to fulfill those needs above all other concerns.[4] This strong desire to satisfy individual needs, without harming your own group, can have violent results.

Assuming that ethnic groups can be defined as groups of people which band together in order to protect material goods, while they are also satisfying the need to feel that they are a part of a group, violence which results from ethnicity can be a result of a violation which is committed against either ethnic group. However, violence occurs when the members of the opposing groups believe that there is no peaceful solution to the tensions which are plaguing them.[5]

Another theory states that ethnic violence is the result of past tensions. Referring to the members of the other ethnic group based solely on their previous offences tends to increase the probability of future violence.[5] This is referenced in the literature on ethnic violence that tends to focus on areas that have already had a history of ethnic violence, instead of comparing them with areas that have had peaceful ethnic relations.[6]

Ethnic violence obviously does not exist in exactly the same conditions in every example. Whereas one case of ethnic violence might result in a drawn out genocide, another case might result in a race riot. Different issues lead to different levels of intensity of violence. The problem mainly comes down to issues of group security. In situations when offensive and defensive actions are indistinguishable to outsiders, and in situations when the offensive actions are more effective in insuring group survival, then violence is sure to be present and harsh.[7] This view of ethnic violence placed risk in areas where members of ethnic groups feel insecure about their future, not as a result of emotional tensions.

Ethnic violence frequently occurs as a result of individual domestic disputes which spiral out of control and lead to large-scale conflicts. When individual disputes occur between two members of different ethnic groups, they can result in peace or they can result in more violence. Peace is more likely when offended persons feel that the offenders will be sufficiently punished by members of their own ethnic group. Or peace is simply achieved through the fear of greater ethnic violence. If the fear of retribution or the fear of violence is not present, ethnic violence may occur.[5]

Because ethnic violence is particularly extreme, there are numerous theories on how it can be prevented, and once it starts, there are numerous theories on how it can be ended. At the New England Complex Systems Institute, Yaneer Bar-Yam suggests that "clear boundaries" or "thorough mixing" can reduce the possibility of violence, citing Switzerland as an example.

Unfortunately, poorly planned separations do not lead to peace between members of different ethnic groups. the religious separation which occurred between India and Pakistan left large heterogeneous populations in India and since the separation, violence has occurred.[8]

The United States is often presented as the classic "melting pot" of ethnicities. "Ethnic" tensions in the United States are more typically viewed in terms of race.

Using the media to change perceptions of ethnicity might lead to a change in the probability of ethnic violence. The use of media that results in ethnic violence is usually a cyclical relationship; one group increases messages of group cohesion in response to a perceived threat, and a neighboring group responds with messages of their own group cohesion. Of course, this only happens when outside groups are already perceived as being potential threats.[7] Using this logic, ethnic violence might be prevented by decreasing messages of group cohesion, while increasing messages of safety and solidarity with members of other ethnic groups.

Outside forces may also be effective in decreasing the likelihood of ethnic violence. However, not all interferences by outside forces may be helpful. If not handled delicately, the possibility might increase. Outside groups can help stabilize danger zones by imposing gentle economic sanctions, develop more representative political institutions that would allow for minority voices to be heard, and encourage the respect of ethnically diverse communities and minorities.[1] However, if done incorrectly, outside interference can cause a nationalistic lash-back.


The "Ancient Hatreds" type of ethnic violence associates modern ethnic conflicts with ancient (or even mythical) conflicts. The massacres of Bosnian Muslims perpetrated by the Serbs in the 1990s was seen as revenge for the genocide perpetrated by the Ustashe and hatred of the Ottoman Empire. [9]


Ethnic cleansing and genocide qualify as "ethnic violence" (of the most extreme sorts), because by definition, the victims of a genocide are usually killed based on their membership in a particular ethnic group.

Other examples of ethnic violence include:

Some of the world's ongoing conflicts are, however, fought along religious rather than ethnic lines; one such conflict is the Somali Civil War.[12] The Guatemalan Civil War was fought along ideological lines (leftist rebel groups fought against the Guatemalan government) but it acquired ethnic characteristics because the rebels were primarily supported by the indigenous Mayan groups.

Terrorism against Copts in Egypt qualifies as both ethnic and religious violence but it isn't occurring during an ongoing conflict, instead, it reflects a history of sporadic and continuous attacks, over the years.[13][14][15]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Brown, Michael E., and John Rex. The Ethnicity Reader: Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Migration. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1997. 80-100. Print.
  2. ^ Muller, Jerry Z. "Us and Them." Foreign Affairs. Council on Foreign Relations, Mar.-Apr. 2008. Web. <>.
  3. ^ M. Lim, R. Metzler, Y. Bar-Yam, Global Pattern Formation and Ethnic/Cultural Violence, Science 317, 5844 (2007).
  4. ^ Petersen, Roger Dale. Understanding Ethnic Violence: Fear, Hatred, and Resentment in Twentieth-century Eastern Europe. Cambridge [England: Cambridge UP, 2002. Print.
  5. ^ a b c Fearon, James D., and David D. Laitin. "Explaining Interethnic Cooperation." The American Political Science Review 90.4 (1996): 715-35. Print.
  6. ^ Habyrimana, James, Macartan Humphreys, Daniel Posner, Jeremy Weinstein, Richard Rosecrance, Arthur Stein, and Jerry Z. Muller. "Is Ethnic Conflict Inevitable?" Council on Foreign Relations (July 2008). Web. <>.
  7. ^ a b Posen, Barry R. "The Security Problem and Ethnic Conflict." (1993). Johns Hopkins University. Web. <"Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-02-27. Retrieved 2012-03-11.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)>.
  8. ^ "Scientists Who study Ethnic Violence Find That in Switzerland, Separation Is the Key to Peace." Discover Blogs. Discover Magazine, 12 Oct. 2011. Web. <>.
  9. ^ Arnold, Richard. Russian Nationalism and Ethnic Violence. Routledge.
  10. ^ "Ethnic violence displaces hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians". 8 November 2017.
  11. ^ "Horrific attacks prompt South Sudan's communities to form armed groups". the guardian. 7 December 2015.
  12. ^ Brown, Michael E., and John Rex. The Ethnicity Reader: Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Migration. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1997. 80-100. Print.
  13. ^ Abdelhadi, Magdi (3 May 2012). "Egyptians take Tahrir Square to the junta's doorstep". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  14. ^ "List of attacks on Christians churches, institutions and individuals in Egypt". Bishop Angaelos.
  15. ^ Powers, Kirsten (Aug 22, 2013). "The Muslim Brotherhood's War on Coptic Christians". Daily Beast. Retrieved 22 August 2013.

External links

This page was last edited on 16 November 2023, at 22:57
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