Daily Kos
Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Sunday | April 13, 2003

We Must Learn from History, and Forget

Today's Seattle Times offers an opinion piece by the U. of Washington's Daniel Chirot, one of the world's leading authorities on ethnic violence.

Chirot's observations will challenge -- and discomfort -- simplists of all stripes. The full read is recommended, and my excerpts here are samples, not summaries.

When nation-states falter, as they are doing in much of the world, ethno-religious hatreds erupt into violence. ... religion is one of those social attributes that can, in difficult times, offer a measure of support ... Ethnic solidarities serve the same function ...

[9/11] was part of a civil war ... between fundamentalists and moderate Muslims ... Some scholars claim that fundamentalists are losing this war and use terrorism out of desperation. ...

Alas, they are wrong ... pan-Islamic and ethnic sentiments clash, but right now, both are competing for the same angry clientele and can be allies.

... once such states implode, their troubles cross borders ...

We can learn from the past ... In Yugoslavia, as communism and the economy were slowly collapsing, there were relatively free elections. ... The main warmongers won ...

In the Ivory Coast, a transition to democracy and voting prompted politicians to do the same. ...

In Algeria ... fundamentalist Islamists started to win, so the elections were canceled and this started an atrocious civil war. ...

Quick transitions to full democracy are dangerous ... Gradual changes ... may mean buying off old corrupt elites ... "justice" usually means that winners get compensation and revenge ...

To make progress, it is best to forget a lot of history. Americans forgot about our Civil War ... Was the trade-off, forgetting and postponing civil rights for African Americans until the 1960s, worth it? ... There are never clear or easy answers ... To forget is unfair, but usually necessary ...

Our capacity to get others to do the right thing is limited ... Are we prepared for the chaos we may precipitate, for the many other such incipient catastrophes around the world, and for their repercussion in our own homeland?

Are we prepared? Obviously not. Can we adapt? We'll find out soon enough, won't we?

RonK, Seattle

Posted April 13, 2003 03:38 PM | Comments (30)


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