Generally, the discourse on ethnicity has been dominated by two distinct approaches, which may be broadly characterized as primordialist on the one hand and instrumentalist or situational on the other. According to the primordialist view, ethnic bonds and affiliations are natural, given and universal in all human societies. Furthermore, they have an overpowering, emotional and non-rational quality. The instrumentalist or situational theory of ethnicity, on the other hand, holds that ethnicity is socially constructed, a resource to be mobilized and an instrument to be employed by particular groups in pursuit of certain goals, usually of a political or ideological nature.
The project of modernity confidently asserted that ethnic affiliations and identities would gradually weaken and eventually disappear with the burgeoning of industrialization, urbanization and secularization and the spread of modern education. However, this assumption was belied by the revival and resurgence of ethnic consciousness and identities that began to surface across large parts of the world from the early 1970s. Ethnic revival and resurgence in the contemporary world can be seen as a response to a variety of factors, including the end of the colonial era and the emergence of new nation states in Asia and Africa, a growing realization of marginalization and exclusion on the part of subordinated groups and ethnic and religious minorities, accompanied by a heightened consciousness of their political and cultural rights, large-scale international migrations and the emergence of transnational diasporas, the homogenizing pressures of modernity and globalization, and increasing atomization and societal fragmentation. The revival and resurgence of ethnic identities has been greatly strengthened by the unprecedented advances in information and communication technologies and their accessibility and growing popularity in large parts of the world.
A striking manifestation of the worldwide ethnic resurgence is the revival of indigenous cultural traditions and native languages in many parts of Europe and North America. In France, for example, the revival of indigenous cultures is marked by the proliferation of Breton language schools, the rising popularity of Celtic music, local cuisine and regional festivals. International tourism has also contributed to the revival of indigenous cultural traditions and regional identities. More than 10 million tourists now visit Brittany, a province of France, each year. In August 2001, Breizh Television began broadcasting in the Breton language as the country's first regional channel. Lovers of Celtic music and culture from about a dozen European countries and from eastern Canada flock to the town of Lorient in Brittany to get soaked in Celtic music and cultural traditions and to savour its traditional cuisine.
In recent years, the focus of research on ethnicity has shifted from studies of discrete ethnic groups and the identification of ethnic boundaries to the process and dynamics of ethnogenesis, which involves the social construction, invention and reinvention of ethnic identities in different social, political, economic and cultural contexts, inter-ethnic hybridization, and the changing meaning and role of ethnic identities in social and political mobilization. The idea of ethnicity as an exclusively or predominantly primordial phenomenon or a matter of subjective identification has been largely abandoned. The earlier perspective that viewed cultures and ethnic groups as bounded and insular with closed boundaries is now considered inadequate. Cultures and ethnic groups are now viewed as characterized by a substantial measure of heterogeneity, dynamism and hybridity.
The question of ethnicity is closely intertwined with issues of cultural diversity and pluralism, race and race relations, power, assimilation, integration, transnationalism, identity, and marginality and alienation.
Discontents of Ethnicity
Ethnicity is a Janus-faced phenomenon with both positive and negative implications and consequences. It can be an effective source of group cohesiveness and solidarity and, at the same time, serve as a breeding ground for narrow-mindedness, intolerance, separatism and exclusion and demonization of minority groups. It can be potentially destructive of civil society. In many parts of Africa, heightened ethnic and tribal identifications and affiliations have stymied the prospects for peace, political stability and development and have impeded the project of nation-building. After decades of civil war, South Sudan separated from Sudan in 2011. In December 2013, the South Sudan army split along ethnic lines. While one faction of the army aligned itself with the Dinka, the other declared its allegiance to the Nuer. The two sides turned their guns against each other.
Ethnicity often underpins manifestations of political, religious and sectarian conflicts. Ethnic conflicts have led to mass killings and forced displacement of millions of people in Sudan, South Sudan, Congo, Sri Lanka, Nepal, East Timor, Nigeria, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Angola, Liberia, Somalia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Lebanon and Palestine. Congo has witnessed one of the worst humanitarian crises since World War II, with a death toll estimated at more than five million between 1998 and 2003. Sudan's western province of Darfur has been the site of intense ethnic conflict and violence involving the black Africans and Arabs for the past four years. The conflict broke out in early 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Army began attacking government targets, accusing it of oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs. Hundreds of villages have been destroyed and nearly 200,000 people have been killed. The conflict created 2.7 million refugees -- a third of Darfur's 6 million inhabitants. From April to July 1994, Hutu extremists killed at least 800,000 people, mostly members of the minority Tutsi community, in Rwanda. The violent clashes between Sri Lanka's security forces and Tamil militants left more than 60,000 people dead and more than 200,000 displaced. More than one million people have been displaced since the outbreak of violence in South Sudan in December 2013. The continuing violence in the region is a manifestation of political and ethnic conflicts.
A significant conceptualization of identity was developed in the sociological and anthropological literature. Two distinctive aspects of the sociological perspective on identity are of particular importance. First, a distinction was drawn between self-identity, or personal or individual identity, and social identity. Self-identity refers to an individual's perception and understanding of himself, whereas social identity relates to a person's self-perception or self-image in relation to others or to one's membership of various social groups. The major sources of identity include language, religion, ethnicity, gender, social class and nationality. In some cases, shared descent constitutes an important component of personal and collective identity. This is particularly reflected in the case of Jews and Zoroastrians. Though self-identity and social identity can be analytically separated, they are closely interlinked in real life. Secondly, reference group theory, role theory, and the perspective of symbolic interactionism viewe identity as embedded in the structure of the groups to which an individual belongs and in the different roles he plays in different situations.
There has come about an unprecedented revival and resurgence of ethnic identities across large parts of the world. This resurgence and revival has been reinforced by the process of globalization, the world-wide salience of cultural diversity, the accelerated pace of technological and social changes, large-scale international migrations, the growing visibility of transnational diasporas and increasing interaction and contacts between people from different national, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
The question of identity has acquired an extraordinary salience in contemporary social science literature. Recent researches have focused on the dynamics of identity formation and on the role and functions of identity in different social, political and cultural contexts. There is a general agreement among social scientists that identity is a complex, multi-layered and multi-dimensional construct which involves choice, self-identification and ascription by others. The process of identity formation has important cognitive, affective and volitional dimensions and is significantly influenced by changing situational contexts. Lola Romanucci-Ross, George DeVos and E. Roosens have provided interesting case studies and analysis of the ways in which the identities of a wide range of ethnic groups throughout the world have evolved and changed in response to social, political and economic opportunities and constraints afforded by particular contexts.
Large-scale international migrations, transnationalism and transnational diasporas have led to a rethinking of ethnicity, location and identity. Diasporic communities, often dispersed across several countries, are bound together by shared ties of common descent, nationality, culture, language, religion and identity. Paul Gilroy, a British sociologist, has used the evocative term 'the Black Atlantic' to describe a massive cultural network spanning Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean and Britain, which has been an important source of identity, continuity and inspiration for millions of people of African origin.
The increasing salience of cultural diversity, large-scale migrations, globalization and increasing contact and interaction among people of different ethnic, national and cultural backgrounds tend to spawn creolization and hybrid, mosaic identities.
As suggested in the foregoing, the process of identity formation is influenced by self-definition and choice as well by the perception, judgement and ascription by others. Social recognition has a highly significant bearing on the individual's identity and self-esteem and its absence or negation is likely to have negative, adverse consequences. This is as true of ethnic groups and cultural communities as of individuals. The integration of racially distinct and identifiable immigrants, including their descendants born and raised in Western countries, in mainstream society has become more problematic because they carry not only their own self-identity but also an ascribed identity or ethnic label, which is often negative, stigmatizing and demeaning. The African-Americans (including the children of mixed white-black parentage) are perceived and defined by the white majority not only in terms of their ethnic identity but also an ascribed identity, which stereotypes and stigmatizes them and marginalizes them from mainstream society. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for most African-Americans to escape this ascribed identity. A German Jew is generally perceived by ethnic Germans as a Jew first and a German second and, more importantly, not a full-blooded German. This kind of ascribed identity breeds alienation and disaffection. Stereotypes about ethnic groups and religious communities that are found in many countries around the world typify ascribed identities. A particularly insidious manifestation of extreme ethnocentrism and intolerance is the denial of the identities of subordinated and minority groups. In 1969, former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, who had a virulent dislike for Palestinian Arabs, blatantly declared, "There was no such thing as Palestinians." Newt Gingrich, a Republican candidate for the US presidential elections in 2012, said that the Palestinian people were "invented" because there was never a Palestinian state.
An identity label that has pejorative and demeaning connotations may be reappropriated and reclaimed and given a positive meaning by an ethnic group. This can be illustrated in the context of the black liberation movement in the United States in the 1960s. Black intellectuals and activists reclaimed and reinvented the term black in a positive way and made it a symbol of their identity, dignity and pride.
Identities may not always be clearly defined or perceived, but may become blurred or confused, especially in the context of cultural hybridization or biculturation. This, for example, is the case with many young second-generation and third-generation descendants of Asian and African immigrants in Europe and North America, who are situated in a kind of a cultural no man's land between mainstream society which does not accept them and the culture of their parents which is existentially and emotionally distant for them and with which they cannot fully identify.
A frequently used term in the discourse of identity is identity politics, which refer to political strategies premised on ethic affiliations which seek to safeguard or consolidate the social, economic, ideological or political interests of minority groups. Minority group identities are generally defined, in projects of identity politics, in terms of descent, ethnicity, language, religion and gender.
Ethnicity and Identity in the Muslim World
Islam takes cognizance of cultural diversity that is a conspicuous feature of human societies around the world. The Quran says, "And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity in your languages and your (skin) colours; verily in that are signs for those who know" (30:22). The Quran says that the diversity of mankind is a reflection of God's will and design: "O men! Behold, We have created you out of a male and a female, and have made you unto nations and tribes, so that you may know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is the most God-fearing." Islam emphasizes that the purpose of ethnic distinctions is social identification; they provided no basis for any kind of hierarchy or ranking.
Identification with and attachment to one's group or tribe or community is natural and universal. However, an extreme, unreflective kind of identification with one's group undermines one's sense of balance and fairness and breeds intolerance towards others. In pre-Islamic Arabia, the term asabiyah was used to refer to shared bonds of descent, kinship, language and solidarity. Asabiyah was not only a deeply-entrenched primordial sentiment but it was also underpinned by a non-rational and blind allegiance and loyalty to the tribe, regardless of the demands of reason, justice and fairness. It was often invoked in situations of inter-tribal conflicts and wars. In view of its negative and socially disruptive connotations and consequences, the Prophet repudiated asabiyah. He was once asked, "What is asabiyah?" He replied, "Asabiyah is to support one's group or tribe in an unjust matter." He is also reported to have said, "One who invites people to asabiyah, or professes a blind allegiance to his group, or indulges in aggression on account of it or dies for its sake is not one of us."
Islam has been and continues to be a core component of personal and collective identities in the Muslim world. Throughout history, Muslims have tenaciously safeguarded their religious and cultural identity in the face of trying circumstances and formidable challenges. Muslim communities in Russia - Chechens, Inguish, Daghestanis, Tatars - have always viewed themselves as distinct from Russians and have fiercely resisted Russian moves to suppress and erase their identity.
In Muslim societies, as elsewhere, individuals have multiple social identities. Thus an Afghan Muslim may have several, inter-linked identities, including Tajik, woman, teacher, wife and mother. The Berbers, who are the indigenous people of Morocco, have been largely Arabized. Consequently, most Moroccans have hybrid, fluid and overlapping Arab and Berber identities.
The process of formation of ethnic identity or ethnogenesis invariably takes place in a historical, social, political, economic and cultural context. Ethnic and tribal identities in the Muslim world have been constructed and reconstructed in different, and changing, historical, social and political contexts. The Hui Muslims of China, who make up about half of the country's Muslim population, are the descendants of Arab, Central Asian and Persian merchants who began arriving in the country since the 7th century. Many of them married Chinese women and were gradually assimilated into Chinese society. They have no single language of their own, and many of them speak Chinese. The Hui did not consider themselves as a single, homogeneous ethnic group for a long time. During the past three or four decades, Chinese authorities have designated various minorities, including Muslim communities, in terms of nationalities. As a consequence of this state-sponsored move, the Hui now consider themselves a distinct nationality.
Uighur Muslims, who are largely concentrated in China's Xinjiang province and are officially recognized as one of the 56 national minorities, are of mixed descent. In earlier times, they comprised a motley cluster of nomadic people. In 1934 they were officially designated as an ethnic nationality. Over the past three or four decades, the Uighur have been at loggerheads with Chinese authorities over demands for greater autonomy. Some Uighur groups have carried on a campaign for the creation of an independent Uighur state.
In Algeria and Morocco, there is no rigid distinction and separation between Arab and Berber identities. During the colonial period, French administrators deliberate sought to highlight and accentuate Arab and Berber identities and to foster a distinct Berber identity with a view to drive a wedge between the two ethnic groups. Berber children were forbidden to learn Arabic in schools. In 1930 the colonial government issued the Berber Proclamation in Morocco, which excluded Berber regions from the jurisdiction of Islamic courts. The proclamation provoked widespread protests in Morocco as well as in large parts of North Africa and the Middle East. The colonial legacy of divide and rule continued to reverberate across North Africa even after the end of French colonial rule.
Descent, especially lineage that can be trace back to the Prophet, has been an important determinant of social ranking, prestige and power, and personal and collective identity in most parts of the Islamic world. The descendants of the Prophet (called Sayyid in South Asia and Yemen and Sharif in North Africa) hold great public prestige.
In the early centuries of the Islamic era, many tribal groups of non-Arab origin, such as Berbers and descendants of freed slaves (mawali), claimed Arab lineage in order to derive political and economic benefits. In Islamic history, spurious claims to foreign ancestry and fabricated genealogies have often provided avenues of upward social mobility. Since the 1960s, the Sindhi-speaking Shi'i Liwatiyah of coastal Oman, who migrated from India, have claimed Arab ancestry. They argue that since they have lived in the Indian subcontinent for centuries, they temporarily lost their Arab identity.
De-ethnicization refers to a process by which a deliberate attempt is made by the ruling elite to undermine and erase the religious, cultural and linguistic identities of minority groups. De-ethnicization, which is often accompanied by the forced assimilation of subordinated and minority groups into mainstream society, has been fairly widespread in China, Europe, Latin America, Russia and India.
Chinese authorities carried out a policy of de-ethnicization of Uighur Muslims. Mandarin was substituted for Uighur in primary schools and Islamic symbols and practices (including the Islamic veil, beards and praying and fasting while on the job) among government workers were banned or restricted.
In the Soviet Union, the official policy of Russification involved the replacement of all other languages by Russian as the language of instruction in schools and universities and the substitution of the Latin script of non-Slavic languages by Cyrillic. In Yugoslavia, the Bulgarian government sought to erase the religious and cultural identity of Muslims. The teaching of Turkish language, spoken by Bulgarian Muslims, in schools was banned and the wearing of Turkish dress and the observance of Islamic feasts were proscribed. The Muslim Roma or Gypsies and Pomaks (descendants of Bulgarians who converted to Islam during the Ottoman era) were particularly at the receiving end of oppression and victimization. In the 1980s the Bulgarian government unsuccessfully sought to force all national minorities, especially Muslims, to change their Islamic family names to ethnic Bulgarian names. The move provoked anger and resentment among Muslims and led to the exodus of more than 350,000 Bulgarian Muslims of Turkish descent to Turkey in 1989.
The Kurds, who are of Iranian origin, are largely concentrated in a vast stretch of land that straddles across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Their population is estimated to be around 30 million. They make up about 18 per cent of the population in Turkey, 15-20 per cent in Iraq, 10 per cent in Iran and about 9 per cent in Syria. Kurdish nationalism emerged after World War I in the aftermath of the enforcement of national boundaries. Some of the Kurdish groups articulated a demand for the establishment of an independent state of Kurdistan, which brought them in confrontation with governments in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran.
Since the establishment of the Turkish republic in 1923, the policy of the state towards the Kurds, as well as other ethnic and religious minorities, was marked by the denial and suppression of their ethnic identity and cultural rights, forcible assimilation, de-ethnicization, demonization and persecution. There were Kurdish uprisings in eastern Anatolia in the 1920s and 1930s, which were ruthlessly suppressed by the Turkish security forces. In 1938 thousands of Kurdish tribesmen were killed in a military offensive. While a majority of Kurds sought a redress of their grievances through political negotiations with the Turkish authorities, some of the Kurdish groups resorted to armed confrontations with the Turkish government and the security forces.
One of the most militant and popular Kurdish groups is the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which was inspired by the Marxist-Leninist ideology and founded by Abdullah Ocalan in 1978. The PKK launched an armed guerilla movement against the Turkish state in 1984. The violent confrontations between the Turkish security forces and Kurdish fighters have taken a toll of some 40,000 lives, mostly Kurds, and cost the state $300 billion. During the past 18 months more than 900 Kurdish fighters have been killed by the Turkish security forces and more than 8,000 Kurdish activists, politicians and journalists have been jailed. The main objective of the PKK was the establishment of an independent state of Kurdistan. However, in the 1990s the party scaled down its demands to linguistic and cultural autonomy for the Kurds. Abdullah Ocalan was captured by the Turkish security forces in 1999 and was sentenced for life. He has been incarcerated in a high-security prison in western Turkey.
As noted in the foregoing, ascribed identities, which are often pejorative and demeaning, are sometimes reappropriated and reinvented and given a positive meaning. This can be illustrated in the case of Muslims of the Philippines. The Spaniards conquered the Philippines in the 16th century. However, despite repeated attempts, they failed to subdue the Muslim sultanates in the southern part of the country, where Muslims had been living for more than three centuries. Spanish colonizers called the Muslims Moros (Spanish term for Muslims, derived from Morocco), which had pejorative connotations. The term Moro was used by Christian Philipinos to describe savages and pirates. American colonizers, who succeeded the Spaniards and eventually conquered the Muslim sultanates in the early decades of the 20th century, continued to use the term Moro for Philipino Muslims, who often suffered discrimination and exclusion.
In the late 1960s Philipino Muslims launched a movement - the Moro National Liberation Movement -- for the establishment of an independent homeland for Muslims living in the southern part of the country. The leaders of the movement reappropriated and reinvented the term Moro, as the blacks in the US had done in the 1960s, and used it as a symbol of the collective identity of the Philipino Muslims and their resistance against the autocratic policies of the government. The movement for an independent homeland for Philipino Muslims -- Bangsamoro - has been abandoned following an agreement between the government and Muslim leaders to create a new autonomous Muslim region in the south.
The term ethnic cleansing became a part of common discourse in the wake of the massacre and forced displacement of thousands of Muslims during the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1991. However, the horrid antecedents of ethnic cleansing can be traced back to medieval Spain several centuries earlier. By the middle of the 13th century, Cordoba, Valencia and Seville were reconquered by Christian rulers, following which Muslims living there began to face persecution. They were forbidden to announce calls to prayers from minarets and from going on pilgrimage to Mecca. Many mosques were converted into churches. Muslims were forced to convert to Christianity and those who refused were expelled from the country. Following the fall of Granada in 1492, Muslims, Jews and Gypsies were expelled from the country. Moriscos, descendants of Muslims who were forcibly converted to Christianity in 1502, were prohibited from speaking Arabic and from marrying according to Islamic rites. Finally, after a century of forced conversions between 1502 and 1615, all Moriscos-estimated at over 300,000-were driven out of the country.
The decline of the Ottoman Empire began in the latter half of the 19th century. European machinations and intrigues played a major role in the disintegration and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. Great Britain and France encouraged and instigated Christian minorities living in the Ottoman Empire to rise in revolt. In the violent Christian uprisings in Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia and the Caucasus, thousands of Muslims and Jews were mercilessly killed. It is estimated that between 1821 and 1922, some 5.5 million Muslims were driven out of Europe and Russia, while another 5 million were killed or died of disease or starvation during the flight.
The disintegration of Yugoslavia began in 1991. The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence on 15 October 1991. The population of Bosnia-Herzegovina comprised three major ethnic groups: Bosnian Muslims or Bosniaks (43%), Bosnian Serbs (31%) and Croats (17%). Bosnian Serbs were extremely unhappy with the declaration of independence and were determined to remain with Yugoslavia. In fact their aim was to capture Bosnia and Herzegovina and make it a part of Greater Serbia. Bosnian Serbs, aided and abetted by Serbia and the Yugoslav army, took control of nearly 70% of the territory.
The civil war that engulfed Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995 involved large-scale killing of Bosnian Muslims, forced deportations, torture in concentration camps, ethnic cleansing, and mass rape of Muslim women by Serb soldiers. Houses and apartments belonging to Muslims were systematically ransacked and burned down. Civilians were attacked, tortured and killed. Bosnian Serbs sought to create ethnically pure areas with no presence of Muslims. Systematic ethnic cleansing involved forced expulsion and killing of Muslims and destruction of their homes as well as mosques, cemeteries, madrasas and Sufi hospices. Young Muslim women and girls were kept in detention centres under appalling conditions, where they were humiliated, tortured and repeatedly raped by Serb soldiers.
The estimates of the number of victims during the Bosnian war include around 100,000-110,000 killed and 1.8 million displaced. Most of the victims (66%) were Bosnian Muslims, followed by Serbs (25%) and Croats (8%). More than 83% of civilian victims were Muslim. Some 30% of Muslim civilian victims were women and children. According to the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia at The Hague, the crimes committed during the Bosnian war of 1992-95 amounted to crimes against humanity. The war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide that took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992-95 had the active support and involvement of the Bosnian Serb Army, paramilitary forces and police. Furthermore, they had the active connivance of the Orthodox church, media and civil society.
The Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, have been at the receiving end of discrimination, exclusion and persecution for several decades. In June 2012, rampaging Buddhist mobs attacked the Rohingyas from all sides, systematically burning every building, and were supported by the police and the army. Entire villages were wiped out and a number of mosques were raised to the ground. The violence left more than 700 Rohingyas dead and nearly 100,000 displaced. A report by Human Rights Watch, released on April 23, 2013, said that there was clear evidence of government complicity in ethnic cleansing and murderous attacks on Burmese Muslims in Rakhine state in 2012. The report said, "The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingyas that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement." Faced with growing hatred, persecution and violent attacks, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and India. They are living - as unwanted guests -- in makeshift refugee camps under appalling living conditions.
The population of Central African Republic (CAR), a landlocked country in Central Africa, is ethnically diverse. There are 80 ethnic groups in the country and the population is divided mainly between Christians (50%), Muslims (15%) and followers of indigenous religions (35%). Since independence, CAR has been plagued by authoritarian rule, political instability, rampant corruption, underdevelopment and ethnic and sectarian conflicts. In 2013 the country was plunged in large-scale ethnic and sectarian violence. In January 2014 Christian militiamen launched a brutal campaign of revenge killings, summary executions, torture and looting, burning of Muslim villages and ethnic cleansing of Muslims. Hundreds of Muslims have been killed by Christian militiamen and nearly a million people have been displaced since early December 2013. People who had lived peacefully in the country for generations were driven out of their homes. Tens of thousands of Muslims fled to neighbouring Chad and Cameroon. Amnesty International has said that the international peacekeeping forces have "failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Muslim civilians in the western part of CAR."
Ethnic cleavages often lead to intolerance and separatism. In many Muslim countries, mosques, madrasas and cemeteries are often exclusively identified with specific ethnic groups or sects organized around ethnic affiliations. The Muslims of Kashmiri descent in Nepal, for example, have their own graveyard, separate from those of local Muslims. In some European countries, where Muslims have a sizeable population, Muslims of different ethnic and national backgrounds often pray in separate mosques.