Go with a smile!

Monday, July 28, 2014


One of the more interesting things I’ve read in the last year is the first few chapters of Tony Judt’s “Postwar”, in which he mentions that one of the biggest effects of WWII was the displacement of millions of people right after the war. The most extreme example was the Jewish community, and most of them moved to Palestine right after the war, and started to displace the Arabs, with consequences being felt right up till today.

There used to be communities of minorities living side by side with other people, but they had to move. The Germans in Czechoslovakia. The Hungarians in Romania. Eventually, the nations became more homogeneous, as the people in their communities moved to areas where they were the majorities.

A lot of WWII, especially in the former Yugoslavia, was actually a civil war between different races and groups. And there were a lot of similarities to what’s going on today in Syria and Iraq, and what would take place 50 years later in the bloody Yugoslavian conflicts of the 90s.

At the same time, you see a lot of sectarian violence in places in Africa as well. You saw it in the partition of India and Pakistan. So that leads me to wonder if the foundation of the modern nation state necessitates some form of a genocide where we reach the end state of a nation that sees itself as an imagined community, in Benedict Anderson’s words. But in order to get to that imagined community, sometimes violent means are achieved. There’s a lot of ethnic cleansing that’s done, possibly even genocide. Whole communities are uprooted and shifted around.

When people talk about modern “nations” like Iraq and Syria, we can talk about the undesirability of the existing national borders. But weren’t national borders also undesirable in places like Europe, where you can’t always blame it on a conqueror from another continent? I think there is a more general dynamic involved. This is not an issue of colonialism. This is an issue of empire. When the Austro-hungarian empire, and the Ottoman empire collapsed, this caused a lot of problems, especially in the former Yugoslavia, where there was a boundary between these two empires.

At the same time, we can consider the problem of racial harmony. There are a few instances where different communities have lived side by side for many years, even centuries. I think about places like Andalucía, where Jew, Muslims and Christians lived side by side for many years until the inquisition. There was Palestine, where the Jews and Arabs lived side by side in an uneasy truce until this bullshit about Zionism. Perhaps the situation is more hopeful for relations between the Chinese, Malays and Indians of Malaysia and Singapore. But the new influx of new immigrants, many of them mainland Chinese, has the potential to stir up big problems in Singapore and maybe even Malaysia.

Maybe in the Middle East, this latest set of big chaos can be seen as naturally occurring phenomenon. It is a bit like how forest fires are a natural part of the system of some ecological systems. Maybe Iraq is overdue for a rearrangement. Maybe a lot of the states have not gone through the process of being organically attached to the nations that underpin it. Maybe they are seen as a continuation of a colonial administration structure and therefore it lacks legitimacy. Any properly functioning nation state has to have a sufficiently large population acknowledging that they represent the people. And therefore a nation state cannot govern a nation made of disparate peoples unless all the groups agree that the government speaks for them. This is something that had been sorted out over centuries in Europe, and most recently in WWII. But it is indeed distressing to think that this extremely violent process is necessary component of nation building.


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