Open thread: explicitly ethnic states

2011-04-18

in Bombs and rockets, Law, Politics, Security

It can be argued that it is fundamentally inappropriate for any state to try to have a single ethnic or religious character. It can be argued that all states should be secular and pluralist when it comes to race (however you choose to define it) or religion.

At the same time, it seems possible that a state could try to have an ethnic character without being unjust as a result. If two groups live in a region – the As and Bs – is it always better for them to both live in the secular state of Plural-Land – or might it be better to have an A-land and a B-land? Can this question be answered from first principles, or only with reference to particular historical examples?

What really matters may be the effect of the system of government on people both inside and outside the state. Thoughts?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan April 19, 2011 at 10:30 am

The reality is many states have histories of ethnic cleansing; ousting in various ways the inhabitants of a land so as to fill it will a group who’s right to colonize is justified by a religious or imperialist ideology. That’s certainly true for the United States of America, but there are countless examples.

The real question is, what do you do after it has happened, in the present? Is it justifiable for a single organization in the United States to control 93% of the land and lease it exclusively to people of a single religion, or explicitly avoid leasing it to descendants of the people who were here before the United States was established? Was it justifiable for Northern Ireland to systemically deprive Catholics of various rights due to their religion? Do you think that in Canada, a reservation system in which first nations people are not allowed to leave small bounded reserves without the permission of state authorities could be justified? What about an immigration policy organized to maintain an 80% White, or 80% Christian country?

Canada had an extremely racist immigration policy prior to Trudeau – was opening up Canada to non-European immigrants just a matter of policy, or is it a moral issue? Canada controlled first nations people in such a way that they could not leave reserves without state permission – was that justifiable?

I think it’s confusing when discussing the question of the “ethnic statehood” to keep the question at the level of “is it fundamentally inappropriate”. It’s much more relevant to talk about the actual practices which are used to try to maintain ethnic statehood, and it’s important to look at those practices across a wide variety of cases to make sure we’re applying the same ethical standards in different situations and not falling prey to emotional arguments about the “history of a people”. Any “people” can be oppressed or be oppressors depending on the situation.

anonymous April 19, 2011 at 7:03 pm

The biggest lesson from 20th century history might be: Ethnic Nationalism is a Very Bad Thing.

Milan April 24, 2011 at 1:04 pm

My general sense is that it is best when states are secular and pluralistic, but that encouraging ethnically-defined states to shift to that arrangement would involve a lot of effort and be unlikely to succeed.

For instance, it might be possible to convince the Czech Republic and Slovakia to re-amalgamate, but it’s not clear if that would do much to improve the lives of people living there. Achieving similar unifications in places with more ongoing violence and hostility would be more challenging.

Tristan April 26, 2011 at 4:54 pm

” it is best when states are secular and pluralistic, but that encouraging ethnically-defined states to shift to that arrangement would involve a lot of effort and be unlikely to succeed.”

Seems a fancy way of saying

“It is best when states aren’t racist, but if they are, it would be really hard to encourage them to change, and it probably wouldn’t work anyway”.

And, this way of speaking disparagingly about difficult political aims seems pretty insulting both to groups which suffer from legislated racist oppression, and to those which have managed to through struggle cast out repressive racist regimes and replace them with pluralist ones.

Tristan April 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Canada turned out ideologically pluralist, or multi-cultural, but it needn’t have gone that way. Canada very well could have remained a dominantly White and Christian nation by not reforming its immigration policies. If Canada today still offered citizenship by default to any British citizen, and then through various programs permitted some other Europeans and perhaps Americans, would you not support a movement opposing these ethnic based immigration policies on the basis that it would be difficult to encourage Canadians to accept non-white or non-Christian persons as citizens?

What if Canada had fought a long armed struggle with first nations rebel groups over the territory it had colonized – would the animosity created by violence used by both sides be a reason not to fight for the acceptance of first nations as Canadian Citizens, if that is what they wanted? Does taking up arms against a colonial power invalidate you from the right to be recognized as a citizen on the basis of your continued existence on a piece of land?

What if Canadian troops rounded up villages of first nations and murdered the majority of them, leaving the rest to run to the next town to speak of what they had seen and cause an exodus? Would the fact that first nations left their homes be a basis for giving the homes to British settlers? Would the fact that it would be difficult to make the British settler population understand that they had acquired their homes through an ethnic cleansing be a reason not to advocate for a just solution to the historical injustice?

Milan April 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm

I don’t think it is self-evidently the case that a state that seeks to define itself ethnically is racist, though I agree that there are good reasons to be wary of ethnic nationalism.

It is also arguable that ethnic groups that have suffered particularly badly from persecution have a stronger moral case, in seeking to establish an ethnically defined state, when compared to groups that have not experienced such treatment.

Still, I think it would probably produce the most human welfare if people ignored race and lived in pluralistic, secular states.

Tristan April 26, 2011 at 6:53 pm

“I don’t think it is self-evidently the case that a state that seeks to define itself ethnically is racist”

It is self-evident that a state which grants citizenship to some people born on territory it controls, but not others, on the basis of race, is pursuing a racist citizenship policy.

It is also self-evident that a state which allows immigration of people of some race but not from other, is pursuing a racist immigration policy.

Tristan April 26, 2011 at 6:57 pm

“It is also arguable that ethnic groups that have suffered particularly badly from persecution have a stronger moral case, in seeking to establish an ethnically defined state, when compared to groups that have not experienced such treatment.”

Can you name a group which has had its land stolen by a colonizing power and suffered ethnic cleansing and/or genocide which you would not consider to have “suffered particularly badly”? Are you actually going to base your support for some ethnic states while you oppose others on the differential suffering of different ethnic groups which have suffered land theft and mass killings on the basis of how “particularly bad” these thefts and killings were?

. August 5, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Israeli settlers on the West Bank
Might some stay?
It is conceivable that some Jewish settlers could remain in a Palestinian state

EVERY Friday and often after school on other days, Israeli soldiers fire tear-gas and sonic bombs at the Palestinian children as they approach a spring. It sits in a valley that separates Nabi Saleh, an Arab village of 500 people half an hour’s drive north of Jerusalem, from Halamish, a religious Jewish settlement. On most nights jeeps roll through the village; over the past 18 months the Israeli army has detained 32 of its children, some as young as eleven. Many have been taken from their beds, kept in pre-trial detention for months, and brought to court in shackles, there to be convicted of stone-throwing.

For some of Halamish’s settlers, irritated by the tear-gas that wafts into their living rooms from across the hill, this is not harsh enough. “The soldiers don’t maim enough Palestinians,” complains Iran Segal. A year-and-a-half ago he put up a sign naming the spring after his father, sparking anger among Palestinians who saw the move as a land-grab. Jewish settlers and Palestinians who used to share a nargila (a water-pipe) at the water’s edge now bicker over ownership of the spring’s goldfish. “When we see Arabs heading towards us we start shouting to get the army to shoo them away,” says a 12-year-old settler.

Israel’s army has long presented itself as holding the ring between two fractious communities in the West Bank, Jewish and Arab, living in what Palestinians see as the heartland of their future state. But as pressure on Israel to pull out mounts, some Palestinians and some Jewish settlers have begun to contemplate what the future might hold, if and when the army leaves. The issue is highly topical, not least because of a new law this month to ban many political boycotts, including those aimed at West Bank settlements.

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