A brief review of Ronald Suny’s “Why We Hate You: The Passions of National Identity and Ethnic Violence”

This article by Ronald Suny attempts to sort through theories of ethnic conflict.  It peruses the case ofSoviet Union, before and after its collapse, to identify underlying motives of ethnic conflict.  The author disagrees with the view forwarded by certain academics that Primordialism, which springs from an innate, natural identity, is at the root of most ethnic conflicts.  But, since the notion of Primordialism is itself loosely and vaguely defined, this argument does not hold merit.  Secondly, Suny points out the deficiencies in a Constructivist approach to studying ethnic conflicts, as this approach does not provide a satisfactory explanation for conflicts in the past.

Moving away from these simplistic assessments of ethic conflict, Suny suggests that a combination of both emotion and reason are at work in any given instance of conflict.  The emotions that instigate conflict include fear, resentment, hate and anger.  But it is debatable whether there is sufficient justification for these emotions and whether they are backed by historical fact.  In his critique of conventional approaches to studying ethnic violence, Suny points out that “Reversing an older image of ethnic violence as bubbling up from the masses, elite approaches have located initiative at the top but they fail to explain why ethnic appeals have such powerful resonance below”.  Bringing a new perspective to the study of ethnic conflict, Suny writes that “warfare itself helps harden hostile group identities, making it rational to fear the other group and see its members as dangerous threats”.  The author makes the observation that mass violence does not require the involvement of numerous people.  In a few instance of genocide, it is the small but powerful minority that had wreaked havoc on entire communities.

Reference:

Suny R.G., “Why We Hate You: The Passions of National Identity and Ethnic Violence”, Berkeley Program in Soviet and Post Soviet Studies. Paper, 2004, : 22-32