Monday, 28 July 2008


it's been a week for bomb blasts today, with casualties in istanbul (17), ahmedabad (46) and baghdad (11). [update: the baghdad total is now up to 50].

i can't say i know much about the turkish situation, and we all know the mess that is iraq. but the state of gujarat is one that i do know a little about, and i have to say that today's blasts are far from unexpected. i did some research for a speech a couple of years ago, and found out about the horrific level of violence in 2002, that lead to approximately 2500 muslims being killed. the leader of the state, narendra modi, has been denied entry into the US for his part in allowing such violence to occur. however, within his own state, the situation is thus:

... while on one hand it is the innocents who are killed in the communal violence, the perpetrators and planners of the riots generally go unpunished, many a times their social and political prestige also goes up. Shiv Sena, a close cousin of BJP, was the leading force in Mumbai riots. Its supreme leader, Balasaheb Thackeray, was elevated as Hindu Hriday Samrat (Emperor of Hindu Hearts) after leading the Mumbai riots. Narendra Modi was given the same prefix, after he "successfully" presided over the Gujarat carnage.

which is not to excuse the horrific blasts in gujarat this week. not at all. by saying that they were entirely predictable, i'm not in any way denying that they were completely wrong and tragic.

steven wilkinson has some useful analysis in his book "votes and violence", some of which can be found here. his did some research on various states in india where communal riots had taken place and compared these to states where that had been no riots under similar circumstances. he sought to isolate the conditions that would lead to a peaceful response. his basic finding was:

... whether violence is bloody or ends quickly depends not on the local factors that caused violence to break out but primarily on the will and capacity of the government that controls the forces of law and order.

Abundant comparative evidence shows that large-scale ethnic rioting does not take place where a state’s army or police force is ordered to stop it using all means necessary. The massacres of Chinese in Indonesia in the 1960s, for instance, could not have taken place without the Indonesian army’s approval... Antiminority riots in Jacksonian America were also facilitated by the reluctance of local militias and sheriffs to intervene to protect unpopular minorities. And recent ethnic massacres in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Burundi were likewise possible only because the local police forces and armies refused to intervene against or even directly participated in the violence. Finally, the worst partition massacres in India in 1946–47 took place in those provinces – Bengal, Punjab, and Bihar – in which the elected local governments, each controlled by the majority ethnic group, made it plain at various times that they would not intervene against “their” community to protect the ethnic minority from attack.

he then goes on to conclude:

My central argument is that democratic states protect minorities when it is in their governments’ electoral interest to do so... Specifically, politicians in government will increase the supply of protection to minorities when either of two conditions applies: when minorities are an important part of their party’s current support base, or the support base of one of their coalition partners in a coalition government; or when the overall electoral system in a state is so competitive – in terms of the effective number of parties – that there is therefore a high probability that the governing party will have to negotiate or form coalitions with minority supported parties in the future, despite its own preferences.

so according to wilkinson, the solution is political and there must be a will to actively protect minorities. i see a similarity in the turkish bombings, which appear to have been carried out by kurdish separatists, another oppressed minority.

justice is integral to peace, but unfortunately requires powerful elites to give or at least share that power. until we can figure out a way to change the balance of power in a peaceful way, we'll be hearing a lot more of the sad and sorry news we've had this week.

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