Ethnic Extremism: The Politics Of Evil
Guyana Chronicle
April 20, 2003

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An evil, at present seeking political legitimacy, has been for some time now stalking this land. This evil is ethnic and racial extremism. We seem surprised that such evil could be committed. But history has documented the usual suspects of the pantheon of this arch-villainy. The history of both the ethnic extremism and the reaction to it must be unraveled to understand its significance. The notion that ethnic extremist actions are really a regression to ancient forms of evil is related to the thinking that human nature is basically benign. But I want to propose here that ethnic extremism is not merely something that has ancient roots but that those roots have been shaped and refined to meet its goals over the historical period. In effect, the human nature that gives rise to ethnic extremism is not fixed but changes over time and space. This human nature or individualism like so many phenomena has a historical trajectory. Therefore, methods to eliminate ethnic extremism must vary with its different formats at different historical moments. And, indeed, ethnic extremism is really an unlimited war on the psychological front.

Clausewitz, an exponent of the rationalist perspective of conflict, has described war as a continuation of politics by other means. But Spencer argues that this formula can be reversed to read as: politics is a continuation of war by other means. Ordinary politics that could produce war is a rational politics of compromise, bargaining, and limits. In effect, Clausewitzian war is a limited war because it accepts that unpalatable sequelae may be generated by an absolute war. Limited wars are grounded in a temperance of ends to means, that is, where costs and consequences are assessed. Those engaged in extremism behavior do not consider costs and consequences, that is, their actions are absolute. Their absolute actions carried over into politics, are based on zero temperance of ends to means. Ethnic extremists, generally, are on the fringes of politics; they really are fringe politicians. They are completely opposed to bargaining, compromise, and politics as the art of the possible. However, ethnic extremists’ entry into democratic politics is dangerous for a multiethnic society and to their own fringe group, for their focus on absolute ends may diminish or even eliminate the goals of groups who are not part of the ethnic extremists’ contingent and in the final analysis will destroy the very foundations of their own support group.

Guyanese recently celebrated their 33rd birthday as a Republic, a Republic that is tinged with a multicultural landscape, and their 37th year milestone of legal Independence from Great Britain is due next month. Sometimes as Guyanese we forget the pluralist culture that has shaped so many of our lives. Since multicultural societies are vulnerable to racial and ethnic extremism, let=s invoke the richness and intensity of our ethnic diversity to withstand ethnic excesses. Ethnic extremism now has crawled into Guyana’s politics. Sustaining one’s culture does not need the aid of ethnic extremism. East Indian indentured laborers without ethnic extremism effectively transmitted their culture, for today, we see a sustained development of that culture. However, safeguarding Guyana’s cultural diversity would require an understanding of ethnic extremism.

Misunderstandings about ethnic extremism
A variety of intergroup patterns develop when people of different ethnicity are thrown together. What you have, under these circumstances, is a multiethnic society, such as, Guyana. Four major types of intergroup relations in this multiethnic landscape can be discerned. First, we have amalgamation where all groups combine their cultures to produce one common culture and a singular ethnicity. Under amalgamated social relations, each person in the given society, loses his/her ethnicity, and becomes part of this singular ethnicity. A new ethnicity is born, and all groups become clothed in the new culture. Amalgamation represents a loss of culture to all persons in the society. Second, we can talk about assimilation where every person is expected to take on the culture of the dominant group. Here, everyone loses his/her culture, except the dominant group of the society; the subordinate sections of the society internalize the beliefs and values of the dominant group. Third, there is segregation where the minority groups are separated from the dominant group with regard to access to wealth, power, and prestige. In some cases, the minority not only lives a separate existence from those who control the levers of economic and political power, but are denied access to the rewards of the society. A final pattern that develops in a multiethnic context, is pluralism where a mutual acceptance of each ethnic group’s culture is the norm.

In pluralism, different cultures coexist, and may be unequal to each other. Pluralism enables an ethnic group to practice its culture and still involve itself in the mainstream society. In a multiethnic society, pluralism is generally accepted as a pattern that makes for progressive race and ethnic relations. Any of the previous three patterns spells disaster for race relations. A multiethnic society, by definition, encompassing many cultures vying for political power, provides fertile ingredients for the development of ethnic extremism.

Ethnic extremism is the promotion and protection of an ethnic group's interests to the detriment and disadvantage of another ethnic group. So ethnic extremism, by definition, does not allow for mutual acceptance of different people’s culture, and therefore, eliminates the usefulness of pluralism. Forced assimilation and forced segregation are two intergroup relations where the dominant group exhibits ethnic extremism. Improved relations in a multiethnic scenario are hindered with forced assimilation and forced segregation, products of ethnic extremism.

In Guyana, we have seen many ethnic organizations, like the League of Colored People, ASCRIA, GCIO, GIFT, ACDA, GIHA, and so on. The Guyanese people will have to be the judge as to whether these ethnic organizations worked/work to promote their own ethnic interests to the detriment and disadvantage of other ethnic groups. If they have, then they display ethnic extremism. If they reinforce their own ethnic interests, while accepting the cultures of other ethnic groups, then they are not ethnic extremists.

Clearly, any race and ethnic group has a fundamental right to establish organizations that work to protect and enhance the interests of its own group. But we have to be mindful that our operations do not impede the growth of other ethnic groups in a multiethnic society. A final point is that as we seek to establish ethnic organizations that are not extremists, we must engage other ethnic groups in meaningful social interaction. This condition is necessary to advance progressive race and ethnic relations in the society. Ethnic extremism, if effective, becomes dominant against other ethnic groups, and in most cases, historically, demands forced assimilation and forced segregation patterns in the society. But we need to note that one group's engagement in ethnic extremism breeds other ethnic groups’ extremism, which could also be effective against your own ethnicity; in which case, they, also, would exact forced assimilation and forced segregation, resulting in a loss of your culture.

Profile of extremists
The political function of any extremist group, in the case of Guyana, is to attract popular support of their own ethnic kind from the respective mainstream parties, perceived to be ethnically rooted. Their strategy is racist as it must be. The extremist, in order to survive, continues to falsely demonstrate why the mainstream parties are no longer looking out for their ethnic kith and kin.

Wilcox (1996) concludes generally that extremists tend to distort reality, by presenting feeling-based rather than evidence-based data; they attempt to repel critical examination of their beliefs; extremists have a Manichean world view whereby they perceive all issues as moral issues of good and bad, and right and wrong; and they tend to assume moral superiority over others.

In pursuit of their false moral high ground and their incisive penchant to set society’s moral goals, extremists thrive on racial and ethnic insecurity and instability which provide them with the best chances of scoring political points. During election periods, their visibility, obnoxious aggression, and intentional distortions, become quite manifest. Ethnic extremists have been able to keep their home fires burning because of the opposition’s post-election deception and protest tactics. Generally, ethnic extremism thrives under conditions of instability.

Prejudice & discrimination
Racial and ethnic extremists appeal to a perceived relationship between prejudice and discrimination, heaped upon their own ethnic kinfolks, kinfolks that they see as their own, not evidenced by any legitimacy provided by these kinfolks; and as moral guardians for their ethnic kind in a multiethnic society. Little do they know, or maybe they do, that prejudice is not always followed by discrimination.

The East Indian extremist’s argument could be that East Indians must be protected against Africans because African prejudice can only lead to discrimination. The same argument is used for the African extremist. Manifestations of discrimination could include loss of job, harassment, and ethnic violence in any situation. It’s as if there is a strong relationship between prejudice and discrimination. Such a correlation does not hold consistently. Merton demonstrates that there is no necessary relationship between prejudice and discrimination. Let’s further explore this relationship.

Merton presented four scenarios, as follows:
* Unprejudiced nondiscriminator: people who accept the idea of social equality, and refrain from prejudice and discrimination

* Prejudiced discriminator: people who turn their prejudice into discriminatory behavior

* Prejudiced nondiscriminator: prejudiced, but circumstances do not allow for discriminatory behavior

* Unprejudiced discriminator: people who are not prejudiced, but social norms or rules require discriminatory behavior.

Clearly, prejudice and discrimination may not be related to each other, but vary according to the individual’s social contexts. Ethnic extremists do not consider the possible dissociation of prejudice and discrimination. Extremists will be effective when there is a reliable relationship between prejudice and discrimination. But extremists could also create and recreate a fictional correlation between prejudice and discrimination. Guyanese of all ethnic origins, therefore, must note the lack of reliability in the relationship between prejudice and discrimination. If you can accept that there is no consistent linkage between prejudice and discrimination, then you would be able to reject any ethnic extremists’ propaganda and their constant assumption of being morally superior.

Be a cultural vigilante
Let’s not confuse ethnic extremism with the fight for an ethnic group’s rights. They are different. History has demonstrated that ethnic extremists as leaders are evil and self-serving and so are unable to gain anything for their support group; in fact, in the end, they destroy the goals and humanity of their support base. Be a vigilante for your culture, but your vigilance must not be effected to the detriment of another’s way of life.

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