Peace in the Divided and Conflicted Countries is Needed

We need to understand our basic sets of intergroup instincts in order to create Peace in our conflicted settings.

There are more than 200 ethnic conflicts in the world today. Instead of being a world where nations go to war with other nations, we are now a world where people inside nations fight other people in those nations.

Instinctive behaviors shape all of those conflicts.

In some nations, we have tribes of people fighting other tribes of people.

That is true in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, The Ukraine, Sri Lanka, China, and India — and a wide range of other settings where groups of people who have their own tribal identity, history, and culture are at war with other tribes in their area.

Russia has more than a dozen separatist groups with their own languages and cultures who want to become independent. The rebels from Chechnya have shed a lot of blood inside the Russian Confederation in an attempt to free their tribe from Russian control.

China has multiple minority ethnic groups who want autonomy.

India has several areas where the separatist groups are killing people from other groups.

Sri Lanka has clear tribal conflicts leading to riots, conflicts, and bloody battles between groups in that setting.

The conflicts in Syria could not be more tribal — with the people from one large minority tribe running the country as a dictatorship, and people from the Kurdish tribes and the Sunni tribes in that country killing each other, as well as killing people from the dictator’s tribe.

Iraq is equally split into tribal groups with people in that country clearly having loyalty for their tribe, and not feeling loyalty to any shared Iraqi national identity. The Kurds inside Iraq want to be independent. The Shia tribes and Sunni tribes do damaging things to each other as tribes, and clearly do not work well with each other under an artificial national umbrella.

Turkey has more of a history as an intact country, but Turkey has its own internal conflicts with its own Kurdish tribes. The Kurdish tribes inside Turkey want to be free of the ruling Turkish tribe, and the Turkish army is willing to shed as much blood as they need to shed to keep the Kurdish independence from happening.

All of those countries are now facing their own additional intergroup problems from the refugees who entered their countries to flee the tribal battles in their own countries. Refugee camps in multiple settings have millions of inhabitants, and they tend to be impoverished and damaged as groups of people.

The host country for each of those refugee camps has their own set of “Us/Them” instincts activated by those refugees, and none of the host counties for those refugee camps are allowing the refugees to assimilate into their communities or local cultures.

Once you see those intergroup patterns, they are clear in every setting.

The tribal battles in many of those settings are exacerbated by the fact that the tribes in the Middle East all have religious alignments, and there are some conflicts between the religious groups as well. There are warring factions within the Muslim religion that follow tribal lines. Some of the Muslim tribes are Shia, some are Sunni, some are Kurdish, and some have their own version of the religion.

One of the larger tribes in the region is Jewish.

All the conflicted tribes fight as tribes, but they tend to get some of their energy from their religious alignment.

Those religious alignments tie tribes together across boundaries. Saudi Arabia and Iran dislike each other as tribes and nations, and hate each other as religions. Iran is aligned with the Shia version of the religion, and Saudi Arabia has been a religious leader for the Sunni groups.

Iran has the leading Shia tribes in the region and tends to support Shia tribes in Iraq and Syria. They also support Hezbollah as a Shia group in Israel.

Saudi Arabia tends to provide support to the Sunni tribes in various conflicted areas and fund Mosques in many countries. They tend to support the Hamas and Fatah aligned tribes and clans in Israel.

The two key Islamic terrorist groups, Al Qaida and ISIS, are anchored in the Sunni sects. ISIS is a direct offshoot of the Sunni tribes, and the leader of ISIS claims to be the spiritual leader for all tribes who follow the Sunni faith.

There are no people from Kurdish tribes or Shia tribes in ISIS.

The Muslims of Europe tend to be refugees from the Sunni territories — so they are more susceptible to being aligned with both key sets of Muslim Jihadist organizations — ISIS and Al Qaida — and less likely to have a sense of alignment with Iran.

Tribal conflicts dominate many countries. In Nigeria, the Congo, Kenya, and the other major African nations, the key tribes each have their own turf and tend to either have intertribal tension, or intertribal conflict relative to the other tribes.

The countries of Europe are all traditionally very tribal — with each tribe generally dominating its own tribal turf. The Swedish tribe runs Sweden. The Danish tribe runs Denmark.

The Dutch tribe runs the Netherlands.

The French, German, and Italian tribes inside Switzerland each run their own piece of that country.

The new immigration into Europe of people from other tribes with other backgrounds, other cultures, other languages, and other group identities has created major levels of unexpected, and sometimes damaging and dysfunctional, interactions in many European communities.

To have a future of Peace in the world, we need to recognize those instinctive tribal alignments and their huge impact on people’s thoughts, loyalties, emotions, and behaviors.

No Peace is possible unless we understand, recognize, and deal with those sets of instinctive interactions.

In Europe, leaders in each country need to recognize both the power of those instincts and the new realities they each face relative to who is now the population of their country.

Those countries need to be an “Us” to themselves to function and survive in the future as countries. They each need to redefine their “Us” to be more inclusive — and they need to take steps to create Win/Win outcomes for each of the groups in each of the settings.

An ethnically pure France will never exist again. So France needs to lead itself to having its future glory based on inclusion in specific and intentional ways that create a sense of intergroup trust, allegiance, and alignment for all the groups who now live in those French settings.

That will not be easy to do — but a new Dark Age can far too easily happen in many of those settings if that is not done. Having major subsets of the population in each of those settings in a state of perpetual and unrelenting, deep anger, resentment, division, and distrust of the majority group in each setting is a grim future to face. Those countries with large and separated internal minority populations need to figure out how to turn their diversity into a strength, not a crippling deficit, and build an inclusive future based on shared beliefs; not shared ethnicity.

In the multi-tribal nations like Syria or Nigeria where each tribe clearly has its own ancestral turf and geographic alignment, the future has to go down one of two paths in order to create Peace.

Those deeply divided countries clearly cannot survive as tribal nations at war with themselves. They need a strategy to end the conflict. They have options relative to the approaches that might work for each setting.

Those nations can either split into their logical pieces entirely, and have the tribal pieces become separate nations — like The Sudan is doing, or like Yugoslavia recently did — or they can split into their logical pieces but stay together as a nation and follow a Swiss-like model of being a confederation rather than a nation. Yugoslavia is much better off as six tribal nations. The people in those tribes killed large numbers of people from other tribes while forced to live together under one national governance reality.

Today, the separated and independent component parts of old Yugoslavia are at Peace with one another and they are happy to be who they are. Simple division of artificial multi-tribal nations into their legitimate and local tribal parts has an obvious set of advantages that need to be understood and used when appropriate.

The Confederation model can also work.

That confederation model has worked very well for Switzerland for hundreds of years. It can be used to maintain a level of national status when there are good reasons to cause the local tribal groups to stay under one national umbrella.

In many complex and contentious multi-tribal settings, those good reasons to maintain that umbrella of nationhood are hard to find.

Some nations — like Iraq — are clearly and entirely artificial constructions that were accidents of history, and those unfortunate accidents of history should be peacefully and gracefully divided into their component parts, and eliminated as a nation as soon as that can be done without putting peoples lives at risk.

The Ottoman Empire ran Iraq as separate parts. The Kurds inside Iraq clearly have their own turf, their own culture, and should have their own self-governing destiny. The Shia and the Sunni tribes each have their own historic leaders, cultures, turf, and identities.

We should elevate democratically-chosen, group-self-governance to the highest level of value as an enlightened commitment to people, and we should allow the groups in various settings with those kinds of ancestral histories, who clearly want to govern themselves as a group and who have a legacy of functioning in those ways as a group, to have that future be their right and practice.

That approach reflects the reality people feel today relative to their personal levels of allegiance and loyalty. Inside Iraq, some areas are clearly run by Sunni tribes, and some are run by Shia tribes. We need the United Nations to help set up a process that allows each section of multi-tribal counties, who want autonomy at the tribal level, to determine their own alignment — and then we need to set up Peaceful processes to have each of those countries divide safely into those pieces.

The goal has to be to avoid intergroup damage and even genocide during the division process that will happen in each setting. Genocide is a real danger if we don’t create safeguards to keep it from happening. The newly independent, former captive, and satellite countries of the Soviet Union who were granted autonomy created ethnic identities, and most did local ethnic purging processes in intentional ways that damaged many of the ethnic minority people in each new country who were purged.

When India was freed from colonialism, the process that split colonial India into Pakistan and India triggered intergroup conflicts that took a million lives — and then the next process that split the tribes of Pakistan into two major tribal alignments took another million lives.

We know what not to do. We know what it looks like and what happens if we do the separation process badly. People can revert to their most primal instinctive values and evil intergroup behaviors and instincts very quickly. People with those instincts activated who are in power in a setting; too often do real damage and even evil things to the people who are at their mercy in those settings.

We need those troubled and artificial multi-tribal countries to split into logical pieces — and we clearly need to provide supervision to that separation process to protect lives.

We need to have the newly independent nations agree to civil rights and civil protection for the people from every minority group in their country as part of the process of creating autonomy for each piece.

That can be done if we acknowledge exactly what it is we are doing, and then do it in ways that protect people’s lives as we move to autonomous self-governing areas of the world as our preferred way of having people control their lives.

That is a difficult strategy — but simply having Iraq or Syria continue to have people killing each other by group in perpetuity is also difficult, and that perpetual conflict approach doesn’t lead to an outcome where Peace will finally happen. Syria, alone, has flooded the world with millions of purely ethnic cleansing refugees. Those refugees would have much preferred to remain in their own villages and not been forced into settings where they are often a very bad fit for their new countries.

We would have been far better off at every single level if we would have just split Syria into three parts — allowed the Alawites to continue to run their piece of the country — and then allowed the Kurds to have autonomy on their turf.

We need to know who we are and what we are doing at instinct related levels in order to make that kind of strategy a success. The United Nations can have huge value in building new tribally centered nations by taking a lead role in both setting up a working process for separation, and by protecting the people in each setting who need their protection.

The truth is — we will never be free of our instincts. We need to make enlightened decisions about our values, and then we need to put in place strategies, practices, cultures, and approaches in each setting that help us achieve enlightened goals in ways that allow our instincts to function at their most noble and beneficial levels.

There are more than 200 ethnic conflicts going on in the world today. We need to recognize them all for what they are, and we need to take meaningful steps to solve them in each setting.

The book, The Art of InterGroup Peace has tools that can be used to make that happen.

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This post was written by Institute for InterGroup Understanding