Sunday, October 21, 2007

Naming the Un-namable

An article response to a curious question posed by noltte=peace

The thing that we call 'ethnic conflict' is derived from the early stages of naming the conflict within the theoretical frameworks understood back then. Ethnos is a Greek word meaning a group of people set apart by various intangible markers like language, culture, traditions, customs etc. Ethnic conflict has been described within various theoretical frameworks by primordialist thinkers (people are intricately tied to their nation, language, customs etc), constructivist thinkers (describing social contexts in invented social constructs) and Instrumentalist thinkers (using abstract theories as instruments to describe real life issues in abstract yet scientific ways).

A conflict is named and then framed in order to identify options for resolution. Naming the conflict leads to the framing of the question and is therefore an important stage since it sets the base for the whole approach to the eventual resolution of the question. Naming is the linguistic component of framing. In other words, when something is named as an ethnic conflict it is also framed as such. Therefore an ethnic conflict is the name but also the frame in which it is analyzed. This is what is confusing to many. Is the name and the frame describing the SL conflict justifiable? Is it applicable to describe the conflict now? What about all those other issues like the Tamil insurgency, LTTE terrorism etc. So the obvious thing to do now is to rename the conflict and reframe the conflict in order to capture the counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism aspects. This would however complicate chances of negotiations and conflict resolution since insurgencies and terrorism, after 9/11, are things that should be defeated and not entertained through other abstracts like devolution of power, power-sharing, consociation, earned sovereignty etc.

If the Sri Lankan conflict is to be approached in a purely counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism standpoint, we must be courageous enough to meet the challenges it poses since this is a point of no return. Who are our supporters for such a paradigm shift resulting in a renaming and reframing of the question? Will the international community support that? Do we need the international community’s support or can we just do it on our own?

More on Naming

Naming is also used as a means of articulating or suspending the identity of a conflict. It is also employed for positioning ones self with regard to the question (ie. I am Sinhalese and I am pro-military, I am Tamil and I am__). It also invokes language engineered by others (ie. the BBC’s definition of ethnic violence, Tamil vs Sinhalese). This is a reflection of the language use employed in the media even while misleading. It is also influenced by popular political and sociological thinking (ie. Managing Ethnic Conflict, Ethno- political Conflict). It might also invoke moral values (ie. ethnic conflicts are bad, violent, often discriminatory, long-lasting, requiring peaceful negotiations, no space for violent resolution). It might even have legal implications (ie. asylum seekers require protection in western countries due to continued impinging of their rights to live by a state propagating ethnic violence).

It may also become crystallized as the truthful description of the conflict overtime due to 'expert' accounts, constant use and testimony and theoretical coining. For the people who face this ‘ethnic conflict’ the same name means different things. They might also use different names to mean the same thing.

The ‘thing’ being described as an ethnic conflict might also have multiple attributes (ie. the word ethnic is highly loaded and intangible). It is also a popular western metaphor to describe a reason for the emergence of violence in so-called 'deeply divided' 'new and emerging democracies'. The name ethnic conflict might also link multiple frames (ie. Ethnic conflict is linked to violence, political and state failure, minority rights, human rights etc). Recent research has demonstrated that ethnic conflicts do not always generate violence. That they can be resolved through non-violent means if the aggrieved party and its support-base so wishes to change their course from violent to peaceful protest (ie. The Quebecois conflict of Canada and to some extent the conflict in Basque Region of Spain).

Therefore in essence, the term ethnic conflict is an abstract. It is not adequate to describe the phenomenon in its entirety. Therefore a new term/definition might have to be coined with considerable appeal to all parties concerned. But in the interim, the name will be used to describe the existing phenomenon in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, particularly by outsiders.


NOLTTE=Peace said...

Thanks DefenceWire for taking time and pain to address my question. I like the rich academical way that you have tackled the question.

In my opinion, the whole phenomena that we discuss now giving it many names exists without a base that is invalid and bogus in the real context, and is artificially maintained through brain-washing (it exists on an illusionary foundation).

I read the following articles of H.L.D Mahindapala appearing in the Asian Tribune. It gives a quite perspective to this base and where it stands.

I certainly agree that we need to find a name that rightfully describe the current phenomena relating it to real context. The issue is, many blindly use what foreign journalists label it to be. Perhaps the original creators and distributors of these labels are the LTTE itslef.

NOLTTE=Peace said...

There is a highly informative article appearing in today's Divaina.

Sarinda Perera said...

The GOSL explanation for the Bell Crash and the damaged school are completely at odds with this version. It makes one ponder the limits that propaganda should stay within, especially in GOSL-controlled territory like Mihintale/Annuradhapura. Unlike in LTTE-controlled areas, in the former, there is no problem with access to information for the willing.

The loss of credibility is an awful price to pay at this point. By the looks of it, the Administration now has precious little.

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