Social Diversity and its Effects on the Political Situation

Different countries in the world usually pay attention to the internal structure of their societies and manage social diversity and pluralism. Human communities are different in terms of geography, values, demography, ethnicity and culture, they have different ideologies in which all the above-mentioned factors interact. Ideological diversity is represented in knowledge preferences adopted by one component of the society, or the society as a whole. In reality, these variations cause different views of the political change, and in many cases, they lead to disputes and conflicts in which societies or states get involved. Such conflicts are usually justified by specific political values covered with mottos like freedom and justice. Consequently, politics start to manage conflicts instead of managing social life.

Since solutions to life problems should be a vital part of human interaction, diversity and difference don’t mean that we need a consensus. Cultural diversity of life is necessary for the embodiment of objective values, economic pluralism and this is a normal phenomenon for the activation of local and international markets. Therefore, diversity changes as the subject matter changes.

Among many different reasons for social diversity, historical reasons represented by wars are the main factors, as these wars cause displacement and deportation. The existence of Circassians in Syria because of the war with Russians is one example. Economic reasons also play a role in social diversity, when poverty compels people to emigrate. Poor Moroccans left to Europe in search for a better life. Sometimes political changes related to fracture of territories or mergence of territories in one state is another reason for this diversity. In addition to that the influences of prominent activists such as Martin Luther King who led the civil rights movement in USA advancing equal civil rights for all citizens.

The importance of this study lies in the focus on social diversity as a complex phenomenon and its consequences within the same state. Unity of the nation or country doesn’t mean the obliteration of properties of each social component. The common interests should be enhanced, and political commitment should be a priority. There should be a transition to social consensus based on political diversity through political parties with their economic, political and social programs, regardless of any tribal, sectarian or ethnic identity.

The dilemma resulting from social diversity

In his comments on “Cultural Diversity and the Rights of Minorities in the Arab World”, Andullah Hameed Al Deen a Saudi political expert with a PhD in Social Anthropology from King’s College University in London, stated that the focus on minorities and classification of social components is done for political reasons. Awareness of ethnic or sectarian identity comes up due to political reasons, when this potential identity turns into an effective one. This dilemma is the result of political recognition of these sub-national identities. There should be a compromise for national and sub-national identities in a way that respects the identity of each component and the unity of state. This phenomenon of social diversity can be noticed in many aspects in most societies that have different ethnicities, religions and sects. So, the different cultures of different components lead to conflicting identities. This dualism of identity, which reflects on the contrast between national and sub-national identities, sometimes leads to bloody conflicts. Each component claims to have the ultimate reality, especially when the identity of one component is inflated and a sense of paranoia prevails. In this case, the role of the state becomes very essential for containing these aspects of diversity within one national framework.

Arend Lijphart, in his book: “Consensual Democracy in Pluralistic Society”, states that during the democratic era following a period of dictatorship the deep split of society and the absence of consensus will be uncovered. In this case, louder voices start to demand balance and equality in a society. These demands are related to the form of the state, and the national identity, economic as political demands are also a big concern. Language is one of the controversial issues which come up during time of conflict. That is why the National Kurdish Council demanded things outside the consensus of other components of the Syrian Opposition. This Kurdish Council always threatens to withdraw from the Opposition Coalition in case its demands are not responded to. On 6th of September 2016, the Kurdish Council submitted a protest memorandum to Ryadh Hejab, Head of the Higher Commission for Negotiation following London Statement which was approved by the Syrian Opposition Factions considering Arabic as the formal language in post-Assad Syria. Kurds suggested this document as an ignorance of their demands for recognition of their ethnic language. The religion of president of the state is another controversial issue like what happened in Sudan when non-Muslim minorities demanded the separation of religion from state, as Islam was recognized as the formal religion of the country in 1983.

Social diversity causes many problems related to the form of the state and that any consensus should take the separatist demands of minorities into account. Minorities want to ensure their right to autonomy so that members of each minority feel that their culture and peculiarity are respected within an approved legal framework, and at the same time, the central state enjoys its sovereignty and authorities in a wider national framework of joint interests of all territories.

There are political problems related to representation of social components in the state institutions. In Syria, for instance, we see how Assad’s regime monopolized the most important state institutions for the Alevites minority and how this led to the explosion of the Syrian society.

The effects of cultural and social identity on political performance

Change and reconstruction of a state needs a national political project that adheres to the radical changes in the structure of society and its culture. This re-structuring process should include the political and economic systems to produce a new formula that ensures the rights of all individuals and groups in that society, regardless of their identities. This case applies to the Syrian society, which is very much a cosmopolitan society like the US, Turkey or Malaysia. Adhering to ethnic or religious identity by any state official will enhance sub-national identities at the expense of the national identity of people throughout the country. Professionality and political competence should be the criterion for any responsibility, not ethnic, religious or sectarian identity. Components of any society should have confidence in each other, and integration is a key issue to cooperation and citizenship values under the umbrella of a unified country that embraces all its citizens despite their various ethnicities, religions and cultures.

The courtesy of governments to social components and the reluctance to solve the components’ problems for many reasons has increased sectarian concerns because of relying on relatives even though they are not qualified. Such policy usually provokes tensions between the government and social components. This problem appears in three different ways:

  1. On the local level, geography of the state, sectarian and ethnic tendencies appear and interact to cause social collapse. This conflict takes ethnic and religious shape and utilizes the sources and authority of the country. Therefore, some new parties and movements appear and these parties disregard the interests of the country and the cultural and social references of the government. Islamic organizations and parties take this opportunity to start fighting for power. Such situation usually encourages foreign intervention. Iran, for example, exploits Iranian Kurds for the fulfillment of its expansionist ambitions and creates tensions for the Iraqi government for political interests of Iran.
  2. On the regional level, there are regional countries which control the conflicts for their own interests. Each country wants to impose its interests at the expense of the interests of other countries. Turkey has shown a stern attitude towards Kurds when they wanted to annex Kakouk to their federal territories in the north of Iraq.
  3. On the International level, super powers, mainly the US, benefited from the conflicts in Syria to achieve its strategic goals and fasten its feet in this strategic area of the Middle East. US wanted to impose pressure on many countries in the regions. Senegali politician and researcher Jubiter Nediai stated that wherever there are separatist movements, there are countries to support these movements for geo-political reasons, and this support covers logistic, financial and military needs. Jubiter Nediai also said that peoples’ right to self-determination has been monopolized as a pretext for intervention by major powers for fracturing smaller and weaker countries. This can be better substituted by another concept. i.e. autonomy, which entails more political authorities and representation for territories. In virtue of this concept, the Syrian Democratic Forces have received unlimited US military support including air strikes during their battles against the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham ISIS. Turkey condemned US support to Kurdish Democratic Union which Turkey considers to be a branch of PKK and its allies which are all classified as terrorist organizations by US, Turkey and the European Union.

Political phenomenon caused by social diversity

Mahathir Muhammed says that different races can never co-exist in one society with the absence of justice, equality and development. If these social cultural, social, racist, religious and linguistic factors are obliterated, diversity is impossible. Then the only solution is to remove economic inequalities and to encourage justice, equalitarianism and development as a basis for co-existence.

Thus, unless diversity is contained and sponsored for the sake of social stability, many political disputes will emerge and might develop into civil wars and conflicts that are likely to go beyond borders. What is going on in Iraq between Kurds, Shiite and Sunnah is an example of what might happen in such cases. Also, in Lebanon there is a conflict between Shiite, Sunnah and Maroni Christians. What is happening in Syria is the most recent example of this phenomenon.

These phenomena can be presented as follows:

  1. Affiliation with the ruling party, specially when it confiscates leading society and state, will grant all responsibilities and privileges to those advocates of this party regardless of their qualification and competence.
  2. Tribal, religious, ethnic and economic powers are the cornerstones of the Arab political system, which allies with these powers based on mutual interests. This usually leads to establishing unstable alliances joined by political parties that are linked to the ruling regime. Some other entities abandon these alliances and therefore conflicts start. Consequently, the state is administrated by one or more parties as in the case in Syria, where the National Progressive Front, an alliance of few parties under the leadership of Al Ba’ath Party, leads both society and state and suppresses opposition entities. As a result, the number of opposition parties decreases.
  3. Monopolization of power has infected all ruling parties and regimes in the Arab world. This continued for decades either through the use of force or artificial elections, until a coup is plotted or the ruler is dying. Sometimes, fracture leads to the formation of new alliances. And the new alliances just imitate the previous ruling systems by clinging to power at any cost.

All the above-mentioned circumstances cause a psychological inertia for all citizens of the country. These stressed citizens are always waiting any setback of the ruling regime to immediately take the opportunity to emotionally express themselves. They start demanding their needs like what happened in Arab countries blown up by Arabic Spring. Some of the aspects of social diversity takes a violent shape as follows:

  1. Transferring certain ethnic, sectarian or religious group from their homeland to other areas just like what Assad’s regime did in the northeast of Syria, when it built villages in Al Hasaka and settled Arabs from other provinces back in 1974. This plan, which was implemented by Al Ba’ath Party, entailed the distribution of 700,000 acres of confiscated lands to the new settlers. The pretext was that their original lands were flooded by the Euphrates.
  2. Genocide is another strategy followed by some regimes against a specific sect, ethnic, religious group or political entity. This kind of crimes is defined in article II of 1948 Convention which prosecutes any genocide that can be classified as follows:
  • Killing people of a certain ethnic or religious group;
  • Doing any physical or psychological harm to any member of the targeted group;
  • Mandatory subjugation of members of a group to hard life conditions with the intention of partial or complete damage of those members;
  • Taking measure to prevent giving birth to babies;
  • Transferring kids from one group to another.

One example of the genocide is that of Ruanda in 1998, where Jean Kimbanda was held responsible for massacres as he was the Prime Minister when Tutsi civilians were killed.

Investment in social diversity

Psychology looks at the human beings not as isolated, but as interactive individuals. So, it can be seen in the light of his/her affiliation with a certain group of people that is led by organizations, fully aware of their legitimate demands and their relation with the state. When this or that group revolts against the state, it can be looked at from different perspectives. Freedom seekers in Syria, for example, have been portraited by Assad’s regime as a group of Sunnah Salafists who are affiliated with Al Qaeda. Some Arab countries and organizations helped Assad in this by their adoption of a sectarian and religious discourse and their support to some extremist Islamic groups at a time when Syrians wanted a nationalistic popular revolution. In such a situation, social diversity is invested for the benefit of the ruling regime.

Thus, social diversity is a double-bladed weapon which has negative effects if abused by the ruling regimes for political purposes. Assad’s regime portrayed itself as a protector of social components and co-existence, yet it established an elite from all components that support its policies and its military and security measures. This new collection of pro-Assad entity has been involved in mutual interests with the regime. Other social components were marginalized. Assad also used the Kurdish issue against Turkey.

The positive effects of social diversity can be invested for the establishment of social contract that recognizes the diversity of society and the differences between social components regarding participation in education, politics and economy. These steps will help in avoiding any explosion and fastening social stability and co-existence. Disputes should be always settled behind closed doors before they are publicized. Controversial issues can be negotiated and deals can be made so as to anticipate any social fractures especially in a country like Syria.

Political leadership of a country plays a key role in the investment of social diversity. This role is played through the adoption of strategies for enhancing co-existence, restructuring of economy, the fair distribution of wealth, the maintenance of cultural properties and identities of all components. Diversity can be a strength rather than a weakness, if democracy is prompted with education and job opportunities for all components. The education budget in Malaysia e.g. mounted up to 10,01 Billion USD, whereas defense budget is 3,93 Billion USD.

Challenges of diversity in post-dictatorship recovering societies

The state is responsible for investing diversity for the success of the modern state project. Ruling regimes in the Middle East focus on compulsory means for attraction and abort any development of state institutions. They have been resisting any reform efforts by depriving their countries from all means for confronting political and economic challenges. This has led to popular revolutions that developed into regional and international conflicts.

The spread of violence and terrorism leads to the emigration and displacement of huge influxes of people to safer places inland and abroad. Some statistics says that 86% of Syrians who crossed to Greece between April and September 2015 are educated. 2,8 million Syrian kids are not going to school. This will have horrible consequences on the long run, and will also impair any efforts for reconciliation after the war is ended. For the first time in history, Christians of Mossul in Iraq have evacuated the city.

 The war in Syria has caused many social linear and horizontal changes in the light of opposite views of the regime and opposition. Internal conflicts inside every party have also come up, and many trends inside each party have lined up against each other. Even families have got intrigued in disputes. A filed study which covered 1,200 persons showed that there has been a family fracture in most cases covered by the study. Most persons included in the study said that they had some disputes with other members of their families. The answers of these persons came as follows:

I don’t know No, it has never happened It happened slightly It happened Significantly
77 214 397 512

In addition to social castigation of individuals, who don’t adopt the same political attitude of the majority, some social components consider their affiliates to be an integral part of the component even if he or she takes a different attitude from the attitude of his or her community. Sumaya, a lady from Homs, says that although all her colleagues at work are belonging to the same sect, i.e. Sunnah, they were very suspicious about her. They accused her of being a spy for security forces just because her father was a retired officer of the Syrian Army. Collective security of a society is a threat to each individual as defined by the United Nations. This threat is a pretext for foreign countries to interfere with the affairs of other weaker nations.

Different countries have got different reasons for intervention in other weaker countries. It could be for political, economic, security, humanitarian or ideological reasons. When French tanks broke into Damascus in the 1920s, Sheikh Rasheed Redha wrote in Al Manar Magazine that the Kingdom of Syria was a promising democracy and that the French intervention undermined this new-born country. In 1920, Syrian Constitution was the most secularistic one in the region. It separated the three authorities, and all citizens were equal regardless of their religion, ethnicity or sect. That constitution didn’t refer to Islam as the formal religion of the state.

Political justice as a means for responding to social diversity

The focus on crystallization of unified national identity can contain all sub-national affiliations, and it is a privilege and it can enhance citizenship and anticipate any sub-national identity. To achieve this, political justice is the most important factor, as it has many implications like economic and political partnership. Adversely, if the state marginalized some components of the society, there would be a fracture inside the society and its components will feel injustice and they will go to destructive choices in dealing with the national identity.

As political parties are a manifestation of democracy. These parties, which are supposed to play the role of opposition, have the chance to take over, but they should be committed to the values of democracy and maintaining economic and political stability of the society.

When democracy is adopted as a philosophy, political culture and strategic hypothesis for building a democratic pattern, there will be a chance for national unity on the social, economic and political levels. In such an atmosphere, all political entities play a role in governance of the country and social diversity will remain a guarantee rather than a threat to national unity.

Conclusion

Through social diversity, a country can be turned into a coherent unity that embraces all components and anticipate any chance for fragmentation and fracture. Although eight years of war have passed in Syria, Assad’s regime hasn’t yet admitted the rights of the opposition. So far, no common ground has been found and a very little chance for national consensus is still being looked for. Such consensus can give guarantee to all components of the Syrian society and ensure equal participation in political life for all Syrians. This experience will formulate the price that should be paid by spectra of the Syrian society on the way to establishing a fair political system and economic prosperity.


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