Sunday, November 23, 2008

Language And Conflict: New Categorization of Problem Types

     Noam Chomsky, to try to point out the error of my ways, pointed to the 1994 Rwandan genocide as an example of a deadly conflict within one language community.  Of course I'd known about this event, and consider it only one among many major events in the last couple decades, but more recent e-mail conversations about Rwanda with Chomsky have led me to an insight I hadn't previously had.

     Some of the problems, and certainly the class Chomsky was thinking about, concern when groups speaking different languages share one country, or government, and fight over power, land or access to resources.  I like to point to the examples of Switzerland and India as possible ways to handle this.

     A different set of problems emerge when you take one (large-enough) language community and divide it up with internationally recognized (sacrosanct) lines.  Examples include, but are not limited to
  • Kinyarwanda-Rundi, although small, the part in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been particularly influential.  I made that graphic specifically to show Chomsky what I was talking about, and it was key to helping me get to the understanding I am trying to relay in this post.
  • The Taleban, or, more exactly, the Pashtana tribesmen of the Hindu Kush and Koh-e-Sulaiman mountains (Pashtan is singular, Pashtun is the Indian corruption of the word).
  • The Sudan (Deby, President of Chad, comes from a tribe which is half in Sudanese Darfur.
  • The Kurds
  • The Somalis (still without a government, 17 years running).
  • Even Ossetia. Divided between Russia and Chechnya
Again, as if you needed any reminding, all of these borders were drawn up by Europeans, who, generally speaking, organized things for their own interests (if you look at the Pashtana map, it looks as if "divide and rule" was their interest).

     Somali, Rwandan, Kurdish, Pashtana and Zaghawa speakers have all, definitely hosted rebel groups on one side of the border to attack and destabilize the government on the other.  In fact, all of them are doing it today.

     Peace out.

No comments: