Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Of Political Entrepreneurs and Political Correctness

I suppose like many others I too have done my share of genealogical research on the Web. The internet makes it so easy. And so as result I learned a bit more about the Balkans than I knew before -- which was next to nothing ! My grandparents had, in fact, emigrated from the Balkans to Turkey, my parents emigrated the U.S. which I guess makes me a third generation immigrant in the U.K. and possibly also in the running for "Honorary Gypsy" !

My maternal and paternal grandfathers were, respectively, from Bitola and from Thessalonica. My brief research of these areas has given me a bit of a feeling for the multicultural centers these places must have been prior to WW1. Bitola apparently was populated by significant numbers of Bulgarians, Macedonians, Greeks, Turks, Jews and others. Thessalonica was apparently a multicultural metropolis.

So what happened ? Well, the various ethnic groups have long since emigrated to the New World or Down Under or joined their national or racial brethren in neighbouring countries. I can't help thinking that something of value has been lost as a result but ask myself why "balkanization" never became a vibrant and lasting social model.

Well, I have heard and greeted with skepticism many a Greek or Turkish acquaintance who has said on occasion with a half apologetic tone something like:
You know we get along just beautifully. It's just the politicians that constantly stir things up between us and cause trouble.
My skepticism about such comments had to do with either the genuineness of the inter-communal fellowship which is possibly being mis-remembered or a desire to cop out and makes a nebulous class of people called "politicians" the scapegoat for what in fact is a real personal hatred of "the other" --- to (over)use a popular philosophical phrase these days.

Well, I may have to repent of such suspicions having recently come across studies by the American sociologist Charles Tilly on the subject of what he calls "political entrepreneurs".

These are people in authority (or seeking power) who make it their "entrepreneurial" mission to sow seeds of discontent along ethnic fault lines. He claims to have data showing how these seeds then bear fruit in terms of inter-communal violence. Isn't it true that divisions are easy to foment and much more difficult to bridge? So might there not be a good case for taking preventative measures ?

Well, some on the left of the political spectrum have been much maligned and much ridiculed for their social agenda popularly known as "political correctness".

Perhaps political correctness seems silly but it may actually be playing a vital role as an antidote to the social poison put out by the political entrepreneurs. Without such an antidote we might find ourselves sliding into inter-communal violence. I'd rather have the silliness of some forms of P.C. than have to fight my neighbour in the streets, wouldn't you ?

Sadly, there is a perfect example of what I'm talking about right out of today's news headlines :

On Sunday a mob of 5,000 white men, many of them drunk, attacked men they believed were of Middle Eastern descent in retaliation for the assault a week earlier of two volunteer lifeguards.

Youths of Lebanese descent were alleged to be behind that assault, but police say there was no apparent racial motive.

Police arrested 16 rioters and said 31 people were injured, including a man stabbed in the back by an assailant officers said was a man of Arab appearance.

Prime Minister John Howard called the violence "sickening" but denied it was underpinned by a vein of racism running through Australian society.

"I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this country," he said

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