For the class I will be teaching this fall, I was recently reading one of the books I intend to assign that touches directly on the reflections on the Partition and on the Putnam research on diversity described here (TAC even gets a brief mention in the article). The book, Twice A Stranger, is an account of the history surrounding the Treaty of Lausanne, the population exchanges of 1923-24 and the experiences of the people who were uprooted as a result (as partly related by still-living survivors of the exchange). In this book, Bruce Clark challenges the standard liberal anti-Lausanne argument (after having similarly critiqued the nationalist account):
The liberal anti-nationalist myth often suggests that relations were perfectly warm and harmonious and would have remained so if the population exchange had not been imposed as an artificial exercise in segregation. In fact, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. As anyone who is familiar with rural society in the Balkans or the Caucasus can testify, things are never that simple. Warm and cordial business relationships, and personal friendships, can transcend the intercommunal division in surprising ways; but that does not abolish the division–or alter the fact that in the event of a general conflagration, almost everybody tends to seek security behind the walls of his or her own community [italics mine-DL], and life becomes uncomfortable for those who try to occupy the middle ground. (p. 172)
The connection is that people with whom you identify, whom you consider your “own,” are the people you trust and will rely on in the worst situations. Armed conflict adds an additional dimension of the pressure to actively side and identify with your community, as well as simultaneously seek shelter and protection from that community. It occurs to me that this is how it is possible that rampant, violent sectarianism could spring from a pre-invasion Iraq that had relatively decent intercommunal relations, friendships and intermarriages. Sectarian labels mattered little when conflict did not force people to choose sides, and the lines of the communities were not nearly so sharp when your position on one side or the other was not so significant. When the chips are down, however, and having people you can trust becomes a matter of survival, sticking with your own is not only the natural, instinctive move but also the one that is actually the most rational under the circumstances. Self-serving jingo “discoveries” of the damaged social fabric of pre-invasion Iraq have sought to discredit the idea that the source of sectarian violence in Iraq is the spark of the invasion itself, when it was the transformation of the country into a war zone that precipitated the bloodletting that has followed.
This also highlights the flaws, or at least the limits, of Putnam’s proposed “solution.” He wants to encourage “more encompassing identities” and a “new, more capacious sense of ‘we’,” which is just swell. The problem with “more encompassing identities” is that they are usually weaker, more brittle and usually not founded in the natural affinities that would reinforce them. Being an Iraqi is “more encompassing,” but it is consequently that much less meaningful. It is “capacious” at the expense of being valued. The more encompassing an identity becomes, the easier it is for that identity to collapse in on itself.