This edited volume is a comprehensive text examining the relationship between identity politics and conflict management. The book works across three themes, namely, the formation of identities, the emergence of mobilization, and the transition to violence. For the purpose of this study, the authors examine cases from Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan. The book also includes transnational recompositions of the Indo-Pakistani diaspora in the United Kingdom to enrich our understanding of identity-based violence. The book is well-organized with informative thematic structures which makes navigation easy. Most importantly, the introduction by Gilles Dorronsoro and Olivier Grojean familiarizes readers with the concept of ‘identity capital,’ which is defined as a strategic resource that can be invested to mobilize collective actions. Another recurring concept is ‘ethnic hierarchy.’ The editors argue that identity inherently breeds hierarchy, as it is constructed on the devaluation of the “other” (p. 7). Most of the contributions in this book utilize the concept of ethnic hierarchy, exploring the different ways in which it gets transformed, and how it (re)defines collective actions creating potential grounds for violence.
Building upon the conceptual framework provided in the introductory part of the book, the succeeding chapters address the formation of identities. A crucial part of identity formation is the identification process itself. There are multiple ways in which identities are constructed; one of the major arguments for understanding identity-based violence is that the identification of groups can be based on minor differences. This argument highlights the importance of assigning social meanings and identification at the unconscious level, where expressions of egotism rather than conflicts of interest consolidate the group’s identity. Another important development of the argument pertains to the production of ethnic hierarchy in the identification process, which affects accessibility to public resources like funds, and cultural and political rights. Thus, state policies become a crucial factor in the management of identity conflicts. State policies that capitalize on existing ethnic hierarchies foment identity mobilizations. This takes place because such state policies often create ethnic self-awareness and thus the conditions for violent conflicts. Some of the illustrations provided in the book are the cases of Kurdish issues in Turkey and the Azerbaijani causes in Iran. With regard to the role of state policies as they play into a case of the Indo-Pakistan diaspora in the United Kingdom, it was observed that it encourages competition among different ethnic communities to have access to both public funds and political recognition. The arguments made here by the authors allude to the fact that identity-based violence doesn’t necessarily follow from the existence of different ethnic or religious groups, but rather from the politicization of differences. Therefore, the politics of difference played out by the state, the media, and the public psyche, are important research areas for understanding conflicts. It is emphasized that the mode of identity consolidation and the process of its expression needs to be taken into account.
This book is praiseworthy for the in-depth analysis made by the contributors in exploring the mechanisms through which states accentuate identity politics and institutionalize ethnic hierarchy. The chapter by Clemence Scalbert-Yucel illustrates one such example, where the advocacy of cultural diversity rhetoric propagated by the state in Turkey influences public perceptions and sanitizes Kurdish issues in the public domain. This inadvertently triggers the targeted ethnic groups to protest. Other extensive discussions are presented on the subjects of revolution and war. Gilles Riaux and Laurent Gayer explore the post-Iranian Revolution of 1979 in relation to identity conflicts. They observe how the establishment of Iranian nationalism on Persianist criteria depreciated the Azerbaijani identity in Iran (p. 118). Moreover, the fact that Iran identified itself as a Shi’ite state exacerbated ethnic hierarchy by discriminating against certain ethnic groups such as the Sunni Kurds (p. 218). These trajectories provide different perspectives for understanding how revolution creates conditions for the transition to ethnic violence. Another contributing factor for the emergence of mobilization is war itself. As war redefines the conflict landscape, it proliferates non-state actors and produces different political realities. War intensifies ethnic violence because the entry of non-state actors brings with it different dynamics of relationships between the state and identity groups. The state’s authority and legitimacy over the conflict become diluted and subsequently, the state may lose control of the whole process and may unwittingly unleash partisan warfare.
Generally, this edited volume can be treated as a handbook on identity-based conflicts. Although the case studies are taken from Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan, the volume broadly captures relevant issue areas pertaining to identity conflicts that resonate in other conflict zones as well. The contributors engagingly employ different research methods to understand the complexity of identity conflicts. For instance, Benoit Fliche used the Freudian concept of “narcissism of the minor difference” (p. 24), Clemence Scalbert-Yucel use discourse analysis to examine the media as a discursive space where social meanings are produced, and Gilles Riaux explains revolution as a cause for conflicts through the “derivative discourse” method (p. 119). This application of different methods produces a rich variety of content, however, the methodology and certain high-handed terminologies associated with the methods may seem overbearing to some non-serious readers. The book is very academic, but the overall structure and organization of the arguments presented in the book can make any book lover persevere. It is informative and the contributors are ardent scholars who identify certain gaps in identity conflict studies, which provide impetus for future research in the scholarship on identity, conflict, and politics.