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Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Sumit Ganguly
Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions since 1947
New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. 187pp. 11.75
This is a difficult book to review. It comes with glowing reviews from
mainly American and British sources, which would suggest that it is of
interest and use to the policy-making communities in both these countries
which I am sure it is. But since they are, in a sense, part of the problem,
it is difficult to see their reviews as anything but self-serving, particularly
in the context of their opposition to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by
either India or Pakistan. Is the book a dispassionate assessment of a complex
issue, or is it meant to feed the policy process in the US and Britain? It
appears to be the latter, but because of the academic pedigree of the author,
it should actually be the former.
It is also a difficult book to review because so much has happened since it
was published. The recent mobilisation of the armed forces of both India
and Pakistan, apparently bringing both countries close to all-out war, is
obviously a story in itself, and the author has been a little unlucky in
being overtaken by events in this regard.
Nevertheless, in some ways it is a very good and useful book on a topic of
great current interest and concern. Its strengths lie in its presentation of
the issues in a historical perspective which is actually what the author
was trying to avoid thus putting a lot of what is currently happening in a
broader context. But as a book written principally for outsiders, it fails to
make the case convincingly in a domestic political sense that there is
anything intrinsic to the hostility between India and Pakistan. And therein
lies its main weakness.
It attempts to summarise and simplify issues that any political observer in
the subcontinent would recognise are actually far more complex than the
narrative presentation suggests. Mutual antagonism ebbs and flows with a
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certain type of politics and with the roles played by certain individuals
and interests. It has little in reality to do with an inherent clash of ideas of
what the two states represent, as attested by the fact that they are not
permanently at war or at least not till recently.
As the title suggests, the book recounts the history of India-Pakistan
tensions since partition and independence in 1947, and attempts to identify
the reasons why the conflict has persisted so stubbornly. It suggests that
there is a strong element of inevitability in India-Pakistan tensions
stemming from essentially rival and conflicting views of what their states
represent. India represents (to itself) the secular, pluralistic and democratic
option, while Pakistan represents (again to itself) a different reality: the
protector of the Muslim legacy and identity in the sub-continent. India
cannot justify its existence without challenging the raison dtre for
Pakistans existence, and vice versa.
This predisposition to hostility is said to animate political attitudes that
play out in repeated bouts of armed conflict and warfare over a symbol of
what both nations are said to stand for. Kashmir, because of its Muslim
majority population, is the symbol of this differing world-view and the
principal battleground for the two protagonists. This dispute now appears
to the outside world to be as symbolic and intractable as the Arab-Israeli
dispute, and as tiresome.
Current interest in the details of this dispute flows largely from the nuclear
status of both countries. These are seen to have significantly raised the
stakes for the region and the world, and form the basis for arguments in
support of outside mediation and arbitration. The fact that this is an explicit
policy objective of Pakistan, and is thus opposed as forcefully by India,
has complicated any possible resolution of the issue immeasurably. At the
same time, the fact that the status quo suits India but not Pakistan, creates
a policy dynamic (in Pakistan) that is equally dangerous. And the paradox
of nuclear capacity actually bringing some sort of restraint, and hence
stability to the way in which hostilities are conducted between India and
Pakistan, complicates the policy environment still further, as this runs
counter to what the US and the UK in particular want to believe.
The author does very well in bringing out these issues, but it is difficult to
see why they should be linked to some sort of predisposition to hostility
between the two countries. History is full of intense periods of animosity
between nations over seemingly minor territorial disputes, and this could
just be another. It is perhaps because the Arab-Israeli dispute is so
intractable that policy makers around the world now think that all current
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Book Reviews

disputes concerning the rights of Muslim minority communities contain


the same elements of intractability.
A second major flaw in the book is its unwillingness to analyse the negative
contribution of the US to the situation. The question that could have been
addressed was whether the US, in its pursuit of its objectives in Afghanistan,
played into the hands of the Pakistani government insofar as its Kashmir
policy was concerned. If this is the case, which seems fairly obvious, then
it has little or nothing to do with the predisposition thesis of the author.
And finally I would identify a third major flaw that relates to the preferences
of the Kashmiri people. This issue is insufficiently explored in terms of
the effect it may have on the conduct of relations between India and
Pakistan. The overriding question for the rest of the world in this context
is whether they are prepared to risk intervention on an outcome that could
be more problematic and contentious than the situation at present, and
that could moreover actually precipitate a war between India and Pakistan.
The answer, at present, would seem to be no.
Julius Sen
London School of Economics

George Schpflin
Nations, Identity, Power. The New Politics of Europe
London: Hurst and Company, 2000. 442 pp. 16.50
It has been two years ago since George Schpflin, the Director of the
Centre for the Study of Nationalism at University College London,
published this book, which contains a collection of papers some of which
had previously been published between 1992 and 1998 on the issues of
ethnicity, nationalism and the development of the democratic nation-state
in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. The central question put forward
by Schpflin is what binds the modern (post-communist) nation-state
together. More precisely, the author seeks to examine the role of ethnicity
in the process of nation-building and democratisation in post-communist
societies.
Schpflin argues against the liberal dogma of universal rationality, which
has falsely overemphasised the function of the rational individual and the
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binding forces of the bureaucratic state in the process of social integration


in democratic societies. At the same time he rejects the reductionist Marxist
idea of economic interest as being the major integrative force in communist
societies. Both theories universalistic in scope have failed to explain
the resilient binding capacities of particularistic collective (ethnic) identities
based on affective and irrational bonds.
In order to make clear his position, the author puts forward a concept
which portrays the modern nation-state as a complex social system whose
integrative capacity rests upon three fundamentally interrelated parts,
namely: the state, civil society and ethnicity. The challenging argument
developed throughout the book claims that a well-functioning democratic
nation needs to find the right equilibrium between these three pillars.
For Schpflin ethnicity is a prerequisite for a dynamic democracy. The
concept of ethnicity therefore plays a prominent role in his outline of a
functioning democratic nation-state. Through cultural reproduction, ethnic
bonds engage the individual in a historically generated realm of shared
values and practices, of a collective memory and of meaningful rituals
and symbols. This commonality reassures a cohesive self-understanding
of the group and provides the means for a meaningful interpretation of the
world. In questioning the modernist position on the foundations of the
nation-state, the author emphasises the resilient importance of this affective,
irrational and internalised side of collective identity for social integration.
Ethnic ties lay the foundation ground for a feeling of mutual moral
obligation, and hence, according to Schpflin, generate consent within a
society through a strong sense of solidarity.
In the course of the book Schpflin applies his concept of an interactive
triad of state, civil society and ethnicity to various cases of multiethnic
societies in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. He points to the difficulties
encountered by many Eastern European nations in overcoming the legacy
of communism and the tendency towards chauvinist ethno-nationalism,
with the brutal results observed in the former Yugoslavia. Consequently,
Schpflin argues that strong ethnic bonds have to be framed by a state,
which is able to create an tatic identity that transcends the particularistic
identification with the ethnic group. The tatic identity is not based
upon affective ties but upon the shared experience of the continuous work
of state-driven institutions like a bureaucratic administration, a shared
educational system, etc. On the other side the integrative energy of ethnic
bonds also needs to be accompanied by an active citizenship. As the vital
expression of a functioning civil society, citizenship embodies, through
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Book Reviews

active political, economic and legal relationships between the individual


and the state, a rather universal civic identity. In order to find the right
balance between affectivity and rationality, between particularistic and
universalistic collective identities, a democracy has to develop a flexible
and interactive equilibrium between the state, ethnicity and the civil society
(citizenship). According to Schpflin this condition is reached when
citizenship is openly accessible to members of all ethnic groups, when
ethnic minorities have the full rights to follow their cultural traditions and
when the state is strong enough to provide functioning executive, legislative
and judicative institutions.
Schpflins book can be read as a passionate quest for a tolerant, multiethnic, democratic nation-state in which the moral worth of all ethnic
communities (p 127) is accepted. With the triadic concept of the state,
the civil society and ethnicity he delivers a useful and lucid analytical tool
for further research on the processes of democratisation in Eastern and
South-Eastern Europe. However, in my opinion, Schpflin could have
made clearer that these central concepts are ideal-typical categories, which
help to order the phenomenological world on a theoretical level. From an
empirical perspective the boundaries between those spheres are probably
less clear-cut than the argument suggests. Thus, out of this slight confusion
of research levels, the sources of an tatic identity and the bases of
citizenship, for instance, seem to be conflated at times. Moreover,
Schpflins concept of ethnicity fails to confront current discourse on
hybrid or creolised identities. The integration of some of the thoughts of
postcolonial theorising might have made his idea of ethnicity less
contained. As a result, Schpflin sidesteps the crucial issue of individuals
who find themselves in a situation of acting and thinking in two or more
ethnic value systems at a time - a situation which is rather common in
multi-ethnic societies.
Nevertheless, Schpflin provides an important and necessary contribution
to the complex assessment of the quality of the processes of democratisation
within multi-ethnic nation-states in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe.
This is probably the greatest merit of his book and others should follow
up on this theoretical path.
Ulrich Raiser
Humboldt University, Berlin

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Tzvetan Todorov
Life in Common. An Essay in General Anthropology
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001. 175 pp. 16.95

To be recognised is one of the most important motivators that propels


human beings to deal with the requirements of communal life. This is the
main thesis of a stream in academic thought that operates in the field of
identity studies, with particular reference to ethnic and national identities.
The English translation of La Vie commune: Essai danhtropologie gnrale
by Tzvetan Todorov is, for many non-French speaking scholars, an
opportunity to read a book that formulates a direct response to a perennial
problem in this area of knowledge, namely the lack of a specific conceptual
system.
Throughout the five chapters, the author broadly argues against the
Hegelian idea of essentially solitary being and conflict as the primary
social relationships. Conversely, the author supports the idea of the original
incompleteness of human beings and the importance of the filial feel. With
this general statement, in the first chapter Todorov revises the main
philosophical approaches towards human beings nature and their sense
of recognition. His choice is the position of Rousseau, who held the view
that a person needs to live in the community in order to fight against the
original condition of incompleteness. As he points out, even solitude is
only a special case of social interaction, not its opposite; the opposite of
sociability simply does not exist.
The second chapter constitutes an analysis of the differences between the
notions of being, living and existence. The last stage, that of existence, is
designated as the ultimate fulfilment of the human being, meaning that
others recognise him or her as being either similar or different. Men or
women do not begin to exist except through the gaze of others. Without
such a gaze, their existence would be not possible. There are three
conceptual lines in this fundamental idea that cross the next chapters of
the book: the relational nature of common life, the role of pleasure in the
social relations and the critique of conflict as the only mechanism to
regulate these relations.
The third chapter presents, from my point of view, one of the most important
contributions of Todorovs thought on the field: his emphasis on conformity
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Book Reviews

as well as distinction as forms of recognition. Scholars have paid


considerable attention to the latter as the main way to get recognition,
leaving aside that conformity with the rules costumes and norms
supplies the individual with a positive image of myself (p. 80). The
satisfaction with norms also goes a long way towards explaining the power
of community feelings. This seminal conceptualisation implies that
searching for recognition can have different destinies: social revolt,
institutional or non-institutional recognition, or sometimes submission to
others.
In the fourth chapter, Todorov suggests a novel idea of the person, as a
cartographic view, in which the Self is proposed as a place, as the locus
where social interactions concur and where several instances can be
distinguished. The structure of a person can be seen as a minimal team of
three characters: the self, the master of recognition and the object of desire.
These three persona work together to define a person on a stage, as if in an
internal theatre. The precise identity of the other in our everyday life
becomes increasingly important to put in action the person as posture or
gesture. There is no single person for each individual, as Lacan proposes,
but rather a multiplicity of persons.
In the final chapter, the reader of this book gains a view of life in common,
in which coexistence with others does not always result in fulfilment and
in which recognition is not always the result of a heroic struggle.
Coexistence and recognition can be an outcome of individual obedience
as well as of individual rebellion to authority in everyday life. That is to
say, life in common is not a choice, but rather a destiny that is by no
means a guarantee of happiness. In this scenario, Todorov suggests focusing
on the quality of human relations among the members of a specific
community.
Laura Velasco Ortiz
El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Mexico / University of Warwick

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