Ethnic Divisiveness: Fomenting Hostility

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/4452.htm)

As already described, leaders have a range of techniques for influencing the behaviour of group members (4.3.1).  They can use this influence to undermine peaceful pluralism in several ways:

  • They can demonise other groups to strengthen their own group’s sense of identity, exploiting the underlying potential for hostility:

“…solidarity within the group is often correlated strongly and perhaps in part caused by hatred, prejudice and rejection towards those outside the group.” [1]

  • They can also attempt to enlarge their following by proselytising, an active recruitment campaign, which is seen as a threat by other groups and provides further fuel for conflict.
  • People can be persuaded that to convert others, even by using violence against them, is a duty and will save the others’ souls – although this requires a distortion of religious teaching.
  • Osama bin Laden was able to persuade some Muslims that his jihad was a “Just War” as defined in the Quran, although his arguments have been denounced by other radical Muslims.[2]
  • Fear of immigrants can be whipped up into hysteria. For example, an American e-book called Stealth Invasion was advertised with the following text:

“Americans are shocked by ongoing news reports chronicling growing chaos in Europe, where massive Muslim migration is wreaking havoc on the continent – including horrendous acts of mass terrorism, an epidemic of rape and sexual assault against European women, and large, jihadist-rich enclaves where even police are hesitant to enter.

Yet, few realize that America is heading down the same suicidal path.”

  • As was the case in Bosnia,[3] “the dissemination of interethnic hatred was a key technique to divide BiH [Bosnia and Herzegovina]” – to make its partition, into ethnically pure enclaves, permanent; in other words, atrocities were committed against other groups so that hatred would endure forever and make political reconciliation impossible.

All these techniques heighten the underlying potential for ethnic conflict.  Aggressive campaigns against people from other ethnic groups are a way of pursuing influence, changing how people think; if politicians use such techniques to pursue political power, they are practising ‘identity politics’ (



[1] The report Identity, Politics and Public Policy, published by IPPR in April 2010, describes hostility to other groups (p. 10).  It was available in March 2018  at http://www.ippr.org/publications/identity-politics-and-public-policy.

[2] Alia Brahimi, in the introduction to her book Jihad and Just War in the War on Terror, lists several Muslim leaders who condemned Osama bin Laden’s attempt to use the Quran to justify his jihad.  The introduction was available in March 2018 at http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199562961.do.

[3] In November 2016, EASO published a Country of Origin Information Report, entitled Bosnia and Herzegovina Country Focus, in which the active dissemination of hatred was referred to in section 2.1; the report was available in May 2018 at https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/1024002/2162_1479371345_easo-coi-report-bih-final-final-201611.pdf.