Ethnic Divisiveness: Fomenting Hostility

Ethnic identity would not normally be how people choose to define themselves in their relationships with others.  People see each other as neighbours, colleagues, friends, and in some cases as team-mates in sporting contests – irrespective of ethnicity.  Ethnicity can be emphasised, though, and it stirs very deep feelings.

As described above ( there is an underlying potential for antagonism between social groups, based on their sense of identity and their perception of differences from other groups.  When a particular ethnic group is stigmatised, or feels threatened, its members are more likely to huddle together and to see people outside the group as potentially hostile.  Some leaders try to draw support towards themselves by choosing to exploit this tendency: emphasising their own group’s ethnicity and expressing hostility towards other ethnicities.

Religion offers a strong sense of shared identity (, and religious leaders can claim to be acting on behalf of God.  This can become a basis for conflict with other groups, who can be described as disobeying God.  There have been numerous religious wars.  These breach the Golden Rule – which all religions declare to be of prime importance and which prohibits aggression against others (

Fear of immigrants can be whipped up into hysteria.  For example, an American e-book called Stealth Invasion was advertised with the following text that was designed to fuel Islamophobia:

“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.”

An EASO report, Bosnia and Herzegovina Country Focus, argued [in section 2.1] that “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.

If politicians use such techniques to pursue political power, they are practising ‘identity politics’ as described later (  It is hard to ban divisive language, though, if freedom of speech is to be protected – which is a moral dilemma (4.4.6) and potentially a legal problem (5.4.6).



This is a current page, updated since publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/4452b.htm