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Updated 1 July 2008

We found a very positive, even marvelous, study by Ashutosh Varshney. It fully meets the standards for social research in our times.

Ashutosh Varshney is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan. Previously, he taught at Harvard (1989-98), Columbia (1998-99) and Notre Dame (1999-2001). He wrote: Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India.

Varshney's book has a solid basis and gives us hope. His kernel observation is that ethnic integration in all facets of society is the key to harmony.

In one example, integrated cities were able to stop wild rumors that inflamed the comparative nonintegrated cities. What the peaceful cities did and how they did it through dialogue on the local and individual levels provide us direction complete with a road map. Their very harmony is a goal achieved; one we can all hope for and expect for the world.

Varshney also found that uncoordinated integration, as on playgrounds and neighborhoods, is important, but less so; it is necessary but not sufficient.

Patterns he found that correlated with ethnic strife continued after his book came out, confirming the predictive ability of his conclusions. It is heartening to know that the UN began working with Varshney even before his book was published.

Varshney's book is more than commentary; it is research that meets or exceeds scientific standards for social science. This does not mean there are not other factors or more fundamental causes and effects. Economic interdependence might be one such variable. However, we would argue that societal integration brings about economic interdependence in positive ways, an effect of peace not a cause. Economic disparity is another matter; it can lead to Humiliation and Alienation, two of the most common conditions for radicalizing terrorists. Economic disparity also runs against integration, even if there is interdependence. So interdependence in rough equality seems to be the desirable state of affairs.

In any event, Varshney has already found a root cause of intra-city / inter-cultural conflict. The very fact that he found peaceful cities (integrated ethnically) coexisting with violent ones (not integrated ethnically) in the same national culture and ethnic mix gives powerful impetus to the belief that ethnic integration in all facets of society can make peace on the larger scale. The peaceful groups used dialogue to recognize common interests and to build from there. All it took was awareness and desire on the parts of local officialdom to make it happen.

When you think about it, his explanation accounts for the success America has had with ethnic integration. Coming without guidance and in the face of prejudice and a conservative culture, we were slow to arrive at our present state. Nevertheless ethnic groups in America are now sharing increased appreciation of one another because of our common interests in all levels and aspects of society. Witness the 2008 Democratic primary for president--where a black man and a white woman vied for the nomination and nearly tied. Not only that, but Varshney's insight also accounts for the postwar resurgence of Europe via dialogue on the diplomatic level.

These encouraging results share a common theme, Dialogue, a well developed method too powerful to ignore, and one that is standing the test of time.

To repeat: Ethnic integration in all facets of society is the key to harmony. provides the following summary of Varshney's book:

"What kinds of civic ties between different ethnic communities can contain, or even prevent, ethnic violence? This book draws on new research on Hindu- Muslim conflict in India to address this important question. Ashutosh Varshney examines three pairs of Indian cities one city in each pair with a history of communal violence, the other with a history of relative communal harmony to discern why violence between Hindus and Muslims occurs in some situations but not others. His findings will be of strong interest to scholars, politicians, and policy-makers of South Asia, but the implications of his study have theoretical and practical relevance for a broad range of multiethnic societies in other areas of the world as well. The book focuses on the networks of civic engagement that bring Hindu and Muslim urban communities together. Strong associational forms of civic engagement, such as integrated business organizations, trade unions, political parties, and professional associations, are able to control outbreaks of ethnic violence, Varshney shows. Vigorous and communally integrated associational life can serve as an agent of peace by restraining those, including powerful politicians, who would polarize Hindus and Muslims along communal lines."

See also: Solutions and Hope


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