Can the World Be United?
‘All too often, hate thy neighbor seemed the motto of 1992.’
THAT was the assessment of Newsweek. The magazine added: “These divisions—neighbor against neighbor, race against race, nationality against nationality—are something we have always been prone to, and this year’s events raise doubts about whether we are getting any better at bridging these gaps.”
Recently, sieges, massacres, and rapes in the former Yugoslavia have grabbed headlines around the world. In Bosnia and Herzegovina alone, as many as 150,000 have been killed or are missing. And some 1,500,000 have been uprooted from their homes. Do you say these tragic events could never happen in your neighborhood?
UN official José-María Mendiluce warned: “People can be transformed into hating and killing machines without too much difficulty. . . . There is an attitude in the West that war is raging three hours from Venice only because Balkan people are fundamentally different from other Europeans. That is a very dangerous mistake.”
When the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, ethnic violence soon followed. Some 1,500 were killed, and about 80,000 were displaced in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Hundreds died, and thousands were displaced by fighting in Moldova. There has also been loss of life in conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as in other former Soviet republics.
The largest of the former Soviet republics is Russia. Even there many ethnic groups are seeking to form their own independent states. Thus, The European reported this summer: “The Russian Federation faces disintegration.” The newspaper said: “In the past few weeks, three regions have voted to declare themselves republics . . . Three more indicated this past week that they would follow suit.”
If separate countries are formed, you could be struggling with unfamiliar names, such as Kaliningrad, Tatarstan, Stavropolye, Chechnya, Vologda, Sverdlovsk, Bashkortostan, Yakutiya, and Primorye. Does this not sound similar to what has happened in the former Yugoslavia—where Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia have been formed and where yet other countries may be created?
U.S. secretary of state Warren Christopher spoke about “the surfacing of long-suppressed ethnic, religious and sectional conflicts” and asked: “If we don’t find some way that the different ethnic groups can live together in a country, how many countries will we have?” He said that there would be thousands.
How many ethnic, religious, and sectional conflicts do you believe were in progress early this year? Would you say 4, 7, 9, 13, maybe even 15? In February, The New York Times listed a total of 48! Television may not provide you with pictures of bloodied corpses and terror-stricken children from all 48, but does that make the tragedy any less real for the victims?
There is scarcely a corner of the globe where fighting does not seem a possibility. The West African country of Liberia has been devastated by ethnic violence. One guerrilla leader drew support from the Gio and Mano tribes to overthrow the president, who was from the Krahn ethnic group. Over 20,000 were killed in the ensuing civil war, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.
In South Africa, whites and blacks are pitted against one another in a struggle for political control. But the fighting is not just black against white. Last year alone, some 3,000 were killed in fighting between rival black groups.
In Somalia about 300,000 died and a million were left homeless when clan fighting erupted into civil war. In Burundi and Rwanda, ethnic clashes between Hutus and Tutsis have led to thousands of deaths in recent years.
Fighting seems almost unrelenting between Jews and Arabs in Israel, between Hindus and Muslims in India, and between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland. Racial violence also erupted last year in Los Angeles, California, taking more than 40 lives. Wherever people of different races, nationalities, or religions live close together, vicious conflicts often occur.
Can humans solve this dilemma of ethnic strife?
Concerted Efforts of Humans
Consider, for example, what happened to the efforts in the former Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union. In 1929, Yugoslavia was formed in an attempt to unite into one country the various ethnic groups living in southeastern Europe. The Soviet Union was similarly created by bringing together diverse peoples of various racial, religious, and national origins. For many decades both countries had strong central governments holding them together, and eventually it seemed that their citizens had learned to live together.
“The ethnic map of prewar Bosnia, and indeed prewar Yugoslavia, was like a jaguar’s skin,” explained a leading Serb. “The peoples were inseparably mixed.” In fact, about 15 percent of marriages in Yugoslavia were between persons of different ethnic groups. A similar situation of seeming unity had been created with the mixing of ethnic groups in the Soviet Union.
Thus, the shock was great when, after many decades of apparent peace, ethnic violence erupted. Today, as one journalist wrote, people now “chart the makeup of what was Yugoslavia by race, religion and nationality.” Why, when these powerful governments fell, did these countries break apart?
People do not naturally hate people of another ethnic group. As a popular song once said, you need to be ‘carefully taught before it’s too late, before you’re six or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate.’ This song referred to a young couple with obvious racial differences. Yet, according to mental-health professional Zarka Kovac, people in the former Yugoslavia have “scarcely any physical differences.” Nevertheless, the violence is extreme beyond comprehension. “You mutilate the person you have killed in order not to recognize your brother,” Kovac said.
Clearly, such racial and ethnic hatred is not intrinsic to human nature. People have been carefully taught by propagandists and relatives who recount past atrocities. Who could be behind it all? Trying to understand the horrors of war, a businessman from Sarajevo was moved to conclude: “After a year of the Bosnian war I believe Satan pulls the strings. This is pure madness.”
Although many do not believe in the existence of Satan the Devil, the Bible does point to the existence of an invisible, superhuman person who has a profoundly negative effect on mankind’s behavior. (Matthew 4:1-11; John 12:31) When you think about it—about all the irrational prejudice, hatred, and violence—perhaps you may agree that the Bible is really not farfetched when it says: “The one called Devil and Satan . . . is misleading the entire inhabited earth.”—Revelation 12:9; 1 John 5:19.
A Ray of Hope
When we consider recent world turmoil, the dream of a united mankind seems more distant than ever. Nationalistic and ethnic rivalries threaten man’s existence as never before. Yet, in the midst of this global darkness, a ray of hope shines brightly. During the summer of 1993, a group of people from warring ethnic groups demonstrated a common bond that has allowed them to transcend ethnic strife and to work together in love and unity.
Ironically, this bond has proved to be the very factor that has often divided mankind—religion. Time magazine reported: “If you scratch any aggressive tribalism, or nationalism, you usually find beneath its surface a religious core . . . Religious hatreds tend to be merciless and absolute.” In a similar vein, India Today said: “Religion has been the banner under which the most hideous crimes have been perpetrated. . . . It unleashes tremendous violence and is a very destructive force.”
Indeed, religion is usually part of the problem, not the solution. But this one religious group mentioned above—a group with substantial numbers—has shown that religion can unite, not divide. Just who make up this group? And why have they enjoyed dramatic success where others have failed? In answer we invite you to read the following articles. Doing so may very well give you a new perspective on mankind’s future.
[Picture Credit Line on page 3]
Graveyard in Bosnia. Haley/Sipa Press