Violence between groups is often caused by fear and hatred. This may have existed for hundreds of years and have causes that are very deep-rooted. Such situations are not easily resolved, since both sides are deeply conscious of historical grudges and believe that they must fight to preserve their rights. Their differences are greater than their similarities. Any attempts to create a space for dialogue is met with hostility from those who believe that to make concessions would be a betrayal.
Religion is also a major factor in provoking violence. This may be intensified in countries where religion is a state matter, and often involves oppression of other religious groups. As can be expected, such minority groups fight back in an attempt to defend their way of life and beliefs. Currently the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are facing, in the words of the spokesman of British Prime Minister Theresa May, “what looks like ethnic cleansing” by the Buddhist majority – a surprising reaction from a religion that is renowned for its association with peace, but which stems from a long-held belief that the Rohingya are foreigners and have no right to be treated as Burmese citizens.
Even in countries where the vast majority of citizens share a religion, there may be differences that provoke violence. Sunni and Shia Muslims have substantial theological differences that mean each side regards the other as blasphemous and not true Muslims. Such is the dedication of each to their version of their faith that many are unable to tolerate the beliefs of the other branch. This results in an ongoing struggle that has been going on for centuries. Sunnis comprise the vast majority of Muslims, but since a number of countries have a Shia majority the scope for conflict between the different countries is clear.
Political violence may of course also have a secular cause. It may stem from a sector of society feeling that they have been denied their rights, and that protest is the only way to have their voice heard. Such protest can easily descend into chaos and violence, as perpetrators are determined to force the authorities to listen. Such action can be successful, even understandable, as in the protests that led to the fall of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, but they can also lead to greater repression as the state cracks down on dissent.
Political violence often results from leaders promoting their own agenda, instead of working for the benefit of their people. From the personality cult of the Kim family in North Korea, to the ailing Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, anyone who fails to follow the official line faces severe punishment and retribution. Dissenters may attempt to bring about change, but do so at great personal risk. Anyone voting against Mugabe’s party risks intimidation and brutality; many have died in the course of the very questionable elections held over Mugabe’s reign.
The question then remains: how can we solve these conflicts? Political violence can be ended where both sides are willing to negotiate and look for a solution that is satisfactory to both sides. It can be done, but depends very much on the readiness to forgive and forget. Pressure from outside or the involvement of impartial countries can help to end conflict and violence. But the sad fact is that many are unresolvable. The differences are simply too great, and people too unwilling to listen. If there was a way to end these conflicts, someone would have thought of it many years ago. Many people are stuck in the past, and unwilling to abandon the conviction that another people, group or ideology is their enemy.