Government Policies and Ethnic Relations in Asia and the Pacific

In This Review

Government Policies and Ethnic Relations in Asia and the Pacific

Edited by Michael E. Brown and Sumit Ganguly
MIT Press, 1997
607 pp. $25.00

This is an outstanding work that opens up new perspectives for understanding ethnic conflict. The book focuses on Asia and the Pacific, and at its heart is a set of case studies of government policies in 16 countries from India to New Zealand written by a multinational team of knowledgeable authors. The book's main conclusion is simple, but important and often neglected. While not the whole story, government policies almost always have a significant impact on the course of ethnic relations and are often decisive in determining whether ethnic problems, which are inherent in multiethnic societies, are resolved peacefully and equitably. Ethnic differences do not have to lead to violence. Thailand, Malaysia, and New Zealand, for example, have experienced little ethnic violence in the last few decades. India, a country of extraordinary ethnic diversity, has stayed together because of the government's commitment to democratic and secular principles, especially religious freedom, and its pursuit of a flexible "three language" policy, in which Hindi is the official national language, English is taught in the schools and encouraged for business, and regional languages are used by state governments. The Sri Lankan government, by contrast, alienated its Tamil minority through a series of misguided ethnically based policies with respect to language, religion, education, and government employment.

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