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Why can't we all just get along!?
January 12, 2014 6:38 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to read some different perspectives on war and violent mentality of certain groups.

I typically hate reading about history and warfare but for whatever reason have been on a complete reading binge about the Russian Caucasus areas (which honestly has me worried about the impending Olympic Games but that's a different topic).

In particular, I'm trying to wrap my head around WHY extremely violent groups are the way that they are. What exactly is the psychology behind it? I do understand that oftentimes it can be a combination of political and religious clashing, but still, why is this and why does it have to be like this? I've been reading about the convoluted situations from which the present day environment has come about; I'm more so wondering WHY this is from the thinking of those groups, if that makes any sense?

What would it be like in present day to visit Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia, if I were to put myself in the shoes of a person traveling to those regions? What would some of the day to day threats be? Are there any articles or blogs that would explain this?
posted by floweredfish to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
From my own reading, there have always been areas known to be dangerous – the Caucasus, the Balkans, Afghanistan come to mind – because wars and invasions pushed different tribes, often with differing beliefs and ways of life, into constrained and not very fertile areas, where their cultures matured in a tradition of having feuds and not getting along very well with each other.

A stranger who wanders into such places can have a wonderful experience because they encounter people delighted to offer hospitality to someone from outside their system of friends and enemies, or they can have a terrible time when waylaid by brigands and robbed and held hostage. It's a tossup.
posted by zadcat at 7:47 AM on January 12


Understanding Violence for Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Chechnya is a 2001 report based on Valery Tishkov's ethnography Chechnya: Life in a War-Torn Society. The report is loaded with lengthy quotes from folks with first-hand experience of some of the relevant conflicts.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:10 AM on January 12


A movie you might find relevant is Prisoner of the Mountains (Russian name Кавказский пленник) (it's probably on Netflix), about a Russian soldier taken captive in the Caucasus. It's in turn based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy written in the 19th century which you can read in English translation here. Russia has been at war in that region for a long time.
posted by pravit at 9:16 AM on January 12


In particular, I'm trying to wrap my head around WHY extremely violent groups are the way that they are. What exactly is the psychology behind it? I do understand that oftentimes it can be a combination of political and religious clashing, but still, why is this and why does it have to be like this?

I think you should think of it less as violent groups and more as violent situations.

Terrorism (or more generally, asymmetric warfare) is a consequence of foreign occupation and lack of local autonomy. The specific form it takes depends on the what's available to the occupied people and what's effective against the occupiers.

I spent some time in Guatemala, in a place that was full of mayan marxist 'insurgents' in the 90s that were brutally repressed by a military dictatorship with US backing, and they were the loveliest, kindest, most peaceful people I've ever met. What about their culture turned them 'violent'? Being systematically oppressed for several centuries will do that to you. And amazingly when the oppression was drawn back at the conclusion of the civil war, the violence stopped.
posted by empath at 9:17 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Well, I should say the violence declined, because it's still fairly lawless out there in a lot of regions, but that's more of a function of the drug war and corruption and so on.
posted by empath at 9:23 AM on January 12


I'd recommend Tolstoy's short story "Hadji Murad," and any of Anna Politkovskaya's books on the Caucasus conflict as starting places. One is fiction, and one is of course the work of an anti-Kremlin journo, but I think both have their place.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:42 AM on January 12


Every action has a reaction. You can start by reading Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent, Edward Said's Orientalism, and Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. And yes, they have a lot to do with what you want to find out.
posted by omar.a at 9:43 AM on January 12


I haven't yet read it, but Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East sounds like it would be relevant to this question. "Sweeping in its action, keen in its portraiture, acid in its condemnation of the destruction wrought by European colonial plots, this is a book that brilliantly captures the way in which the folly of the past creates the anguish of the present."
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:48 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Oh man - it's not Caucasus-oriented, but I have to very highly recommend Hugo Slim's excellent Killing Civilians, which does a great job examining the psychology of violence.
posted by naoko at 3:37 PM on January 12


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