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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Ethnic War, Holy War, War O' War: Does the Adjective Matter in Explaining Collective Political Violence?

  • Author(s): Walker, Edward W.
  • et al.

This paper takes up three related questions: (1) what is the difference between ethnic and religious conflict; (2) are theories of ethnic conflict equally applicable to religious conflict; and (3) can available theories of collective violence explain why the nature of internal conflict changes over time, either with respect to individual conflicts or globally? The author argues that distinguishing among types of internal conflict is more difficult than is often assumed and that theories of ethnic conflict typically explain not ethnic conflict as distinct category but sustained internal violence in general, including "religious" conflict. Further, while these theories typically attempt to explain why conflict breaks out in some multiethnic regions but not others, they do not attempt to explain why conflict when it occurs is "ethnic" rather than something else, why the nature of individual conflicts changes over time, or why certain kinds of internal conflict are characteristic of particular periods in history and not others. The paper investigates these questions by looking at three cases: Afghanistan since 1978, Tajikistan from 1992-1997, and Chechnya since 1994.

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