Pax Ethnica: Where and How Diversity Succeeds

Overview


In a world replete with stories of sectarian violence, we are often left wondering: Are there places where people of different ethnicities, especially with significant Muslim minorities, live in peace? If so, why haven’t we heard more about them, and what explains their success?

To answer these questions, Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac undertook a two-year exploration of oases of civility, places notable for minimal violence, rising life-expectancy, high literacy, and pragmatic...

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Pax Ethnica: Where and How Diversity Succeeds

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Overview


In a world replete with stories of sectarian violence, we are often left wondering: Are there places where people of different ethnicities, especially with significant Muslim minorities, live in peace? If so, why haven’t we heard more about them, and what explains their success?

To answer these questions, Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac undertook a two-year exploration of oases of civility, places notable for minimal violence, rising life-expectancy, high literacy, and pragmatic compromises on cultural rights. They explored the Indian state of Kerala, the Russian republic of Tatarstan, the city of Marseille in France, the city of Flensburg, Germany, and the borough of Queens, New York. Through scores of interviews, they document ways and means that have proven successful in defusing ethnic tensions. This pathbreaking book elegantly blends political history, sociology, anthropology, and journalism, to provide big ideas for peace.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
From 2009 to 2011, journalist-historians Meyer and Brysac (coauthors of Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East) visited five “neglected oases of civility” where ethnic comity prevails: Flensburg, Germany, where peaceful accommodation reigns after centuries of Schleswig-Holstein strife; the Indian state of Kerala, where Hindu, Muslim, and Christian populations not only “flourish peacefully, but…have led the way in literacy, life expectancy, and health care within the world’s most populous democracy”; the Russian Republic of Tatarstan where “comity contrasts with turbulent Chechnya’s unending strife”; multiethnic Marseilles, France, unaffected by the autumn 2005 violence which spread through hundreds of towns; and Queens, New York, “arguably the world’s most diverse political unit, in which 2.3 million people speak 138 languages.” All share pasts of conflict which the authors succinctly review as they interview a wide range of political figures and distinguished citizens: two legislators in Flensburg; a newspaper editor in Tatarstan; a Keralite environmental activist; Marseille’s premier female rapper; and the Borough President of Queens, among others. Treaty or tradition may contribute to ethnic comity, so may location, the happenstance of history, and the passage of time. In the development of “sane oases in a rabid world,” they argue, individuals make it happen, and they offer “11 guidelines for promoting civility in diverse societies”—un-news, but good news. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

Kirkus
“A good-news book, based on serious research, about how traditionally hostile groups can overcome differences to live in harmony…. The authors on-the-ground reporting is impressive, especially given the built-in language barriers…. A skillful rendering of an inspiring message.”

Victor S. Navasky
“Given the clashing creeds, cultures and ethnicities that plague our planet, is peace possible? It's hard to imagine a more thoughtful and creative, attempt to answer this question than the original, surprising and sophisticated case studies (‘sane oases in a fanatic world’) that Meyer and Brysac provide in thoughtful and accessible prose, in this oddly reassuring book.”

Robert Jay Lifton, author of Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir
“After reading this book one will forever question the shibboleth of unyielding ‘ancient hatreds’ and recognize that thoughtful leadership and wise policies can turn ethnic diversity into tolerable and tolerated coexistence. Pax Ethnica will take its place among original social and historical works in our time.”

Robert G. Kaiser, author of So Damn Much Money
“Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac call themselves independent scholars, but they are also old-fashioned, shoe-leather reporters, and it is the combination of scholarly sensibilities and reportorial enthusiasm that makes their book such a delight. They started with a smart idea about the importance of multi-ethnic communities that thrive, then tested it against the realities of five such communities from Queens in New York to Kerala in India. The result is an engaging, provocative and satisfying book on one of the most important topics of our time.”

Donald W Shriver, President Emeritus, Union Theological Seminary, New York  
“By identifying five vibrant, diverse communities around the world whose ‘get along,’ this book demonstrates that a pluralistic human society is no mere dream.  If it has happened in those five places, it must be possible elsewhere.”  

Barbara Crossette, author of So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas         
“In an age of ethnic strife, this inspired and prescient book takes readers to places where good people and good policies make peace prevail, in five regions as different as India’s Kerala state and New York City’s borough of Queens, perhaps the most multicultural place on earth. Diversity is the global future, and Pax Ethnica lays out some proven pathways to successful coexistence.”
 

Jonathan Power
“In their new book, Pax Ethnica, two great journalists, Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac, argue that day in and day out ethnic conflict and tension along religious and cultural lines makes for reliable, if dispiriting, headlines. Journalists regularly play plenty of attention to failed states, sectarian violence and societies at the breaking point. But what about those unsung exceptions, the communities of the world where diverse groups live together in harmony?... One can’t be quite so pessimistic about the world’s divisions if one studies these five examples. Why don’t the media focus more on what works?
 

Winnipeg Free Press
“This informative look at successful immigration hubs worldwide explores what New York-based American academics Karl Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac call ‘oases of civility.’… it is not overburdened by specialized jargon or turgid academic prose. Non-specialists in the social sciences will find it accessible and, because of the breadth of the subject matter, containing much food for thought.”
 
Queens Gazette
“[It] elegantly blends political history, sociology, anthropology and journalism, to provide big ideas for peace….  Pax Ethnica dares to look at one of the world’s seemingly most intractable problems from a new perspective that is fresh and innovative.” 

Toronto Globe & Mail

“An interesting and encouraging glimpse into five cases where diversity seems to succeed.”

Washington Post

“Much of the media coverage and scholarly treatments of the violence depict diversity as civilization’s downfall…. But this presumption invites a challenge, which Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac have delivered in Pax Ethnica. As veteran scholar-journalists and, it so happens, husband and wife, Meyer and Brysac journeyed to five ethnically diverse societies on three continents to discover what works as antidotes to conflicts among peoples. What a great idea. This book should inspire wandering spirits to discover other ethnically harmonious cities and regions and spread the word: ‘reasonable accommodation’ can work, gloriously…. Meyer and Brysac conclude with a set of guidelines for ethnically harmonious societies. My favorite is ‘Fear not the persistence of minority tongues.’ Could someone please whisper that in the ear of politicians across this incredibly diverse land as they campaign to preserve E pluribus unum?”

Kirkus Reviews
A good-news book, based on serious research, about how traditionally hostile groups can overcome differences to live in harmony. Meyer and Brysac, a married couple, have written previous books together (Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East, 2008, etc.) and separately. By examining "neglected oases of civility," they break from the conventional wisdom that ethnic and religious strife are inevitable when perceived enemies share geographic space. These oases include Flensburg, a northern German city emerging from the Schleswig-Holstein region, the longtime border area contested by the warriors of Denmark; the Republic of Tatarstan in the former Soviet Union, where the Muslim majority and the substantial Orthodox Christian minority coexist peacefully; Marseille, France, where a population that is about one-quarter Muslim, an unusually high percentage for a European nation, mingles successfully with sizable Orthodox Christian and Jewish populations; the state of Kerala in India, a densely populated entity bordering the Arabian Sea, where Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities have practiced mutual respect; and Queens, N.Y., where more than 2 million residents speak 138 languages. The authors on-the-ground reporting is impressive, especially given the built-in language barriers. Near the end of the book, Meyer and Brysac share 11 guidelines "promoting civility in diverse societies," which include public grappling by government and private authorities with stereotypes of unpopular minorities; free reign of minority languages within the larger society; constructing housing to integrate diverse populations rather than segregate them; developing public libraries as community centers to overcome language and other cultural differences; empowering women as well as men; and harnessing popular culture to cross societal barriers. A skillful rendering of an inspiring message.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586488291
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 3/13/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,448,814
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.90 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Karl Meyer

Karl E. Meyer, a Princeton PhD, served on The New York Times editorial board, and previously was a foreign correspondent and editorial writer on The Washington Post. He is author of a dozen books including Dust of Empire, and is emeritus editor of the World Policy Journal.

Shareen Blair Brysac was a prize-winning documentary producer for CBS News and is author of Resisting Hitler: Mildred Fish Harnack and the Red Orchestra. Together they wrote Tournament of Shadows and Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East. The couple live in New York City and Weston, Connecticut.

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