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Mobilizing Diasporas in Nationalist Conflicts

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Mobilizing Diasporas in Nationalist Conflicts John Kenny University of Chicago Introduction Why do immigrants in advanced industrialized countries support nationalist groups in their homeland? In the Kosovo crisis, the Kurdish conflict, Bosnia, the Middle East, Northern Ireland and India, to name just a few, nationalist groups have all received monetary, political and material support from those regions' diasporas. Furthermore, this phenomenon has had a long history, with Polish, Irish, Ukrainian, Korean, Croatian and Zionist nationalists all mobilizing their region's diasporas. During these conflicts diasporas have often been nationalist's most loyal supporters. Despite this there has been little in the way of comparative examination concerning why diasporas support nationalist's in the homeland. In this paper I lay out three rival explanations for why immigrants support homeland nationalist movements, my proposed research design for subjecting these theories to critical tests, and the data sources I use. Finally I present evidence from my preliminary tests. I find little support for the conventional wisdom that diasporan nationalism is a function of immigrants’ ongoing attachment to the homeland, low levels of assimilation, or their identity needs in the host society. Instead I find strong evidence to suggest that support for diasporan nationalism is strategically adopted by particular groups within the immigrant community as a means of generating support for their own local goals in the host society. In places where these groups were absent, support for homeland nationalism was significantly lower or non-existent. In addressing the issue of diasporan nationalism I am not seeking to explain immigrants’ ideological support of homeland nationalism. Instead I am seeking to explain a behavioral shift, in which some immigrants stop seeing the issue of the homeland as a low priority. In most cases support for homeland nationalism may be a social norm, but it requires at most no-cost lip service support. Successful nationalist mobilization entails arriving at a situation in which the issue of the homeland is seen by at least some immigrants as a high priority issue requiring high-cost active support1. Theoretical Approaches to Diasporan Nationalism The dominant view of diasporan nationalism sees nationalism as a consequence of the failure of immigrants to identify with the host society. In this view immigrants continue to see themselves primarily in ethnic terms and their political preoccupations remain focussed on the homeland. Among immigrants from regions where there are state seeking nationalist movements, this continuing preoccupation with the homeland ensures that 1 At the extreme end of successful nationalist mobilization of a region’s diasporas results in support for homeland nationalism is being transformed from a social norm in which all are required to pay no-cost lip service support, to a situation in which the social norm requires at least low cost active support.2premigratory grievances remain salient, and immigrants are responsive to the normative appeals of nationalists. For Alejandro Portes this continued preoccupation with the homeland is most apparent among those immigrants who desire to return to the homeland, such as political exiles and migrant laborers (1997: 130-134). It is least apparent among those immigrants who have made a long term commitment to the host society, such as professionals and immigrant entrepreneurs. Other authors argue that the continued saliency of ethnic ties in the economies of immigrant enclaves means that even among immigrant entrepreneurs, ethnicity remains a plausible basis of identity which leaves them open to mobilizing appeals from nationalists (Eammons 1996). Finally, Ernest Gellner argues that under conditions of discrimination in the host society, immigrant professionals will be supportive of homeland nationalism (Gellner 1966). Even if levels of discrimination are not so high as to encourage relocation, its plausible to suppose that the experience of discrimination may result in the continuing saliency of ethnicity and an empathy for discriminated co-ethnics in the homeland. A second view of diasporan nationalism sees it as a special case of continuing identification with the homeland, one which is most often seen among assimilating ethnics (Gans 1979, Berkowitz 1997, Brown 1966). For assimilating ethnics, supporting homeland nationalism is the easiest way to maintain their membership status within the immigrant community in ways that do not constrain their upward mobility. Donating money to homeland nationalists is far less burdensome than learning a language, less time consuming than participating in ethnic institutions and does not involve cultural practices that might conflict with their upward mobility. However regardless of whether supporting nationalism is a function of low or intermediate levels of assimilation, immigrants do not support diasporan nationalism in the hope of directly benefiting from the establishment of a homeland state. Rather, they contribute as a means of confirming both their public image and self-image as members of a diasporic community2. Political Conflict and Identity To understand why immigrants need to demonstrate their membership in the immigrant community and why this demonstration is expressed in terms of support for homeland nationalism requires understanding how identities are deployed strategically by political actors. In the dominant understanding of diasporan nationalism, identities arise from the informal social networks of everyday immigrant life. Political identities and their concomitant obligations for demonstrative affirmation are in this view a preexisting given that determine the patterns of political mobilization. However, a different conception of identity stresses the instrumental nature of identity. Here, political actors are seen as being capable of choosing from a variety of plausible identities and when possible make this 2 Perhaps the most significant proponent of this view is Matthew Frye Jacobson, who argues that nationalism was the primary means through which 19th century American immigrants expressed group allegiance (1995: 3). He concludes that immigrants had a "sense of undying membership in, and unyielding obligation to, a distant national community" (1995: 10).3choice based on their own


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