Friday, June 20, 2014

Karina V. Korostelina's "Political Insults"

Karina V. Korostelina is Associate Professor and Director of the Program on Identity, History, and Conflict at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Political Insults: How Offenses Escalate Conflict, and reported the following:
People, organizations, social groups and even countries insult each other every day. Many believe that people offend each other because of frustration, bad manners, or satisfaction from hurting other people. Insult thus is perceived as a common act that reflects aggressive tendencies in people. But can insult help reveal the deep motivations of insulting sides? Can insult show the real needs behind aggression? Can our knowledge about insult empower us in dealing with an insulting party?

The insults discussed in this book occurred in different countries, reflect different issues, and involve different participants. Five women entered the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, shed their winter clothing at the altar and began a performance of “Punk Prayer”, containing crude language toward Putin and Kirill I, the Moscow Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. Elderly veterans were assaulted near the World War II monuments, and young people were frying eggs on the eternal flame near the Tomb of the Unknown Solder in Ukraine. A small island in the Japan Sea provoked a diplomatic spat between Japanese and South Korean leaders, payments of homage to war criminals, landing on a disputed island and demands for apology and compensations from both sides. The quick pardon by Azerbaijan's president of the repatriated killer of an Armenian army officer has sparked outrage in Armenia and Hungary, as well as a diplomatic maelstrom involving NATO and the European Union.

The book shows that the form of insult that people use to offend each other indicates their group incentives, problems in interactions, or grounds for conflict between two parties. These insults reflect the issues of social identity and power relations between groups. People use insults because they want to strip the other party of positive identity, increase distance or emphasize difference between parties, put blame on others and justify their actions, deny rights of other party and show their privileged or superior position, strengthen their power over others, or legitimize themselves and de-validate others.

Page 99 describes several insults traded by Japan and China in the conflict around Senkaku Islands.
On April 16, 2012, Tokyo’s right-wing nationalist governor Shintaro Ishihara stated that he and six other nationalists would consider purchasing the Senkaku Islands. He stressed that Japan wanted to take control over the disputed territory and that no other country had any right to claim it: “Tokyo has decided to buy them. Tokyo will defend the Senkaku Islands.... Why would any country have a problem with that?” Stressing the importance of Japanese ownership, he stated that he could build a dock on the islands. In response, China warned that it would take “all necessary steps” to protect the islands. Liu Weimin, a foreign ministry spokesman, said: “Any unilateral action taken by Japan on the Diaoyu and nearby islands is illegal and invalid, and cannot change the reality of China’s ownership.... We do not wish statements in Japan to encroach on China’s sovereignty and harm China-Japan ties. I believe they not only damage the overall state of China-Japan relations, but also harm Japan’s international image.”
These statements “created a legitimacy insult confirming the lawfulness of ownership by Japan and rejecting any rights claimed by China.” China’s reaction to this legitimacy insult included not only reaffirmation of its rights over the islands and denial of any Japanese claims, but also raised questions about the adequacy of Japanese foreign policy. Thus, China also created a legitimacy insult, presenting Chinese ownership of the islands as real and beyond question and Japanese attempts to purchase islands as illegal.

The second type of insult presented on page 99 is the divergence insult. Certain leaders in Japan warned against radical moves that could harm Sino-Japanese relations. On June 6, 2012, the Japanese ambassador to China, Uichiro Niwa, declared, “If Mr. Ishihara’s plans are acted upon, then it will result in an extremely grave crisis in relations between Japan and China.... We cannot allow decades of past efforts to be brought to nothing.” However, the foreign minister, Koichiro Gemba, as well as many right-wing politicians, disowned Niwa’s statements. Portraying the sale of one of the islands as strictly an internal issue, Gemba said: “The change of ownership is a domestic matter that does not concern the international community.” The chief cabinet secretary, Osamu Fujimura, stressed that Niwa’s statements reflected the ambassador’s personal position and not the government’s official stance. Ishihara also strongly criticized the ambassador, suggesting that Niwa needed to learn more about the history of his own country before making such comments, and questioning his ability to serve his country’s interests: “He is not qualified to be Japan’s ambassador to anywhere.” Niwa apologized for his comments in a letter to Gemba, stating, “I am extremely sorry. I will not make comments like this.” Ambassador Niwa was presented as a person who was disloyal to his country, did not know and respect its history, and could not protect its interests. Depicting the ambassador in this light, government officials and nationalists created a divergence insult that positioned him as outside mainstream ideology.

The book shows how knowledge about different forms and types of insult can empower the offended party in dealing with offences and what strategies should be used in each case.
Learn more about Political Insults at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue