The first element of culture is land

Land is a vital element in any culture. People associate themselves with it. They are born on it; they walk, run and play on it; they build their homes on it; they plant their crops on it; they feed their cattle on it; they build stores and factories on it; and they are buried in it. Many national groups believe God gave their land to them and to them alone.

Because it is so important to them, people around the world regard the land on which they live and on which their ancestors lived as an essential part of their culture. People who have lived on a land for generations virtually worship it. This is their land and theirs alone. Germans are Germans because they live in Germany. The French because they live in France... and so on. It is an integral part of their culture. It makes them who they are.

It follows that an attack on the land that forms part of a cultural identity will illicit a strong response. We need look no further than the 9-11 attack, the first on American soil since Pearl Harbor, and the response that followed.

When we consider the potential for cultural conflict, therefore, the first element at which we should look is land. Who occupies the land? Do other groups claim a right to the land? Does a nation feel threatened by another nation that they believe wants to take over their land?

The potential for conflict also lies through land disputes within a country. Are there different cultural groups in the country that each claim control of the entire land as their own? ("This is our land." "No, it is ours.") Northern Ireland springs to mind, as does Syria. In some cases, different cultural groups might claim parts of a country (not the whole country) as their own. In such cases, the threat might come from the people living alongside them who might seek to invade or even take over their territory.

When assessing the potential for cultural conflict or when we are studying existing conflicts, therefore, we need firstly to take a close look at the land and how the people identify with it. It does not follow that differences over land will cause conflict, but it is an important factor that we need to take into account and is the first element that comprises a culture. In future blogs, we will look at the other elements of culture before moving on to see how these elements cause conflict.

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