Social Matter 3 – Nationalism and how it’s changing the world.
Nationalism has been associated with the nastiest of wars in the history and looks like it’s back to haunt us like a bad dream. The unexpected rise of Trump; UK’s Brexit; victory of the hard-line extreme right party in the Cyprus parliament; the narrow defeat of Austria’s Freedom Party presidential candidate, who gained 49.7% of the vote; France’s National Front’s newly energized principle of “national priority;” Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star movement candidate Virginia Raggi’s swooping victory in the run-off contest for the position of Rome’s mayor; and the growing popularity of ethno-nationalism (India for Hindus) trend in India, all point towards a conservative political and national movement that has gone international.
What is Nationalism?
I don’t think we understand the meaning of Nationalism very well. We often confuse it with patriotism. The difference, though, is quite simple – Patriotism is a feeling of inclusiveness and responsibility, but nationalism is a feeling of blind faithfulness to a cause that often comes with a more devastating end result. History would agree with this.
As Charles De Gaulle put it, “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first. You can read some more amazing nationalism quotes on Goodreads.
Nationalists have a strong desire for national identity. We can sit and argue about what really defines a nation, but I would assume that someone who seeks nationalism believes that citizenship in a nation should be limited to one religion, ethnic group or culture, and the presence of minorities should accommodate the sentiments of this created national identity and not the vice versa. The conflict arises when the leaders or activists who support nationalism see a need to remove elements from the nation that do not adhere to their version of national identity. We’ve seen examples of this in the eradication of Jews from Germany and the more recent beef ban wave in India, which tried to take a nationalist turn.
Nationalism isn’t necessarily bad. It doesn’t have to be. It’s a powerful force. It’s a sentiment that brings folks together, especially in challenging times. The idea of a national identity is to celebrate a country’s culture, history, secularism, and its people. But more often than not the national pride takes an unexpected racial, religious, ethnic, or cultural turn, and brings about the negative side of nationalism.
What did History teach us about Nationalism?
There’s an interesting quote by philosopher George Santayana that goes something like “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Do we remember our past? It sure seems like we don’t, because we most certainly are headed in the same direction, with potentially gruesome consequences.
Nationalism, as we all know, isn’t a new bee, it’s been around for a long time. That is how we created boundaries and divided the world into countries and regions, each claiming our own. All continents and countries have their own history of nationalism; some horrifying and some inspiring. It can be traced back to the ancient Hebrews, who considered themselves as the chosen people of the world with a common cultural history, and created a sense of nationalism based on superiority. The ancient Greeks revelled in something that can be termed as Romantic nationalism, an organic sense of loyalty towards its political community. Ethnocentrism, as we can see played a vital role in nationalism, then. It is what is shaping nationalism today to a great extent.
The growth of nationalism as a political expression came from the notorious Bonaparte – Napoleon. He advocated French nationalism based upon the three ideals of the French Revolution – liberty, equality, and fraternity. He justified French expansionism and military campaigns on the grounds that France had the right to spread the ideals of the Revolution across Europe. His invasions of other nations had the effect of spreading the concept of nationalism outside the borders of France.
India’s tryst with nationalism is quite interesting, given the array of invasions it has witnessed. Please bare in mind, Indian nationalism is not the same as Hindu nationalism. Narendra Modi might issue comments like, “ I was born a Hindu and you can say I’m a Hindu nationalist” and Rajnath Singh to further the comments might say things like, “A Muslim is a Muslim nationalist, a Christian is a Christian nationalist”. But the point these two statements are trying to make are dangerous. They are referring to “religious nationalism”. The idea of religious nationalism is to cut up an existing nation into religious pockets and then throw those pockets that don’t match with the set religious identity of the nation – this shouldn’t be the basis of Indian nationalism. Sir! No sir!
Indian nationalism, in the past, was seen primarily against the British Raj started by the revolt of 1857. The revolt led to the creation of a more solid nationalist movement around the country post 1905. Indian nationalism helped us get freedom from the Britishers. Muslim and Hindu nationalism gave us India and Pakistan.
Can Religious and Ethno-Nationalism Accommodate Globalization?
No nationalism, no democracy – we all get that. But what about religious nationalism and ethno-nationalism? Is there a democracy with these two in play, especially in secular countries like ours and the USA. More importantly, is there room for globalization and cultural inclusiveness with these trending types of nationalisms?
Before the 19th century, Oxford dictionary defined Nationalism as, “Advocacy of or support for the interests of one’s own nation, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.” That was before the digital age, the age of globalization, and inclusiveness. After the World War II, the global goal was to forge alliances like the UN, EU, IMF, WTO, NAFTA to bring peace and prosperity to the world as a whole, while also keeping the individual interest of a nation in mind.
But, the inclination of independent nations towards religious and ethno-nationalism is creating a world that is connected digitally, but separated into religious and ethnic boundaries. And the boundaries are only closing in.
Imagine a time when India is not just divided culturally into different states, but every state is further divided into religion, caste, creed, and foreign dwellings. Or worse, a situation where India is declared a Hindu Raj that doesn’t associate with people of other religion of the world. Is that an ideal setting? Aren’t we only tearing our country apart in the name of nationalism?
So What’s Fueling this Kind of a Nationalism Across the Globe?
A unique facet of nationalism is that it doesn’t allow for a self-appointed elite to govern the people, but instead requires the people to rule themselves. But what we see trending in India, Iran, Pakistan, USA, and other parts of the world is completely opposite of this idea of nationalism. We are borrowing our understanding of nationalism from our so-called politicians, religious gurus, at times even the military. We are letting them exploit us and are fooled to believe that we are nationalists, working towards making our nation better.
We see politicians, conservatives, and religious activists on the rise, trying to spin the wheel and recreate the disastrous history of our world. But where are these politicians coming from, who are their supporters, who is backing this propaganda? Us.
Whether we know it or not, we are fueling it; by letting these conservative leaders come to power; by letting them build walls between nations, by letting them drag us away from globalization and secularism, and by letting us become puppets of their ideologies. We’ve given the power to the law in our countries to even impose nationalism on us. I don’t know why else the national anthem was made compulsory to play before a movie screening or why movie producers were nudged to display a thank you message for the Indian army. Respect aside, aren’t all these just conservative methods to tell you that no matter what you think, you have to be a part of this nationalist agenda?
But apart from these obvious reasons, there’s more to play here. According to Harun Onder, an economist at the World Bank, nationalism is also driven due to an increase in people displaced across borders, a slow economic recovery, and anxiety about terrorism. Another factor, which we saw play quite well for the likes of Donald Trump, is age. Many developed and developing nations are in the grasp of a big demographic shift towards older populations, and aging populations experience economic pressures that can lead to more nationalistic tendencies. You can read more about it here.
I would love to hear of more such reasons that you think is responsible for the rise of nationalism at a global level.
Where are we Headed With Our Regained Love For Nationalism?
Into the ditch or the depths of hell, whatever you think is worse. How do we stop this war that we’re trying to create between globalization and nationalism? Both proving to be at different ends of a sword. One day we’re creating global communication tools, and just the next day we’re going and burning that shit down, because that product or service wasn’t created in our country and doesn’t match our national identity?
Do you sit and wonder why all of a sudden so many countries around the world are wearing the nationalist label? It’s terrifying. Because on one hand we are taught to respect humans of all races, color, ethnicity, culture, and religion, and on the other hand, humans are once again being shoved into these brackets, and being driven out of nations on these grounds.
The kind of nationalism we are exercising today rarely leads to anything good; it is what led Hitler to claim all those innocent lives, it is what drove Napoleon to go on a killing spree, it is what is driving certain Islamic groups to take over peaceful nations and convert them into graveyards; it is what is creating the idea of India for Hindus and America for the white Americans; it is what drives organizations like the KKK and divides the world into colors.
How will you stop this growing nationalism from causing another World War? How will you stop the globalization of nationalist sentiments, which defy everything that globalization stands for? Let’s try and not get carried away by nationalist sentiments and cut the world up further.
Do go through the references if you want to dig deeper into this. Some very interesting opinions and researches.