By Promod Puri
I have been an anti-national ever since I understood the nature of its allegiance to the country one belongs to. At the same time, I am not a patriot either with its blurred image as it is often a consequence of nationalism.
Patriotism and nationalism have obscure borderline between them. It is a “problematic pair” to find independent definitions to isolate each concept. Both the words are synonyms to each other according to their dictionary explanations. Still, certain attempts have been made to detach the two.
Nationalism arises from the word nation. As such it seeks love, devotion, pride and unconditional loyalty for it. This commitment must be confined within a nation’s borders. It is an outright, and avid engagement with the country one resides in.
Nationalism also seeks pride in the nation’s identities contained in monolithic societies.
One religion, one language, and one culture dominate the monolithic societies. Together these are showcased to represent the overall nationalistic character of the nation. The politics of the country are espoused and steered around the sensitivities linked with these aspects.
However, in the universality of contemporary society, nationalism has a confined perspective. It denies or ignores the fast-emerging reality of multicultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious expressions of nations. In the nationalism of the majority, minorities’ share is limited or unimportant.
As technology, internet, and social media are the current factors cementing the multi-facet character of the world’s societies, the sentiment of nationalism is not much of an appeal.
Moreover, nationalism thins out when people migrate due to political, economic and other reasons or as refugees. It is often a dilemma for immigrants to settle in host countries to pick one national loyalty and reject the other.
Nationalism has lost its impact because no single identities are monopolizing cosmopolitan populations. But it is used as a political tool to arouse the religious, cultural and linguistic sentiments of the majority community.
Nationalism leads to the political exploitation of the dominating community apprehensive of being overwhelmed by the population mix of multiple and distinctive identities.
Xenophobia is thus forged thru the nationalistic politics.
Governments are elected in a manufactured atmosphere of fear and hatred for minorities, foreigners, and refugees. Enemies are concocted within a nation where bigotry, racism, and injustice are encouraged and played for political sovereignty.
Albert Einstein said: “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”
Nationalism finds accomplice in patriotism for political gains and opportunism. In this behavior, patriotism becomes a victim of nationalism.
Patriotism is derived from the word patriot. Its character is better understood in valor, bravery, sacrifice, duty and devotion toward the nation and its citizens.
The purity of patriotism lies in the concerns and care of the nation’s people, devoting and even sacrificing for their protection and peace irrespective of their class, caste, religious or cultural affiliations. It encourages pride in the achievements of the nation while seeking a critical analysis of its failures which even involves governing leadership.
A changing behavior has been observed toward the concept of patriotism among school kids in the United States recently. According to a study by Professor Jane Lo of Florida State University, “students opt out of the ritual of saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.”
Further according to the professor, “a public opinion poll conducted by the Foundation for Liberty and American Greatness suggests that young people see the flag, less as a symbol to be proud of and more as a symbol of what is wrong with the country. If more students are associating the flag with flaws in the system, it would explain why some students opt out of standing for the pledge of allegiance or other celebratory acts.”
Patriotism, nevertheless, is an evocation to support and shield the parochial aspect of nationalism. As it keeps subtle binding with nationalism, military patriotism is manifested.
But military patriotism induces an ever-escalating global war budget in the name of “defense.”
As patriotism is a major motivating factor, armed forces are raised and maintained with the spending of billions and trillions of dollars for the “defense.”
The question is: defense from whom?
Countries are not being invaded by other countries anymore. That era, which dominated the histories of humanity, ended with the Second World War 73 years ago.
The thirst of the political Left and Right ideologies for political dominance and expansionism are not the factors either. That period was over with the end of the Cold War between the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc in the late last century.
What is aimed now is the business or corporate expansionism. The reason being an ever-increasing appetite of capitalism which significantly impacts both the democratic and communist political systems. Business-political nexus is thus created.
In this expansionist development over the last several decades, borders for battleground are not needed. But the war industry’s clout keeps the borders hostile. Aggressive patriotism, infused with nationalism, is set up across the borderlines.
From that perspective, military patriotism is a deadly commitment.
The eighteenth-century French philosopher Voltaire said, “It is lamentable, that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.”
We can admit that patriotism has been a motivating factor in the service of humanity. Both nationalism and patriotism have historical contributions toward pride, unity, independence, and sovereignty of a nation.
But the world has changed comprising of varied demographic characters. Nationalism and patriotism are now divisive concepts within a nation’s borders. Most fights and conflicts worldwide are happening within a country, not between nations.
When nationalism stirrups patriotism, the latter develops into a chauvinistic tool of power politics.
Both nationalism and patriotism relate only to the confines of the nation’s border, while the world thru technology, mass communication, and social media is fast emerging a cosmopolitan mix of one world- community.
“Our true nationality is mankind,” H.G. Wells
As such, our concerns and issues are now at the global level of wellness of all humanity. This empathetic awareness creates respect and understanding among peoples of the world irrespective of class, caste, religious or societal differences.
In this concern, our environments, which have no space in the nationalistic and patriotic jingoism, are also equal partners seeking their attention and protection.
As we are fast developing into a multi-facet global community, what we need is humanitarianism and environmentalism without the caging borders of nationalism, and the obscurity of patriotism.
Promod Puri is a Vancouver-based writer and author of Hinduism Beyond Rituals, Customs, And Traditions. Websites: progressivehindudialogue.com, promodpuri.com, and promodpuri.blogspot.com