"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Can Nationalism and Unity Co-Exist?

"As economic fortunes rise, so does nationalism.  This is understandable. Imagine that you lived in a country that had been poor and unstable for centuries.  And then, finally, things turn around and your nation is on the rise. You would be proud and anxious to be seen. This desire for recognition and respect is surging throughout the world. It may seem paradoxical that globalization and economic modernization are breeding political nationalism, but that is only if we view nationalism as a backward ideology, certain to be erased by the onward march of progress."

Jews refer to themselves a M.O.T., member of the tribe. Of course the Bible speaks of the twelve tribes of Israel quite a lot.  There are tribes in Arabia, Africa and this morning I read about the Rise of the Hans, the "dominant cohesive ethnic group in the world."  Then I read the above-mentioned quote in a new book, The Post-American World, by Fareed Zakaria.  His book brings up interesting points mostly about the rise of emerging markets and other powers such as Brazil, China and India that aren't necessarily choosing to go the "western" route nor are they choosing to be "rogue states." They are forging a middle path. 

Yet the talk about nationalism intrigued me.  As you know I've been reading about the Orthodox Church.  One problem the author mentioned is how when the Church was dispersed into other lands - say into the USA - many of the groups wanted to keep their own languages for the services. Greeks in America would ask for a priest from Greece and the services would be in Greek, a welcome tie to the home country.  The same with Russians and Serbians and others.  All of this just today and without my looking for related topics: a very nationalistic impression of Orthodoxy abroad, an article on the Hans of China that I just happened to come across when reading another article and then this rise of nationalism talk from Zakaria's book!  What are the odds?

Nationalism carving up the world

So what do you think of nationalism? Is it simply patriotism such as we often believe should be the default mode of any true-blooded American who hasn't fallen off the deep end into being one of those haters?  Is it disguised racism or bigotry; what with all that thinking that your race/tribe/culture is better than all the rest?  Is it just a genuine healthy pride in the things that set your group apart from others?  Your contribution to the world as a whole? Is there a healthy balance so that we don't get to Nazi extremes of thinking the best people must look a certain way and come from a "superior" bloodline?

Zakaria continues with, "Nationalism has always perplexed Americans.  When the United States involves itself abroad, it always believes that it is genuinely trying to help other countries better themselves.  From the Philippines and Haiti to Vietnam and Iraq, the natives' reaction to U.S. efforts has taken Americans by surprise. Americans take justified pride in their own country -- we call it patriotism -- and yet are genuinely startled when other people are proud and possessive of theirs."  (pg. 33)

So do you think of nationalism (or patriotism in America's case) as a "backward ideology" that should be exiting the world as the world gets more "flat" and global? Or is it, as Zakaria suggests, understandable as formerly poor countries want their time in the spotlight? 

From a spiritual point of view, do you believe nationalism (or tribalism) is a positive thing showcasing the goodness of the variety of people God created? Or is it negative because it erects walls and divides people according to physical or cultural traits when we should be trying to bring people together?  I recall when I was reading about Islam last year, Muhammad set out to create a new tribe - the ummah - which would welcome people from all backgrounds, all races, all cultures.  

Christianity also speaks of its universality and most Christians are proponents of making the Scripture available in the variety of languages of the world.  One of my favorite biblical passages about heaven speaks of people from all tribes, all nations, all tongues gathered around God's throne praising Him together!

Is nationalism/tribalism divisive and something that needs to be erased so that we can come together as equals? Or is there a place for nationalism?

How can we balance these things? Can we have both unity and nationalism?  Individually can we be both nationalistic and unifying in our outlook? If so, how?  What are your thoughts?


Wafa' said...

long time ago i used to have a believe about nationalisim i couldn't explain or put out in words, I prefer to be silenced about it cuz i know most people are against it, until i found more people who are like me and one of them- sorry forgot his name- put what i feel in great words " nationalism is a disease" . That's how i feel and it doesn't mean that those proud of their nations are bad or anything but i wish that people can see how nationalism is affecting us badly, affecting the world in a negative way.
I am not "proud" to be Saudi nor is "proud". It's a country i born in and have its nationality. does that mean the world mean less to me and my only concern would evolve around my nationality? hell, no.
Do i make sense?

Lat said...

Very interesting questions.

I think it's okay for people to have good opinions about who they are and where they belong esp in sharing culture and art but such feelings become wrong when they start to believe they are superior than others,be it language,race or nation.Because this notion of superiority is not only divisive but condemns the other race down like the Indian caste system for a example.

I think a nation should have a very mixed integrated population so that they are thoughtful and accept each other's culture and habits as belonging to one people and become a more understanding nation as a whole.So nationalism wouldn't be so divisive in that sense.Hope I make sense :) I've been drilled since young you know :) And I consider that good drilling!

Amber said...

I don't think that there's anything wrong with being proud of your heritage whether that's your country, tribe, ethnicity or whatever. It's a part of who we are and it's a crime when people lose their history.

The problem comes when it becomes more important than anything else. That's nationalism to me. The nation becomes your god, perfect and unable to do wrong. Everyone else is lesser than you because they're not your nationality. They have to change what they do to match your nation. And that's no good because it blinds the people to the faults of their country. No government is perfect and if we're unable to criticize it or the people within it then it will just feed on itself and get worse and worse.

Susanne said...

Wafa', yes, you make a lot of sense. I really like that you care about all people. Your recent post about non-Saudis getting Saudi citizenship shows me that you don't care for ONLY Saudis. I greatly appreciate your concern for others! And I appreciate what you stated here - thanks much!

Susanne said...

Lat, sounds like good drilling to me too! I agree that a mixed culture is a benefit in that we can appreciate the variety of people and yet come together as a whole. I wonder if it's good for people to live together yet keep their distinct ways of life (according to their culture) or if we should all blend together into one "new" culture that includes parts of all. So glad you shared your perspective on this topic!

Susanne said...

Amber, I loved your comment! Yes, that's how I feel. Samer and I were talking about this topic and I said somewhat the same thing. I mean the part about nationalism being taken too far and like it's all that consumes you and has become your god. I think it's fine to be proud of your heritage, but not at the expense of exalting it to godlike status or damning all the rest.

Thanks much for what you added. I love that the three who commented are from three different cultures. All of you had wonderful things to add! I appreciate your feedback on this topic!

Becky said...

Like you mentioned in your post, I think it's all a question of balance.

I see myself as a citizen of Denmark and a citizen of my world.

I'm proud to be Danish. I'm proud of many things Danish. I'm also ashamed of many things Danish. But this is where I grew up. These are "my" poets, philosophers, fairy tale writers, musicians, etc.
Hans Christian Andersen wrote a song about Denmark, in which he writes "du danske sprog du er min moders stemme, så sødt velsignet du mit hjerte når", translating to "you Danish language, you are the voice of my mother, so sweetly blessed you reach my heart". And this is true. Danish is MY language. It holds different connotations than English does to me. And I think it's important to keep these things in mind. The things that are unique and beautiful for each culture and each language and each place.
At the same time I see myself as a very global person, I've spend time in Europe, US and Australia, I have friends from all over the world. My English is almost as good as my Danish. I love learning about new cultures from all over the place and see myself as belonging everywhere and caring for everyone no matter where they are.
It IS possible to both embrace what's local and what's global, at least in my experience.

Susanne said...

Becky, that was a beautiful comment...a great testimony of yourself, if you will! :) Yes, I've noticed your excellent English! I appreciate what you had to share on this post. It's nice learning more about you this way! :)

Becky said...

Awww thank you Susanne :)

Suroor said...

"Nationalism is a disease" - a very wise woman once said that :)

Having pride in your nationality is good as long as we don't look down upon others.

Anonymous said...

History is written by the winners and i hope you all know that...only the nations with strong nationalistic feelings made history and reserved a high place in it, let the best nations win the places they deserve in history...peaceful nations were marginalized by the more powerful ones that's the truth...sorry about my poor english...I am from Romania and I AM PROUD OF IT!

Susanne said...

Welcome and thanks for your feedback! :)