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Nationalism – Vile and Violent


“It is the aspect of a whole people as an organized power. This organization incessantly keeps up the insistence of the population on becoming strong and efficient.” said Rabindranath Tagore, however my favourite definition of a nation is by William R. Inge “A nation is a society united by a delusion about its ancestry and by common hatred of its neighbours.”

Patriotism and Nationalism
Patriotism and Nationalism were often used synonymously, around middle of last century people started defining both of those differently. One (patriotism) being a positive trait and the other (nationalism) being a negative trait. Hence when I quote certain people who lived before middle of last century, they would use the word patriot which if used today would certainly refer to a nationalist. 

So let us try to understand the difference between patriotism and nationalism, starting with George Orwell, “Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.” The author and journalist Sydney J. Harris, differentiated between the two as, “The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.” Or as Tagore defined “Nationalism is the training of a whole people for a narrow ideal; and when it gets hold of their minds it is sure to lead them to moral degeneracy and intellectual blindness.” Charles de Gaulle distinguished them as, “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.” But, my personal favourite definition of nationalism is by a  British bureaucrat Geoff Mulgan, “All of nationalism can be understood as a kind of collective narcissism.”

Keeping the definitions above in mind we can easily figure out the nationalists and patriots among ourselves by looking at our attitude towards our neighbouring states. That is why I believe that EU is a dream project and must be kept and maintained at every cost, London is the second largest French city, this was unimaginable before EU. What worries me is that today in India, we can easily see the narrow ideal that Tagore referred to in form of Modi led BJP government. Award Winning author Miguel Syjuco said, “I don’t believe in nationalism. I think it’s a bunch of slogans. It’s a bunch of poor attempts at creating pride. My problem with nationalism is that it becomes exclusionary. We start to exclude people.” Today, in India several leaders, parliamentarians and even members of cabinet are making exclusionary statements, giving out certificates on allegiance to India to their fellow citizens, asking for dead women of a particular community to be dug from graves and then raped.

I have never had a problem with Patriotism, as I am a patriot myself. Of course everyone loves the place he was born, the language he speaks, the culture and traditions he follows, my problem is with the nationalists. I think they are proud, vile, violent (physically or verbally), they do not have any respect for others or their feelings, no sense of reason, logic, justice and fair play, their conversations are usually rants devoid of any bit of intelligence, they are abusive and generally don’t know how to behave like decent humans.

Who is a Nationalist?
George Bernard Shaw had said, “Patriotism (Nationalism) is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it….” Arthur Schopenhauer explained a nationalist as “Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.” Voltaire expounded him as, “So it is the human condition that to wish for the greatness of one’s fatherland is to wish evil to one’s neighbours.” He later expanded this further, “It is lamentable, that to be a good patriot (nationalist) one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.” Pascal saw the stupidity in being a nationalist, “Can anything be stupider than that a man has the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of a river and his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have not quarrelled with him?”

All nationalists are complete and utter hypocrites as George Orwell correctly described them, “All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side . . . The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them” Whatever, your own country has done is fine, but when the other country does the same thing, it is despicable, the mentality that eminent historian Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius described as “Our side has agents. Their side has spies.” 

And the hate nationalists are filled with for other humans on account of the other human being born somewhere else is inhumane if not outright sickening. Nationalists on two sides that hate each other without realising that a few minutes after birth, someone else decided their names, nationalities, religions and sects. And then taught them to spend rest of life defending something they did not choose in the first place. Of course such corrupted minds are not in intelligentsia as Von Goethe had described “National hatred is something peculiar. You will always find it strongest and most violent where there is the lowest degree of culture.” But, unfortunately the world’s largest democracy is being ruled by lowest degree of culture, hearing the rude and ill mannered responses many ministers give. And, when they can’t defend their own policies they say something to the tune of that soldiers are dying on border and you are complaining about this. It has become the butt of many jokes in circulation, one I read recently goes like this, a husband complained to the wife that there was too much salt in the curry, to which wife replied that our soldiers are dying on border and you are complaining about salt, after few days the wife complains that the husband didn’t get her any gift from his trip to London, to which the husband replied that the wife had never thought about wife of a soldier who froze to death. Samuel Johnson was completely right when he said, “Patriotism (Nationalism) is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” And indeed, all nationalists are scoundrels of one level or another.

Usually, people are not born nationalists, they are programmed or manufactured, rarely by parents. Professor Benedict Anderson blames it on the media, “Print language is what invents nationalism, not a particular language per se”. And, often nation states themselves promote it, as author and human rights activist Byrant McGill puts it, “Nationalism as we know it, is the result of a form of state-sponsored branding.”

What Nationalism leads to….
Nobody in Europe doubts that Nationalism was one of the big reasons for the First World War and the biggest reason for the Second World War. Many who lived during those wars abhorred it, “Patriotism (Nationalism) is the virtue of the vicious” said Oscar Wilde. Einstein regarded nationalism as infantile and measles (measles was a deadly disease then), he said that, “Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism (nationalism) – how passionately I hate them!” Eminent Social Psychologist, Prof. Michael Billig has an advice for us, “If the future remains uncertain, we know the past history of nationalism. And that should be sufficient to encourage a habit of watchful suspicion.”

I have hope, as people change, Rabindranath Tagore was born in a family of nation worshippers and himself was one but he saw the inhumanity in nationalists and nationalism and became one of the most vehement opposers of nationalism, “Even though from childhood I had been taught that the idolatry of Nation is almost better than reverence for God and humanity. I believe I have outgrown that teaching, and it is my conviction that my countrymen will gain truly their India by fighting against that education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity.” Recently, while reading an article on Tagore’s view on nationalism the writer summarised Tagore’s views on nationalism as follows, “Tagore took the view that nationalism was only an “organisation of politics and commerce” (Nationalism 7), that brings “harvests of wealth” (Nationalism 5), or “carnivals of materialism” (Soares 113), by spreading tentacles of greed, selfishness, power and prosperity, or churning up the baser instincts of mankind, and sacrificing in the process “the moral man, the complete man . . . to make room  for the political and commercial man, the man of limited purpose” (Nationalism 9). Nationalism, according to Tagore, is not “a spontaneous self-expression of man as social being,” where human relationships are naturally regulated, “so that men can develop ideals of life in co-operation with one another” (Nationalism 5), but rather a political and commercial union of a group of people, in which they congregate to maximise their profit, progress and power; it is “the organised self-interest of a people, where it is least human and least spiritual” (Nationalism 8). Tagore deemed nationalism a recurrent threat to humanity, because with its propensity for the material and the rational, it trampled over the human spirit and human emotion; it upset man’s moral balance, “obscuring his human side under the shadow of soul-less organisation” (Nationalism 9).”

Finally this is any excellent piece of work on Nationalism done by New York Times…


Humanist, Muslim, Doabi, Hyderabadi, Londoner, European. Urdu Lover