& occasionally about other things, too...

Friday, February 28, 2014

Patriotism v/s Nationalism

In his insightful though not unbiased book What Went Wrong? The clash between Islam andmodernity in the Middle East, Bernard Lewis, the British American historian, makes a challenging observation while assessing the impact of western ideas on the Ottoman Empire. 

Incidentally, the book was dismissed as being too simplistic by Edward Said.

Bernard Lewis
Lewis writes, "The impact of Western example and Western ideas also brought new definitions of identity and consequently new allegiance and aspirations. Two ideas were especially important, both new in a culture where identity was basically religious and allegiance normally dynastic.

"The first was that of patriotism, coming from Western Europe...and favoured by the younger Ottoman elites, who saw in an Ottoman patriotism a way of binding together the heterogeneous populations of the empire in a common love of country expressed in a common allegiance of its ruler.

"The second, from Central and Eastern Europe, was nationalism, a more ethnic and linguistic definition of identity, the effect of which in the Ottoman political community was not to unify but to divide and disrupt."

This distinction is not often made and almost never understood. In the last decade-and-a-half, both nationalism and patriotism have remained central to public discourse. 

Post 9/11 the flag-waving, bumper-sticker variety of American patriotism has drawn both derision and delight.

Nationalism is a different issue. It faces twin challenges – globalization and ethnicity. Globalisation appears to be making nationalities and national boundaries obsolete if not completely irrelevant. 

Equally, rising ethnicity seems to be sharply redefining nationalism. On another level, nationalism - perhaps in self-defense - is increasingly becoming strident and militant.

In India, nationalism continues to dominate political and public discourse. It is used to justify the dominance of the elite. But the system is indicating signs of uneasiness with the hegemony of nationalism. 

It isn't just the "problem areas" of the North-East, Kashmir and the Maoist-controlled middle India (or the Punjab and Assam earlier) it is the growing alienation of the people of the country with obsessive politics of the last two decades.

It is this discomfort perhaps that has led to flag-waving patriotism becoming more acceptable with the people, because it does not seek any major commitment from them, whereas nationalism does. 

In a slightly different context this phenomenon is also evident with the Indian diaspora.

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