Thursday, December 03, 2015

Thinking about Nationalism


I have written before about the relationship between nationalism and patriotism, how far too many crimes are committed in the name of these twisted sisters. Like the holy wars of the middle ages too many battles have been fought invoking these sisters as justification. One need only think of George W. Bush's proclamations for his invasion of Iraq. Too often calls to nationalism or patriotism silence those who disagree and make it difficult for any reasoned discussion. Think back to the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11. Those who questioned the motives or actions of the government were branded traitors or supporters of terrorism. "You are either with us or against us" became the mantra of the day.

This is one of the most depressing outcomes when patriotism and nationalism are invoked. Those who use them not only silence everyone else but cloak themselves in a manner that does not allow for any self reflection. They are by their own calls, patriots and therefore above reproach. At some point in the distant future historians will look back at the 20th-century and see nationalism and its handmaiden, patriotism as the cause for many of the wars of the century. 

I wonder if the rise of organizations like ISIL and Al Qada are not related to the rise of imperialist nationalist ideologies at the end of the 20th-century and the beginning of the 21st-century. Their propaganda certainly argues that they are fighting against Western ideals and imperialism. We have seen in the 20th-century that the wars of imperialist nationalism; including Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria are wars that can never be won. Fighting a war in someone else's land always leads to insurgencies. 

While those fighting these wars invoke the higher ideals of freedom and democracy, too often they ignore these ideals when the forms they take do not replicate those of the invading nation. Maybe we need to step back from all these foreign wars and allow the nations involved to fight their own battles. What would happen if Western governments withdrew arms, ammunition, and money from nations in need and allowed them to find their own way? Maybe it is time for nation-states who advocate freedom and democracy to work on that in their own countries, to address issues of poverty, crime and inequality at home before marching off to distant lands trying to impose their ideals in the name of freedom. In the absence of battles to fight I wonder what would happen if organizations like ISIL or Al Qada had to govern? Governance after all always requires compromise, trying to please as many as possible. The act of governance by its very nature could render the beast toothless. 

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