Red, White and Black


On Nationalism
13 August, 2006, 12:54 am
Filed under: Pakistan

The 60th independence of Pakistan is just a day away and there is an evident display of patriotism and nationalist fervor all over the country. As the independence day draws closer, you witness an hike in the wave of patriotism that runs across the nation. Road side stalls spring up that sell patriotic souvenirs of all sort, the media begins to air patriotic programs and national songs grace the airwaves. All of this is the harmless display of nationalism, but we as a nation have developed a rather a dark side too – a rather dangerous streak of nationalism.

This particular form of nationalism breeds on self-glorification and the demonization of the enemy. A natural consequence of this behaviour is the cultivation of bigotry and xenophobia in our society. No, I don’t think that I am exaggerating. Just go and question an average Pakistani youth: what does 14th August mean to you?. He will inevitably launch into a diatribe about deliverance from the ‘atrocious’ Hindu raj, the evils that the Muslims could have faced in the ‘Hindu’ Indian society and the emergence of a free society. The trouble is that even 59 years after the creation of our state we still identify ourselves in relation to our eastern neighbours.


Our whole identity, our sense of patriotism and nationalism seems to largely dictated relative to what happened 59 years. It does not derive its legitimacy from who we are and what we want for our country, but in contrast it is largely dictated by who we are not. The unfortunate consequence is that we are unable to look beyond that and develop the sense of nationalism and patriotism from within ourselves. A sad state of affairs it is.

This was just one aspect of it. There are numerous occasions, where this detrimental attitude of ours clouds our attitudes and mindsets. For example, consider the way we end up treating Jinnah. Yes, he is the father of the nation but our treatment of him nears worship! We cannot bear to hear anything that may cloud his perfect personality or his perfect ideals. He is but super-human to us and we cannot bear to accept that he may actually be human and have some flaws! What is worse in our near-worship treatment of his personality, rarely do we care to take heed to his words of wisdom! Ironically enough, at the end of the day he is just a national leader – the father of the nation who every patriotic Pakistani must adore.

A more damning case for blind belief resulting from extreme doses of nationalistic ideology is the way we treat the entire history of partition of the sub-continent. It is painted in black and white – the innocent Muslims versus the evil and scheming Hindus. The two nation theory is presented as the bedrock of our country’s existence that cannot be questioned in any case. And we are duty-bound to honour and treat it as the Guiding Principle that defines our identity and our vision of the region. There are obvious flaws in this approach. Though all of this makes fantastic material for the production of nationalistic and patriotic individuals, but it thoroughly limits their vision and the way they view the subcontinent. Moreover, it does not allow them to adapt their ideologies according to the vicissitudes of time. They are not allowed to re-question and reassign their identity. The very imperatives of this sort of nationalism demand that the very basis of the country’s ideology is not questioned! But the trouble is that this very nationalism dictates that our identity and culture is defined not from within ourselves, but in relation to India and what we are not! This means that we are hesitant to embrace our own history and culture [read the Mohendejaro and Taxila connection] and thus we end up manufacturing an identity!

The consequence of all of this? Not only do we begin to develop a crisis of identity but we also develop collective sense of xenophobia. By no means, do I argue that nationalism and patriotism should be purged from society. But I do believe that a critical review of our conception of these concepts in the need of the hour. And this independence day is probably not too inappropriate an event to do so.

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16 Comments so far
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Our definition of who we are is derived by the ‘otherness’ of those that surround us and this is the crux of all conflicts that are plaguing the world today.
BD in his latest post brings up the alternative of urban loyalties in place of nationalistic ones. But even that will only be possible once we can define ourselves for who we are rather than by who we are not!
Great and timely write Ayesha .

Comment by I Me My

to some extent I do agree with you. but it is not only us, unfortunately everywhere in the world, it seems the demonization of the enemy or the existence of an enemy is required to make staunch believers out of people. unfortunately this is accompanied by a total loss of the real purpose and we r left with empty patriotism.
on the other hand I do not thik that an average pakistani, especially youth, gives even a damn about 2 nation theory or creation of pakistan itself. their response to the question is a total crammed and rhetoric version of TNT from a pak studies book. If they really had bothered considering enemies on the eastern side or enemies trans-Atlantic, they wud neither be playing devdas and admiring shah rukh khan nor wearing DKNY and FCUK.

Comment by maria

(broke up my comment(s) for ur sake) anyway so far as Jinnah is cocnerned, I think you are a little misguided here. In my own opinion and by my observation, he is not esteemed enough, neither as a leader nor as a human being. On the other hand we have those hard headed islamic zealots denoucing his character based on their own ideas of ‘did he pray” and ‘did he do hajj’ or soemthing equally ridiculous. the one person who is ACTUALLY exhalted way beyond he shud be, is perhaps Allama Iqbal whom most people thik of even as a saint or something.
but i do agree that even the respect for Quaid has become a cult, instead of following or listening to what the man had to offer as wisdom. So far as his leadership is concerned, I do believe that he was admirable and honestly taken whatever seemed the most practical or feasible steps at the time.

if we r on one side of the spectrum, every single indian friend of mine does not believe in the partition or creation of pakistan,. there r just two sides to every story 🙂

what needs to be done in our society and many others is enforcing the idea that to sustain our own beliefs we dont need to denounce others :D. but u saw what such a simplleee idea ensued on my own blog…a lame debate and accusations

Comment by maria

@ Iditis: totally agreed.

@ Maria:

I agree it is not just us, but the point remains that we are doing something very wrong here. There is a huge difference in being patriotic and proud of our country and being patriotic and jingoistic [ to the extent that we as a nation are]. And this beings to be really harmful when it begins to cloud our judgement and attitudes. We live in times volatile enough.

On the youth and TNT: Okay, let me clarify this point. Yes, owing to the manner it is indoctrinated through the school texts the majority do not dare to question the facts that are taught to them. The simplistic categorisation of evil vs good is set in their mindsets. While they may still enjoy watching devdas and love shahrukh khan – but they will still hate india, the identity, the country . Why? Simply because the state texts told them all of those exaggerated stories.

Therefore, when they attempt to define Pakistani identity – that is invariably the anti-Indian identity. For them the Pakistani culture could never share North Indian culture- because Indian culture is taboo. Pakistan cannot celebrate religions like Buddhism and the great civilizations of Mohendejaaro because they would then contradict our Muslim identity. And didn’t the TNT tell them that Pakistan was created because Muslims were different and consequently cannot own any of these things? If you further argue, then you would be told that you cannot question any of those suppositions because that would be treacherous! Thisis the sort of over-zealous nationalism that you would end up seeing.

On Jinnah Yes, I agree that he probably was not as esteemed as we have made him to be. But that’s just the point isn’t it? Our over-zealous reverence to all of our leaders! It is as if we are trying just too hard to be proud of something. Inevitably, we end up over doing it!

In fact, as was pointed out here in this comparison that Jinnah may not have been accorded the same reverence had he not died so early in Pakistan’s life.

The simple point, I am trying to make is that in our country nationalism is over-rated and derived from a faulty basis. So yes, we do indeed need to enforce the idea that to sustain our own beliefs we don’t need to denounce others. And yes, this idea will not be easily taken by the majority. But that by no means implies that we should not shout it out to the rest of the world. There is always hope that someone might listen?

Comment by ayesha

i totally agree with you that this is the wrong way of instilling nationality in anyone. and we r doing it as well. the fact that the world does it doesnt make it right, but it prevents us from ‘standing out’ 🙂 and u might understand my own defensive as u ve seen what happened on my blog :).
the point is this ayesha, pak studies books do NOT make us anti – indian, per se it is not ‘written’ there anywhere that indians were evil or whatever. the books do state some facts, and in my opinion some not very over exaggerated ones, which come across as anti-indian. however the fact remains that we are, in essence, living in a world of politics. as i pointed out somewhere else, how our politics stand today and in the past with india is a totally different issue. in my opinion that bit shud be omitted from school books at least. and no, most pakistanis i ve met are NOT anti indian, and quiet a few ARE anti – indian– but then they r anti everything. it is that part of youth, where we breed fanatics. they r anti everything that doesnt fall within their narrow spectrum and that does not have to do with nationalism or patriotism, it is a mixed effect, coming from fanatic mullahs, our culture of ‘what ur elders did was always right’ and then facts add fuel to the fire and thats what they become.

so far as jinnah and everyone is concerned, they r NOT respected, they have been made into a cult, i doubt anyone in pk even knows what Jinnah actually stood for or did.

@TNT
it is not that we dont DARE to question…80% of the youth does not give a damn! i dont think u can disagree here. they just dont care. like a built-in thing 14tha aug is for them as eid is, or ramadan is or any other thing is.

it appears to me that day by day, we r breeding types of people in pakistan. a huge percentage of those about whom u can say

‘BA keya, naukar hoe,pension milee or mar gaye’ — they dont care. either they r wanna-bes, or they r KOOL aka plain ignorant and apathetic. and its not only pakistan, thats a general youth trend everywhere in the world,

then we have a small no of those who r fanatics, downright fanatics, they hate and discourage everything unfamiliar to them, they dont know wut they r talking abt and they dont dare question anything they r told. these r the ones who shout ‘kaafir’ if neone interprets quran on their own, they make blasphemy laws, they hate india and everything outside pakistan and so on and so forth. and then there is a small percentage (and u in there 😛 ) who r well ‘different’ lol, they question, they interpret and some of them with questions unanswered either become frustrated or too cynical 🙂 . the above character is NOT the general character of pakistanis.

Comment by maria

another few things about TNT, YES tnt tells us we were diferent and pakistan was created, but so what? that does NOT anywhere say that this means u go out and hate indians or hindus. it is NOT tnt which is the problem here.

also so far as india is considered in particular, notice that our differences are political, i am not too crazy about india as a country either, and i dont think u r either, does NOT mean we hate india, and certainly not indians. our differences are political and at a political level u r allowed to do ‘politics’. however agaain, children should not be taught differences, they shud be taught who they r first and then as adults i think they figure out differences themselves pretty well 🙂 .

i also think that a huge anti-indian feeling, if any, arise from the general concept of – ‘everyone against muslims’ conspiracy 🙂 , and in this case, u ve to agree they r not COMPLETELY off the track if not quiet on it.

Comment by maria

You may be interested in the critique of nationalism and patriotism made by Rabindranath Tagore. It is one of the few well reasoned, and perhaps the only one in the sub- continent, that articulated such a sentiment. Iqbal, whose Sare Jahan se Accha is sung as the National Song of India, was another one, though his criticism of nationalism was made from a pan- Islamic viewpoint.

I could not find the text of the essay “On Nationalism” by Tagore on the internet, but here are a couple of extracts:

“The Nation, with all its paraphernalia of power and prosperity, its flags and pious hymns, its blasphemous prayers in the churches, and the literary mock thunders of its patriotic bragging, cannot hide the fact that the Nation is the greatest evil for the Nation …. ”

“With the growth of power the cult of the self-worship of the Nation grows in ascendancy, and the individual willingly allows the Nation to take donkey-rides upon his back, and there happens the anomaly which must have such disastrous effects, that the individual worships with all sacrifices a god which is morally much inferior to himself”.

Ironically the national anthems of two countries- India and Bangladesh, have been adapted from Tagore !

Comment by bhupinder singh

No, I don’t agree that histroy books do not explicitly state that Indians are evil and bad. Only the target of all such rehtoric is the Hindu [and by popular conception he is the Indian]. A few years ago, a report was carried out by SDPI entitled ““The Subtle Subversion” that pointed out the major flaws in the secondary school curricula that is fed to the children. It carries out a systematic study of the national curricula and notes [amongst numerous other issues, page 95 onwards]:

It is clear that in the presence of such material [on that promotes militarism and glorification of war], peace and tolerance cannot be promoted.The minds that have been taught to hate do not have always to hate the enemy they have been told to hate; they can create ‘the other’ from amongst themselves and exercise
violence against anyone, even against their own countrymen. Violence comes naturally to those to whom the military and the use of force have been glorified.

As mentioned earlier in this report, our history is distorted to create an ‘enemy’ image in our curriculum document and text books. These documents and books glorify wars and military heroism. It is interesting to note that this started in the 1970s when the civilian and democratically elected regime of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto introduced a full two-year course on ‘Fundamentals of War’ and ‘Defence of Pakistan’ for class XI and XII respectively.

Moving on it states the following:

The textbooks then respond in the following way to the above curriculum instructions:
1. Hindu has always been an enemy of Islam.
2. The religion of the Hindus did not teach them good things — Hindus did not respect women.
3. Hindus worship in temples which are very narrow and dark places, where they worship idols. Only one person can enter the temple at a time. In our mosques, on the other hand, all Muslims can say their prayers together.
4. Muslim children of India wear shalwar kameez or shirt and pajama and Hindu children wear Dhoti also.
5. The Hindu Lived in Small and dark houses.

and the list goes on and on.

Is that still not anti-Indian enough? Notice the mindset it festers? That is the basic problem. We are trained to be prejudiced just about everything that is not like us! Heck, we don’t even spare a thought to the minor Hindu majority that lives amongst us. This is primarily why I have major issues with the nationalism that is indoctrinated in our country. For the ideological basis is thoroughly flawed and does not work towards the creation of objective and un-prejudiced citizens.

In the light of all of this, I am not so sure that not many people would be left who have not been prejudiced against India [largely] and non Muslims on a broader perspective. I sure do hope that you are right about it – but my interaction with the most outspoken people has only been extremely disappointing and worrisome.

Though, [after some thought] I do agree with the general character of the youth of Pakistan that you paint. But still I don’t see it makes the above stated realities any less grave!

yes, we are eternally afraid of the YYY [Yankee, Yindu and Yehudi] nexus and justifiably so in some cases – but again the same question does it justify all of the above? In my opinion, no.

Comment by ayesha

Thank you for the tip off, bhupinder! Nationalism probably has proved itself to be one of the most paradoxical ideologies mankind has given birth to.

Comment by ayesha

my opinion was and is based on what I have studied as a child and for the 13 years I have studied in the school (pak studies every year) this is what i have read in these books
1- hindus lived in dark and small houses
2- due to caste system a lot of the new muslims were shooders or untouchables
and some other things..here and there
now here is what i meant by earlier comment

notice that in saying hindus lived in small and dark houses, it DOES NOTmean hindus r bad. specifically, as I remember this statement was there when describing the muslim architecture in india. you have to be digging between the lines or something to get to that

so far as the caste syetm and sattee and all that is concerned, it is NOT anti indian or anti HINDU… r u trying to hint that saying Christians believe in jesus being son of God is anti-christian? it isnt! its a fact being stated in context of the early spread of islam.

Muslim children of India wear shalwar kameez or shirt and pajama and Hindu children wear Dhoti also. — ayesha how is this anti indian at ALL?

so far as the enemy image is concerned, i DO agree that it is created, but not because it is EXPLICITLY stated per se. but the point is when u discuss kashmir and u discuss 1965 and 1971 and siachin.. what on earth r u supposed to say there? “oh btw we r having a friendly war”??? thats what I mean when I said, REMOVE THESE topics. they shudnt be there for children to grow up with. I dont know if indian texts teach kids this or not, but on our side this is a stupid approach. As i ve said agaain and again, we shud teach children our own fundamentals…and take out everything political.
as far as the whole religious idea goes, i dont ee anything wrong with it. except that a broader curriculum is required for a comparatie studies of religions if needed, which includes everything from hinduism to judaism and islam.

Comment by maria

also, i am in total agreement that the realities that u stated above are in fact, REALITIES and they r grave and nothing can justify an anti any one behaviour everywhere. specifically as these particular traits seem to be shaping up the character of our nation globally.
i am just trying to point out that although what u say is right, the problems r not THAT obvious as ‘hatred taught in schools’ or so on. to be honest, I am not quiet sure why a percentage of youth is actually like that, but i do not believe that this is totally to do with the curriculum or anything. and i also dont believe it is the general youth character 🙂

as aalways “ash is being oveeerllyyy cynical :P”

Comment by maria

you miss the point. :((

*plans to shoot maria*

the mindset it festers!!! the picture you build of the Indian is negative, not likeable. and once you tell the kid that he is the enemy of islam, taadaaa!

Comment by ayesha

so far as the caste syetm and sattee and all that is concerned, it is NOT anti indian or anti HINDU… r u trying to hint that saying Christians believe in jesus being son of God is anti-christian? it isnt! its a fact being stated in context of the early spread of islam.

Ok! now! Satee is not equivalent to Christian’s belief in jesus being son of the god! Satee was a social evil and has been almost eradicated like polio. May be belief in satee can be compared to KKK’s belief in white supremacy or something like that.

Comment by BD

Well, the topic reminds me of few of quotes:

“Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.” – General Charles De Gaulle

“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be part of so base an action! It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.” – Albert Einstein

… and I totally agree with you ayesha.

Comment by Najam

“Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.”

Very aptly put!

Comment by ayesha

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