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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The end of nationalism - or not?

This blog post originally appeared in Prayag.

As Tom Friedman has said, the world is getting hot, flat and crowded. I’d like to propose that the flatter world spells the end of nationalism.
The concept of nationalism is extremely complex, and one would have to dive into the murky depths of history, going back to prehistoric man, to understand its origins. But here are two indisputable facts. One, nationalism involves the belief that one’s nation (usually associated with some sort of racial or ethnic identity) is of primary importance. Two, nationalism is inherently divisive because the perception of a nation-state with a unity of purpose goes hand in hand with a negative perception of other races and cultures.
Witness the sentiment of Aryan superiority (read national identity) over all others which was a prime reason for the last two world wars. Can there be a better example to bolster the case for ending nationalism once and for all?
Science and technology, immigration and capitalism have united the world to such an extent that (one hopes) national borders will be reduced to mere lines on a map. Isn’t it possible for people to maintain their cultural beliefs and traditions, and yes, even that wholly undefinable yet distinct sense of “my country, my home”, without having to also forge a national identity which is confrontationist? When we can say “We are not Hindus or Muslims or Christians, we are just Indians”, can’t we take this one step ahead and say “We are not Indians or Americans or South Africans, we are just humans” and make the world a better, less fractious place to live in?
Or so we wish. I wish all of the above were true. I wish the Earth was truly a planet without borders. But the reality is that politics is dictated by the burning issues of the age. This era has been characterized by the redrawing of economic battle-lines, the increasing clout of emerging economies, climate change, global recession, and a continuation of the wars for oil, gas and water. In this context, it is highly likely that nations will resort to sabre-rattling jingoistic behaviour to further their interests.
Let me also not forget that nationalism has a long history, dating back to the small nomadic communities at the very beginning of mankind’s sojourn on this planet. An institution such as this, will not die an early (or easy!) death.
The end of nationalism – may remain just an idealistic dream.

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