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OP-ED: Nationalism is not patriotism

  • Published at 11:19 pm September 9th, 2020
Shaheed Minar
File photo of the Central Shaheed Minar in Dhaka Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

If Bangladesh is to succeed as a nation, it must learn to differentiate between the two

Bangladesh’s War of Independence was seeded in the concept and principle of “Bengali Nationalism.” The Bengali nationalism reflected the conventional inclusive nationalist movement that, by definition, is politically or culturally motivated or may embroil both political and cultural concerns, either simultaneously or consecutively. 

In this context, the cultural movement demanding the recognition of Bengali as the state language preceded the War of Independence, forced onto us through the perpetration of a deliberate and planned genocide. 

Usually, the nationalist upheaval may begin with the cultural movement that eventually may drive a particular group to demand and prepare for the struggle for independence, autonomy, or statehood from a larger political entity, or more rights for particular groups within the state.

This nationalism takes the form of civilian movement or military intervention. The cultural nationalist movement, on the other hand, historically often precedes a political nationalist movement, and may be observed in people’s struggle for an effort to rediscover, preserve, study, or reinvigorate the language or cultural traditions of a nation.

After the assassination of our Father of the Nation, a new concept was propagated to establish an alternate political base by the military dictators of the day -- a shameful and a base act that successfully created deep division into our national platform and has left an ugly scar in our national solidarity. 

Nationalism has repercussions

The very concept of Bangladeshi nationalism is based on a suffocating, narrow, rigid, regressive, and decadent psyche and is detrimental, retrogressive, and reactionary for Bangladesh. 

This phenomenon is related to and is part of the significant changes in the political climate all over the globe, with the rise of rightist populist factions presiding overthe  governments in the Western liberal democracies, including the United States and European democracies, as well as nationalist communist authorities at the seat of political control in many others. 

This is having massive repercussions on the lives of communities worldwide as nationalist interests push out global topics and other groups’ concerns and importance. 

We had noticed the mayhem played by the advocates of Bangladeshi nationalism, spreading carnage all over Bangladesh during the five-year tenure of the government led and participated by extreme fundamental anti-liberation religious groups at the beginning of the millennium, pushing Bangladesh into a hotbed of internal conflict, ethnic strife, and almost to a situation resembling state failure. 

The ghastly bloodbath of August 21 is the second deadliest terrorist attack in independent Bangladesh after the August 15 annihilation of the family of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. These historical and ruthless decimations will be remembered as a disastrous evil with an intense disgust in the memory of Bangladesh.   

According to Professor Miroslav Hroch, a Czech historian and political theorist and a professor at the Charles University in Prague, inclusive nationalism happens in phases. Phase A, in which a small number of intellectuals and activists begin the cultural work, recover the history, and embark on the studies of language and popular national culture. 

This was our Language Movement honoured by the world community’s celebration of February 21 as the International Mother Language Day. 

Phase B, when larger groups of “patriots” emerge and spread the idea of the nation through schools, press, and gatherings -- the Six Point movement led by our Father of the Nation and supported by his Associates. Phase C is when broad popular mobilization takes place, this was through the democratic election followed by our Liberation War.

Bengali versus Bangladeshi nationalism

There is a fundamental difference between the Bengali and Bangladeshi nationalism. The former had become the breathing mechanism of the people of the eastern part of Pakistan during its 23 years of misrule. We were forced to endure massive exploitation, inimitable depravity, and ruthless chastisement by the Punjabi civil-military autocracy that dominated the Pakistani political system until the break-up of Pakistan with the liberation of Bangladesh. 

The Bengali nationalism celebrated liberal values and diversity. On the other hand, the Bangladeshi nationalism advocated by the military dictators turned politicians, after the brutal killing of the Father of the Nation, was fed on the fear generated by the deeply virulent hostility to others and prejudicial indoctrination. 

Bangladeshi nationalism was promoted with factious propaganda against Bangladesh’s neighbour, India -- that India was deliberately destroying Bangladesh through controlling of the waterflow of its major rivers and tributaries passing through India into Bangladesh, that India was conspiring to convert Bangladesh into a vast desert, or artificially create flooding during the rainy seasons while generating large scale droughts during the dry months, or that our liberty would be endangered by forcing Bangladesh into India’s vassal state.

Indoctrination against others was emboldened through Machiavellian promulgation of possibilities due to past happenings. This could not be regarded as impossible from within by the alleged symbiotic activities of the pro-liberation forces or from outside the country from a powerful neighbour. 

For the autocrats, this exclusionary nationalism is often a ready-made far right populist ideology. In this case, the presumed added threat to Islam, that had made challenging the rule of these illegitimate governments exceptionally difficult. 

As Bengali nationalists in Pakistan, we were decidedly successful under the able, dynamic, and uncompromising leadership of the Bangabandhu and his die-hard associates, and were inflamed by the attitude and ruthlessness of the Punjabi civil-military autocracy. 

This nationalistic movement was a natural devisee of the powerful manifestation of the emerging nationalism in the 18th century, culminating in the French and the American revolution. 

Our failure came when, after liberating our country and casting away the yolk of imperialism, we lost our founding fathers with the cowardly elimination of Bangabandhu in 1975. The military regime that came to occupy power following the assassination was quick to utilize and exploit the nationalistic fervor, instilling in the mind and the hearts of the people the fear of subjugation to our larger and powerful neighbour. 

I strongly believe that we may have failed to differentiate between patriotism and nationalism in the spectrum of nation identity/ national identification. 

Defining national identity

From a micro-sociological point of view, the term “national identity” as used in the literature, covers quite different aspects and facets of the individual’s relationship towards his or her nation. 

Often, it is used to describe a subjectively positive attitude towards one’s nation, a subjective conviction and knowledge as to which nation one formally belongs to and/or to which nation one wants to formally belong to; national consciousness, a nation-related emotion, the overall positive emotion towards one’s own nation. 

A “national identity” defines a high relevance of the national affiliation for the overall identity of the individual, a subjective belief regarding the current aims and problems of the nation, the opportunities and constraints for individual action arising from national affiliation, a principal willingness to internalize the national culture, a community-ideology consisting of convictions about the ideal values, aims, and character of the nation and, in summary, a multi-dimensional system of beliefs toward one’s nation. 

Some social scientists use the term “national identification” to describe the intensity of feelings towards one’s nation (intensity of closeness), regardless of the qualitative content of these feelings. This “national identification” is seen as a relevant factor for the stability/durability of states in their specific political form and boundaries.

Whereas the national identification is seen as a question of intensity regardless of content, the main characteristics of “nationalism” and “patriotism” are seen as questions of content or type of national identity. Within the scientific literature, “nationalism” and “patriotism” may be differently defined or regarded as multi-dimensional attitudinal syndromes.

The neo-nationalism or exclusive nationalism typically over-emphasizes the national affiliation in the individual’s self-concept and is inclined to define one’s own group by criteria of descent, race, or cultural affiliation. 

Nationalism’s inclination is to regard one’s own group as homogeneous, to idealize the nation and its history, and to suppress the ambivalent attitudes towards the nation, excessively insular blaming others for its own social ills. Nationalism positively advocates and promotes feelings of national superiority, emphasizes rigidly on uncritical acceptance of national, state, and political authorities, and promotes high relevance of socially derogating comparisons with groups not considered to be part of the nation. 

If one really loves his/her country, one should not hold back in accepting negative nation-related emotions. The basic difference between a patriot and an exclusive nationalist is the nationalist’s unreserved acceptance of the self, which is eventually harmful for the country.

Patriotism (inclusive) forms a counter-concept to nationalism (exclusive). Patriotism is a true affinity, a love towards a country combining with attachment to national values based on critical understanding -- a concept virtually impossible to contemplate under an authoritarian state apparatus advocating exclusive nationalism and observed during the misrule under the military dictatorship in the late 70s and the entirety of the 80s in Bangladesh.  

A patriotic form of national identity is considered to be a kind of constructive patriotism in the sense of critical loyalty. In order to more closely describe such patriotism, the national affiliation in the individual ́s self-concept is not over-emphasized and the nation is not primarily defined in racial terms, but instead rests on a demotic definition. 

It also does not exclude others, but advocates fairness and encourages multilateral collaborations with powerful neighbours -- like India and China -- and global partnership with nations -- such as Japan, North America, and the European Union -- while at the same time encourages healthy competition and not subservient acceptance. 

In patriotism, at the centre of the national self-definition are humanist and democratic values and this includes a rejection of the uncritical acceptance of national authorities. The nation is not idealized, but estimated on the basis of a critical conscience, and critical loyalty is directed to support the nation ́s welfare, based on a universal humanistic value system. 

Patriotism, in fact, is indispensable for progress in the complex and competitive market economy and for the greater global context in the 21st century. It is fundamental to the socio-economic success of Bangladesh.

Dr Raqibul Mohammad Anwar is a Specialist Surgeon and Global Health Policy and Planning Expert, Retired Colonel, Royal Army Medical Corps, UK Armed Forces.

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