Putting the Ultra-nationalist Genie Where it Belongs — in the Dumpster…A Pakistani’s Rant!

It goes without saying that nationalism has its share of supporters and foes around the world. Thus, the ideas of American exceptionalism, Pakistani exceptionalism, etc have both their adherents and critics.

Nationalism is a concept that cannot be rejected outright as completely ludicrous. The idea of loving your fellow compatriots — most of whom you’ve never met — is very powerful. Thus, because nationalism unites so many people from different backgrounds, colors, cultures, etc — under the nationalistic umbrella — its merits cannot be disregarded.

Having said that, when hardcore nationalists are enslaved by their nationalism, their nationalistic tendencies tend to have more downsides than upsides for society. The Israeli apartheid in the West Bank and Gaza in the name of Israeli nationalism, Russian annexation of Crimea in the name of Russian nationalism, etc are all examples of politicians and their supporters being enslaved by nationalism.

Then, some nationalist zealots would use phrases like “our culture” or “our ways of life” to indicate to slightly deviant citizens that they are some sort of heretics. But maybe, it’s not our similarities — but rather our differences — that define our identities. What does it mean to identify as Pakistani in 2021? Is it a certain skin tone, dress code, way of life, etc? Or is it maybe our disagreements on which party to vote for, what kind of economic system Pakistan should have, what Pakistan’s policy on Kashmir should be, how Pakistan should play a part in resolving the Israel-Palestine issue, etc? Within a country’s border, it is hard for everyone to have similar viewpoints, so maybe disagreements — rather than agreements — define a country’s identity.

Nationalism has a tendency to divide people with rather similar views. It is no secret that Iran’s religious right and Israel’s orthodox Haredi Jews aren’t the biggest fans of each other. But, these two groups aren’t too different after all. For instance, Israel’s Haredi Jews have views on women that aren’t too different from those of Iran’s orthodoxy. Women in both communities are supposed to wear modest dressing. Similarly, men and women in both communities adhere to strict segregation. So, in many respects, Israel’s Haredis are less similar to Israel’s secular Jews and more similar to the Iranian traditionalists. Thus, the “us vs them” categorization is sometimes not as realistic as it seems.

Some radicals who completely reject all ideas different from their own ideas adhere to globalization without realizing it. For instance, in his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, the renowned historian, Yuval Noah Harari writes that although the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) destroyed statues and architectural sites while conquering large parts of Syria and Iraq, ISIS had a lust for American dollars, which shows their belief in the western dollar. When ISIS fighters entered banks and found dollar notes with faces of American presidents on them and words in English praising American political and religious ideals, the fighters did not burn the dollars.

Science is a great example of globalization. According to Harari, even though Irani fundamentalists and North Korean autocrats reject the western way of life, their nuclear scientists use the same laws of physics as the westerners. For example, if North Korea’s scientists had believed that E=mc4 instead of E=mc2, American presidents would have been more worried about what to have for dinner than about Iran and North Korea’s nuclear aspirations.

Our food isn’t a bad example of globalization. Pakistanis and Indians often feud over whether Biryani, Karahi, etc are Pakistani dishes or Indian dishes. In reality, maybe these dishes aren’t completely Indian or Pakistani. The tomatoes and chilly pepper we add to our foods are all Mexican in origin; they reached Europe and Asia only after the Spaniards conquered Mexico.

Sports is another example of globalization. Pakistan cricket fanatics flood the comments section of various cricket discussions on Facebook, trying to prove to the world that Babar Azam’s seamless punch through the covers is better than Virat Kohli’s as if cricket is some sort of an “us vs them” warzone. Probably, they don’t realize that international cricket is an epitome of globalization. Countries accepting each other’s legitimacy and following the same set of universal cricket rules just shows how cricket — or any sport for that matter — proves that globalization is embedded in our lives in the most subtle of ways.

Some of the problems we face today, like climate change, the threat of nuclear war, etc need global agendas. For instance, small Pacific Island nations like the Marshall Islands won’t be able to save themselves from rising sea levels just by cutting down their emissions to zero. They might need to garner the support of pretty much the rest of the world. Similarly, we won’t be safe from nuclear weapons if only one country de-nuclearizes. For a future where nuclear warfare doesn’t materialize, we will need global de-nuclearization.

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I am a sustainability engineer, currently residing in Paris. I have worked at General Electric, and the International Energy Agency in their Paris offices.

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Shahmeer Mohsin

Shahmeer Mohsin

I am a sustainability engineer, currently residing in Paris. I have worked at General Electric, and the International Energy Agency in their Paris offices.

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