different (and better)
Battle of superiority
By Hydar Kenani
May 4, 2004
I want to look at the phenomenon of
nationalism. I think it's as important as talking about culture,
since national identity is among the broader categories people
tend to identify themselves with in today's world.
Let's take an
example. An American family conforms to certain "ideas" of
what it means to be American. More specifically, what it means
to be, say, patriotic during a time of heightened terrorism and
foreign threat. In short, in post 9/11 world.
Of course, it's not
enough to simply say, "I'm proud to be an American," or "united
we stand," although, linguistically that's all that seems
to be going on, since these are just some utterances which embody
other practices, beliefs and discourses.
These sentiments come
in a larger package, for example, justifying one's suspicions
towards Middle-Easterners, praising racial profiling, believing in
the causes of going to war with a "threatening" country,
preventing our children from mixing with certain crowds, desensitizing
ourselves to violence unleashed on people perceived as a threat
to national security.
It seems national identity, is
more than just a personal or collective expression of identity
politics. In fact, nationalism makes all the more
sense when millions are sharing in an ideal; it gives my estranged
sense of being a feeling of community, protection, direction and
In America however, nationalism has become
a plural phenomenon. Iranians, Hindus, Chinese, Mexican, Irish...
all by and large promote their own national colors, foods, customs,
national history in some way.
Interestingly, many immigrants, new
and old, practice a dual nationalism -- I promote myself
as an Iranian (as different) and yet I appreciate my
civil liberties as an American (as same). In other words,
nationalism as a phenomenon has become a complex process of
assimilation into the present and preservation of the past here
in the U.S. for many immigrants.
In a country where nationalism
is among the strongest social bonds for a collective
subjectivity, other nationalist discourses can enter the scene
with little friction. What this points to, I believe, is the more
general social process of nationalism as an ideology,
as a way of understanding oneself, the other and the
I don't mean to suggest that there is no friction,
but it's "kaj
daar o mariz" a balancing act! Nationalists say, "We're
different that you!" but how often does this translate
into "We're better too!"
At a recent Iranian New Year's
parade in New York City, I got a taste of nationalism -- pre-Islamic
proclaiming "3,000 Years of History," colorful
dances by different subcultures in Iran. Nationalism was both
present and transcended at the event. [See: Persian
Firstly, nationalist sentiment
operates indirectly, underhandedly: no one says "I hate you..." they
just say "such and such people are uneducated, uncivilized,
poor, etc." By undermining the humanity of the Other,
you methodically raise yourself to the standard of what
it means to be human.
Suggesting "3,000 years of history" seems
innocent enough, but it only begins to make real sense, to
be impacting when considered within the broader discourse
a nationalist operates within; 3,000 and not 250 years = Iranians
are a people of a long history = more development = smarter
The causal chain of feelings and representations within
the discourse is often formed on the basis of an emotion
that one is qualitatively better than the Other. Language
and symbolism form the weapon, shield, and retreat for
these background operations. In the U.S., the background operation
is more complex, as I mentioned above, yet the weapons are
the same, just a tweek here... a tweek there.
nationalists of all backgrounds are a recent phenomenon,
yet they consummate the structural core of nationalist ideologies
all the same. They swing from left to right, but
the rope which supports them is the nature of nationalism itself
-- an ideological framework which divides humanity first into tribes,
nations, religions, ethnicities, creeds -- in a battle to confirm humanness
as superiority. Instead we should begin talking to each other as
humans, and peacefully confirm our differences as humans too.
goodbye to spam!