Deconstructing Patriotism

Participants of an independence day rally in New York. (Photo by ViewsWeek)
Participants of an independence day rally in New York. (Photo by ViewsWeek)

The Sohni Dharti culture – “each atom of the country being dearer to us than our lives” is deemed a slogan of inclusion, of integration and dissolution of individual identities such as Punjabi, Pathan, Sindhi or Baloch in Pakistan and an engineered evolution of a unified national identity, say, a Pakistani one. Yet underneath such a discourse we find more than what is considered the trumpet of unity.


This recurring emphasis on being “Pakistani” and not adhering to a more local, native identity is the annihilation of one identity and the formation of a nationalistic one. A corollary to the formation of the same nationalistic identity is at the same time exclusion and marginalization — a rejection of otherness that may escalate into Xenophobia. Under the statement “As long as this world exists, we wish to see you (our country) free” – rejuvenated by the new Coke Studioversion – lies the question: will this new nationalistic facade be apathetic to another nation? National identities such as Pathan and Punjabi are blended into a Pakistani one, distinctive of others like Iranian or Palestinian. What value does such a Pakistani place at the freedom of a Syrian?


Iqbal’s notion compels us to discover the irony of his status in Pakistan:

In this age the wine, the cup, even Jam is different
The cup‐bearer started different ways of grace and tyranny

The Muslim also constructed a different harem of his own
The Azar of civilization made different idols of his own

Country, is the biggest among these new gods!
What is its dress is the shroud of Religion


Whether the national poet (of Pakistan) actually believed in nationalism is questionable. Would Iqbal have appreciated being termed a national poet when his concerns lied mainly (if not solely) with the formation of a strong Pax Islamica? The nationalistic narrative, to which Iqbal is unrealistically associated, finds him incongruous in its woven net — a part that forms the whole but rejects the underpinning on which the whole is integrated.


The readiness to die for one’s nation is an extreme expression of patriotism which makes it obvious that a concept of nationalism is inextricably intertwined with an individual’s perception of self and meaning of life. That poses a difficulty since this new constructed self is mostly indifferent to the agony of others, say, an Iraqi. But no Pakistani would admit that, obviously. Yet the same would exhibit more empathy and sympathy for a Pakistani sufferer, since that is what the entailment of having a Pakistani identity dictates. That is the upshot – whether or not it is admitted. To be more realistic, at least it would be psychologically easier to be more sympathetic to one’s compatriot’s predicament – a quantitative distinction, if we cannot digest a qualitative one. This is a natural consequence of the nationalistic discourse which forms a mindset through an extensive process of inculcating patriotism through educational textbooks and media.


It doesn’t take long for this sort of patriotism to escalate into a jingoism of sorts — aHarrenvolk where all non-Aryans are considered untermensch (racially inferior) by a Nazi. But history is past, let’s close our books and forget that the actions of the Nazis and Fascists were violent and explosive expressions of a nationalism which, if it was different from any nationalism, was only different in intensity, not substance.


Let’s ask a question: can a Pakistani identity be transformed into a Muslim one? Obviously it was possible at a time prior to the emergence of the nation state and the resultant nationalism as we know it. Then again, if a pan-Islamic identity existed, will the Muslims in Pakistan care equally for the sufferings of a Muslim in Turkey or a Christian in Italy? I don’t propose that we revert back to the multi-ethnic non-national empires that existed before the advent of the modern nation state, nor am I suggesting that this phenomenon exists only in Pakistan – which is only taken as a case study here. What is merely being pointed out is that the more we localize our identities and restrict them to racial or geographical boundaries, the more we make it difficult to integrate, accept and embrace racial, religious, sectarian and geographical otherness and diversity. No wonder European powers may be more willing to bomb Syria than accept refugees uprooted by war there. Many European governments, embracing human rights as a cornerstone of their domestic and foreign policies, find it hard to sell their moral responsibility of giving refuge to the millions of civilians uprooted by war. That’s where nationalism and patriotism outweigh humanity.


Iqbal’s translation from

The writer is a lecturer in English at Edwardes College, Peshawar, Pakistan.

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