24
Jun
09

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PATRIOTIC or NATIONALISTIC?

I’m intrigued by the question of whether Malaysians are patriotic or nationalistic, or both, or neither! Or are we more inclined to be patriotic in some contexts and nationalistic in others! Or are we generally more patriotic than nationalistic or vice versa!

Patriotism  and Nationalism are emotions and convictions that people have about their country which are inspired by a positive force of love for and pride in its socio-cultural symbols  –  its myths and history; its traditions and way of life; its language and cultural norms. 

Being patriotic or nationalistic means one has a conviction as to which nation one formally belongs and to which one wants to formally belong. It implies loyalty to one’s country.

This sense of a national identity or national self-image can also be triggered by feelings of protectiveness and defence in the face of incursions and intrusions from outside or inside.

Interestingly, “nation” and “national identity” are not tangible, concrete entities but political constructs built upon the collective identity of the people through their shared experiences. In other words a nation is an “imagined political community” with a collective/ national identity ( Anderson 1983).

And interestingly, this notion of “nation” is not static but  is continually reconstructed through processes of exclusion and inclusion (Schlesinger 1991).  

Thus, patriotism and nationalism can vary synchronically (in time) and diachronically (in space) as they can vary within the positive and negative poles. If I may use a linguistic term, patriotism and nationalism are not absolutes but occur along a continuum.

Of the two, patriotism refers to one’s love for one’s motherland and an attachment to the national values –  albeit laced with a critical understanding . Thus there can be degrees of attachment and understanding with in-groups and out-groups demonstrating facets of their national identity. We can be more patriotic at one point in a nation’s history and less patriotic at another.

MERDEKA saw the high point of patriotism and nationalism in the run-up to the country’s freedom from colonial rule and the establishment of self rule; ONE MALAYSIA may not be so lucky in a country that’s politically divided!

However, unlike nationalism which can manifest itself in the negative feelings of superiority and dominance over other nations or peoples (Feshbach 1994), patriotism never implies a rejection and oppression of out-groups or a dominance over them.

While patriotic groups would espouse liberalism and tolerance, nationalistic groups are inclined towards intergroup differentiation of “us” versus “them”. BN versus PR, UMNO versus PAS; Malay language nationalists versus Chinese and Tamil language nationalists, Malay rural poverty versus Indian estate poverty; Chinese business ventures versus Malay corporate undertakings!  

If we go by what is happening in the political arena, it’s easy to see where Malaysians are along the continuums of patriotism or nationalism. The race-based  nature of the Malaysian political parties ensures that the vision of having a national identity which is indivisible and a nation which is One Malaysia will meet with stops and starts along the way!  The dream of perpetuating our shared experiences, myths and history, traditions and way of life, language and cultural norms into an overwhelming sense of patriotism is in danger of being aborted by the nationalistic forces which play up the elements which are disparate.

Perhaps each of us should ask ourselves sincerely and honestly where we are along the continuums; who or what we are loyal to? But can we really be sincere and honest in our answers?

Otherwise, like America, Malaysia may have to artificially create a cause to forge a national identity among a nation of people who are more nationalistic than patriotic! It may take the form of a war against an outside force like the American war against terrorism and the deep fear of terrorists!

God forbid  Malaysians need the grief of a national tragedy like 9/11 to unite us and evoke the love for our motherland!

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