Us Children Of Diversity
Nationalism as an ideology requires a false sense of moral and cultural superiority over others by connecting some concept of a glorious past with that of an inevitably triumphant future, argues UT Jamil.
“Flags are bits of coloured cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s minds, and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead,” says Arundhati Roy in War Talk to define Nationalism.
The metaphor of the flag here represents the nationalist’s idea of ‘nation’ that entails a farcical mesh of fact and fiction in order to create a grandiose narrative that positions their nation at the centre of human existence.
Nationalism as an ideology requires a false sense of moral and cultural superiority over others by connecting some concept of a glorious past with that of an inevitably triumphant future. Whether it is ‘making America great again’, or establishing an Akhand Bharat, or a Riyasat-e-Madina, the yarns woven by nationalists are full of selective facts wrapped in easily consumable fiction.
However, the truth is that all humans share 99.9% of their DNA. We now know that we are all connected by a common ancestor, that the early Homo Sapiens migrated from Africa, spread across the globe, and created various civilizations that inter mingled with each other spawning new hybrid ones. So when someone says, “Don’t forget your ancestry,” what do they really mean?
As a Pakistani, my own personal heritage is a diverse one; if I go back in time, my ancestors are Indian Muslims, further back they are Hindus of the subcontinent, and even further back they are pagan migrants from what today is known as Iraq.
And if I go back long enough, I find that my roots are derived from the same source shared by the rest of the seven plus billion people on Earth.
So when it comes to identifying one’s heritage, and an associated ideology, we simply use selective memory to ‘choose’ a certain point of history from where to begin our legacy, and for most of us this ‘choice’ is dictated by the mere chance and circumstance of our birth. The truth however is simply this: There is no such thing as racial or cultural purity and all the socio-cultural nuances of our heritage come from multiple diverse sources that have organically evolved since the dawn of the Homo Sapiens two millenniums ago.
This simple fact is anathema for a nationalist for whom the core part of identity is established by a cultural ‘Other’ that is mostly selected rather than it being organic.
The Hindutva ideology cannot eradicate India’s Muslim heritage, nor can Pakistanis ignore their diverse Hindustani past, but for the sake of the ‘Us vs Them’ narrative, it is imperative for the nationalist to separate one self from the perceived enemy in order to establish superiority of one self and accentuate the other’s ‘Otherness’.
But not enough lies in the world can bury the truth, though it can oppress it to the point of delusion.
The truth remains that like many Pakistani Muslims, a thousand years ago, my Hindu ancestors, gave their lives defending their way of life against the brutal Arab Muslim invaders.
As years passed, the invaders eventually became a part of the social fabric thorough the intermingling of cultures and forging of new diverse family systems. Today, we identify with the faith of the invaders who plundered our ancestors’ lands and are taught to despise the adherents of the religion those very ancestors held sacred.
Today our culture is a complex and vivid mix of such multiple vicissitudes of civilizations throughout history.
If one looks at the anatomy of nationalistic rhetoric, it is myopic in its outlook and suspicious of what can be considered different. Nationalists look at anyone who doesn’t adhere to their stringent prerequisites of citizenship as ‘the Other’, a disruptive menace to their coveted ‘social fabric’, a blemish in their ‘pure’ society; if this sounds fascistic it’s because it is.
Rather than embracing diversity of people and ideas, which is the hallmark of a nation’s progress, Nationalism begets suspicion and bigotry to the point of violence.
Yet all their tall tales and violent outbursts cannot change the fact that all humans share 99.9% of the same DNA which not only includes common ancestors, but also a common history, and common cultures from which we all have borrowed to create our own cultural practices even though they may seem worlds apart.
So does this mean that we should not be proud of our culture, or take ownership of our own identity? Certainly not, we cannot ignore the realities of our inherited recent history, but we must accept that the past doesn’t begin at a certain point of our choosing, and we should incorporate our understanding of the anthropological and biological connections of our species, to create a more inclusive, diverse and progressive society.
Being a Pakistani, for instance, can mean being a conscientious human whose culture acknowledges its own ever-evolving identity whilst simultaneously aligning it with the knowledge of our shared history with our fellow Sapiens. We do have the potential to create a unique cultural identity yet recognise that it is but another vibrant hue in the vivacious spectrum of life on Earth.