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Is nationalism overrated?

Saadia Iqbal's picture

You might remember that we had a poll question on this topic some weeks ago and 52% of you voted that nationalism is “harmful,” as opposed to 42% who voted that it is “healthy.” Six percent said they didn’t care either way.

I’d love to hear about why you voted the way you did.

Growing up, I never questioned nationalism too much. It was more or less something that was assumed in my environment. My grandmother would always tell me that I should be so proud of my country, that I should be proud to belong there, etc. On important national days, the TV would blast patriotic songs with images of national heritage or pompous army parades all day long. I guess this was supposed to make everyone teary and overwhelmed with love-of-country (in my grandmother’s case, it worked).

But as I grew older, I started to question this. If one feels one’s own country is the best, surely there are many others out there who feel exactly the same way about their country. And who’s to say who’s right or wrong (if anyone)? So in the end, does it come down to: my country is the best because, uh, it’s my country? Isn’t that a silly, narcissistic reason?

So now I’m not a big fan of nationalism. We’re all human, so it seems illogical to want better things for some humans over others, just because they speak the same language or live in the same country. It’s ok to identify culturally with your homeland, but nationalism can turn into something far more dark and dangerous. History shows us all too clearly how wars and ethnic cleansing have been triggered by extreme nationalism. And on a smaller scale nationalism can lead to unpleasant situations like people being bigoted and feeling superior to others, or riots breaking out at football matches.

Isn’t it better to instill children with a sense of responsibility to the world, rather than just their country?

Of course, I’m talking about patriotism in the extreme; where it gets in the way of mutual understanding and tolerance. Admittedly, there is a flip side to this coin. Because if you have a healthy amount of pride in your country, you’ll probably want to do good things for it. And by helping your country, e.g. promoting literacy or a clean environment, you’re really helping the world in the long run.

What do you guys think? Does nationalism have more dangers than benefits? Would the world be a better place if people saw themselves as “citizens of the world?” instead of nationals of a particular country? (I’m reminded of that John Lennon song here: “imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do; nothing to kill or die for…”).

If you voted in our poll, why did you vote the way you did?

And speaking of polls, can I add here that I was impressed to note that in our poll that followed, 76% of you chose world peace over a million dollars. You truly are “citizens of the world!”