Peace and Conflict

(non) Patriotic (non) Nationalism

These thoughts are triggered by the call for a Sri Lankan identity.

I am not convinced that Sri Lanka’s problems will go away if the people who live there identify themselves as Sri Lankans first. In fact, I find that idea quite problematic. A society should be able to live peacefully, respecting their neighbours despite their cultural differences.

In a past article on GroundViews, India was cited as an example of a ‘united’ people. I don’t know enough about India to comment too much – but I think in India, the critical mass (ie. population) of each of the cultural groups that make up the place ensures some kind of balance. And I bet there’s many small minorities that end up with an extremely raw deal.

Indonesia, the fourth most populous nation on our planet, is made of a number of provinces and it’s questionable if all the people actually want to belong to Indonesia, or agree with the way the territory is governed. A few years ago, Aceh – where an armed independence struggle had been waged since the 1970s – negotiated itself an autonomy deal. And back in 1999, East Timorese voted for independence under an UN-facilitated referendum.

Indonesia’s motto is: “unity in diversity” – but I think it works only because the “unity” is held together by the military.

Right now, West Papua, which is also a province of Indonesia is struggling for independence. There’s plenty of evidence that shows grave human rights abuses conducted by the Indonesian military and their proxies against West Papuan independence activisits.

A few years ago, when I was making a advocacy film about West Papua, I interviewed Professor Paul James from the Globalism Institute. He suggested that the 20th century was the century of the making of the nation state, and the 21st century will be the breaking down of the nation state. Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka all became nations during the 20th century. How will these states break down? How much will they break down?

There’s a quote by Albert Einstein that’s interesting to consider in this context: “Nationalism is an infantile sickness. It is the measles of the human race”.

And George Bernard Shaw said this: “You will never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race.

So, why do people become patriotic? Samuel Johnson, a great literary figure from the 1700s, wrote “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. Tell that to the Sinhala extremists all over the diaspora!

I think it’s naive to think Sri Lanka’s problems will be solved if the island’s many identities unite, and become described as ‘Sri Lankan’.

In the end – it’s all about fairness. And it’s all about not needing to have power and control over someone else: not needing to be better than someone else.

And talking about tolerance is not the right way to think about about diversity. Tolerating diversity is simply putting up with it. One day, the lid will explode. There’s a need to go beyond that.

There’s really nothing to defend. Simply be proud of one’s own culture, and respect the culture of the other. And the story goes on…