• Saturday, December 20, 2014

Freedom in the air

CROSS TALK

Patriotism in parenthesis

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

ACCORDING to some historians, Queen Mary of England said it in her own words that whenever her husband King George V visited her royal bedchamber to provide heirs, she “closed her eyes and thought of England.” Patriotism comes in many places, positions, forms, fervors, shapes and sizes, but ours is an example of the law of diminishing returns. The output diminishes the more we talk about this subject.

The way to measure the effectiveness of an advertising campaign is to measure if the ad spending is delivering the desired results. How do we measure our patriotism? If we go by celebrations, commemorations, anniversaries, tributes, speeches, newspaper editorials and television sound bites, we ought to be the most patriotic nation in the world. But is so much love of country delivering us the desired results?

English literary figure Samuel Johnson said that patriotism was the last resort of a scoundrel. His biographer James Boswell argues that the reason why Johnson said it was not to indict patriotism in general, but only false patriotism. It brings context to the most burning question facing us today. If we love our country so much, how is it possible that we inordinately hate each other?

It's said that too much devotion is sign of deceit. Does our conspicuous patriotism resonate Johnson's hypothesis? Does every one of us love this country with the same intensity as he or she claims? Is some of our patriotism sheer pretension, sublimation of parochial interests through a purported common cause?

The University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center (NORC) occasionally conducts its survey on national pride. It has concluded that many of the most patriotic countries in the world–like Israel, South Africa and the Philippines–are relatively new nations. Moreover, several of these countries were formed after winning independence from colonial powers or other occupying forces.

We fit the bill on both counts. Our independence is not too old and we won it from the occupying Pakistan army at a usurious price paid in blood. Given all the right reasons, why does our patriotism clank hollow in the manner of the goldless gold crests given to the friends of our liberation war?

In the pecking order of patriotism, those who talk about it most in this country ironically are politicians and business leaders. It's ironical because they froth in their mouths talking about national interests, while, more or less, all of them have got bank accounts and second homes in faraway lands. These people live in perpetual readiness for self-evacuation. Many of them already have their families living in the safety of adopted homes.

People least visible in this hierarchy are the ordinary folks. They don't have the option of leaving this country even if some of them would like to do so. And these people talk least about patriotism, because they don't have to.  Their lives are already acting it out from dawn to dusk in their daily drudgeries, and they don't need mindless lip-service to spell it out.  

The crux of our problem is that patriotism has been reduced to jingoism turned inward. Jingoism is when a country advocates the use of threats or actual force against peaceful relations, either economic or political, with other countries in order to safeguard what it perceives as its national interest. In this divided country, the national interest perceived by one side unfortunately goes against the national interest perceived by the other. While we're pursuing a timid foreign policy, our aggression is targeted against ourselves. How can we be patriots if we don't love the country well enough to love each other?

Like religion is more than rite and ritual, patriotism is more than observance of special days, remembrance of special people and utterance of special words. It's said that mother of thieves speak in loudest voice. Why is it so that most of our pronounced patriots are also dubious characters?

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez's short story “The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother,” fourteen-year-old Eréndira accidentally sets fire to their home. The grandmother forces her to repay the debt by adopting the world's oldest profession. One day when a soldier arrives, the old woman greets him at the door and reminds him that he shouldn't take too long because his country needs him.

Again, patriotism comes to many in strange places and positions. But it almost never comes in the dungeon of a mind where love of country is a means, not an end. It's not patriotic to tell others how to love their country unless one is ready to lead by example. The country needs everybody, but only a true patriot knows it before he's told. The phonies are easy to know. Their patriotism is a function their mouths compensating for their mischievous hearts.

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan is the Editor of weekly First News and n opinion writer for The Daily Star. Email: badrul151@yahoo.com

Published: 12:00 am Friday, September 05, 2014

TAGS: patriotism

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