There was a time when the film industry in the subcontinent used Indo-Pak plots to create pre-film-release-tension-teasers to attract more audience. After all, a movie wreaked with political controversy and laced with a love story was bound to sell more. Then, with time, as nations started to become more and more war-prone, on-ground confrontations turned more real than the films. Fuelled by communal tensions, people got out of homes and fought for religion, religiosity and nationalistic boundaries. Somehow most of our hearts have shrunk in fear of being invaded by the “others.” Therefore, whichever leader flaunts his or her own boundaries and ownership of identities, the more he or she is set to lead the nation. Narrow nationalism sells better these days. The old days of Tagore dreaming of a united world, untarnished by “narrow domestic walls” are gone. Gone are the days where poets, leaders and philosophers were positioned above prejudices based on caste, creed, colour and religion.
Yet, at the United Nations, there are still popular voices like Angelina Jolie, warning people and powers against “a rising tide of nationalism masquerading as patriotism”, ultimately leading to policies that evoke fear. For example, in the USA, apart from the fear and concern generated by the Potus Twitter torrent, there has been public pronouncement from representatives like Steve King of Iowa, who proudly shared an article on Twitter, offering support to the Dutch politician Geert Wilders who thrives on bashing Muslim immigrants. King added that culture and demographics were their destiny and how they could not “restore” civilisation through “someone else's babies.”
In the world of populism, nationalism sits well with the voters. Voters look for extreme promises made for them in the voice of “genuine patriotism.” Therefore, it is natural for leaders to be applauded for pursuing aggressive foreign policies, for going after the rich, and for handing out LPG connections to the rural poor. The nativism and the grandiosity of the leader's narrative is super critical. And the grand promises are also equally, if not more, important. That is the reason why Irom Sharmila Chanu got only 90 votes in the Manipur elections. After 16 years of starvation, Shormila's political aspirations died a few days ago with her constituency voting for the sitting chief minister. After all, raging nationalism offers apparent euphoria and hope.
In general, there is a worldwide attempt to take people back to time, where voters buy the slogan of “Let's make . . . great again” with faith. For example, Putin wants Russia to look as it were 100 years after Lenin. Similarly, today Israel is investing in building temples again. This has become an age of reversals, promoting isolationism. And this is exactly how the first nations, thousands of years ago, lived by the Yellow River in China, divided into many different tribes, suffering from periodic droughts and floods, as each one of them had little control over the river. But it was only after the suffering that the small nations surfaced as the Chinese nation, bringing people together, building dams and canals, and regulating the river. So, we also need to realise that while the call to go back to the past authoritarian tendencies have worked well with elections and number of votes, it is the “Morning After” impact, after a long night of drinking, that is crucial for the survival of the globe.
In spite of all the realisation, the paranoia of intolerance across the world continues. In France, there's the far right anti-Muslim, anti-immigration candidate Marine Le Pen, the daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen. Day before yesterday, instead of handling her main challenge to appear credible on economic policy, she stressed security and immigration issues and declared, “I want to put an end to immigration – that's clear.” Then right after, she talked about a rise of Islamic fundamentalism in France and said the security situation in France was “explosive.” In Germany, there's Frauke Petry, chairperson of Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), who often meets in Bavarian taverns to plot policies. Petry's mistrust of Islam fuels her political passions, as she often cites Sharia and reports of sexual assaults committed by asylum seekers in Germany, and argues that Muslims are a threat to a free western society. According to Petry, Muslim immigrants go there “with attitudes that are so way out of our sort of common behaviour and European attitudes.” She also openly says, “It's simply a lie by the government that these migrants will fit into our society.” There's one in Hungary as well. The politician and historian David Kovacs' Movement for a Better Hungary, or Jobbik, describes itself as a “principled, conservative and radically patriotic Christian party.”
Even popular Abe in Japan has recently been tainted by accusations of having his wife having donated to a right-wing kindergarten, the land of which was secured by a murky land deal. The school incidentally boasts of a curriculum including pre-war style patriotic education, where three to five year olds are allegedly instilled with patriotism, and made to memorise the 1890 Imperial Rescript, and trained to “offer themselves courageously to state”. Reviving this practice, which was abolished after Japan's defeat in WWII, is once again, a rare reversal.
Nationalism can be a great brand sponsored by the state. It can also be an easy brand to appeal to the popular masses who have lost jobs to migrants to turn around and chant anti-immigration slogans. It may also be easy to speak the language of hatred to evoke the false sense of security. And it may also be the easiest to wage a war against “someone else's babies” next door. But it is also much, much more difficult to imagine a world without immigrants. Without immigrants, the melting pot of civilisation will cease to exist. Without immigrants, promotion of nationalism can only happen at a great cost to the audience.
The writer is Managing Director, Mohammadi Group.