Redefining patriotism

Image courtesy:

"Well, then, since you were brought into the world and raised and educated by us, how… can you deny that you are our child and our slave, as your fathers were before you?” Socrates asks Crito in Plato’s dialogue named after the latter, laying the foundation of the ancient Greek social contract and orthodox patriotism.

After presenting his first analogy, Socrates then follows it up with: “Or are you too wise to see that your country is worthier, more to be revered… and that you ought to reverence it and to submit to it, and to approach it more humbly when it is angry with you than you would approach your father; and either to do whatever it tells you to do or to persuade it to excuse you and to obey in silence if it orders you to endure flogging or imprisonment, or if it sends you to battle to be wounded or to die?”

The ancient idea of patriotism being the incontestable bond between the state (the head of the house) and the citizen (child/slave) is still pursued all over the world to breed homogenous ‘patriots’ that toe the official state agenda. Any scepticism is dumped into the massive scrapheap of treason, quite often the junkyard dedicated to critical thought and much needed self-reflection.

Orthodox patriotism is a form of slavery that wraps racism in a gaudy shroud of pride in the coincidence of birth. Pakistan, being an ideological and security state, formed not on traditional nationalism or geographical contiguousness, has had to proliferate this form of slavery more than most other states. The establishment has had to ensure that all remains quiet on the ideological front.

The recent ban-fest involving Faisal Qureshi, Shaan Shahid, Hamza Ali Abbasi, Ashraf Chaudhry and Mawra Hocane, in the aftermath of Saif Ali Khan’s statement on his latest movie Phantom being banned in Pakistan, was the latest manifestation of 20th century jingoism – back then it was known as plain patriotism. By ganging up on Mawra Hocane over a disagreement, the ‘patriots’ highlighted Exhibit A of outmoded patriotism, which self-nourishes on censorship, public defamation and targets anyone not acquiescing to the aforementioned ideological slavery. It also relies on unnecessary trash-talk against traditional nemeses, which is precisely why Hamza Ali Abbasi mustered the audacity to accuse Saif Ali Khan of being a ‘non-Muslim’ on national television, while claiming that the Bollywood actor would “sell his mother or sister for money” (notice the misuse of the female gender by all of our ‘patriots’ to score a point against the ‘enemy’).

The slut-shamming and blatant sexism on display, which needs a separate piece for thorough dissection, is the natural corollary of a supremacist ideology that orthodox patriotism is. It is no coincidence that flag-bearers of xenophobia and discriminatory ideals like religionists, nationalists and racial supremacists are, more often than not, hard-core misogynists. Anyone propagating any form of supremacism, takes gender supremacy in their stride. For, not only has restricting women’s role been pivotal for the patriarchal social contract, the Übermensch ‘macho-man’ cannot be restricted by trivial ideas of equality, lest humanism forestall demonstrations of national/religious/racial superiority.

Even so, while calls for religious moderation have become mainstream, patriotism – especially in our neck of the woods – continues to remain immune from calls for reformation. Any form of patriotism that peddles a people inherently superior, in any way whatsoever, is no longer workable in the 21st century.

One could highlight the self-contradiction in patriotism that treats everyone equally. Because how does one take pride in being a Pakistani without the comfort of knowing that we are a superior nation? And thence any revamp in supremacism, deemed inherent to patriotism for millennia, is akin to abrogating the whole concept itself.

Let’s not forget that humankind has been facing a similar dilemma for centuries, vis-à-vis religious reformation – one that was overcome by many religions long before nationalistic fervour dragged humankind into two world wars. After all, what’s the point in following any particular religion or being a part of a religious community, if all religions are worthy of same esteem and all communities equal?

In the past when winning a war was the apogee of glory, religious and nationalistic supremacies were directed towards achieving precisely that. Redefine glory, and you’ve redefined the role of religion and patriotism.

In the perpetual mudslinging and slander from both sides of the Indo-Pak border, patriotism would be redefined for the better, if equipoised peace displaces war as the ultimate glory.

Instead of teaching the next generation to kill and die for their country, how about instilling nationalism with a sense of duty towards other, more pivotal, aspects of running the country – like paying taxes for example? According to a RAFTAAR (Research and Advocacy for the Advancement of Allied Reforms) report 0.3% (500,000 people) of Pakistanis file their income tax returns, compared to 3% (27 million people) in India. Why can’t our nationalism, which seems to be completely devoid of civil responsibility, and is defined by anti-India vigour as things stand, push us to vie to outdo India economically?

Imagine the scenario – quixotic, as things stand – where Indo-Pak banter would involve bragging rights over who has done more to ensure tranquillity and development in the region. That way the currently indoctrinated pride would be supplanted by a sense of fulfilment based on actual acts and not one’s birthplace.

What we currently have is even rational and peace-mongering Pakistanis calling out India for electing a ‘mass murderer of Muslims’ as their prime minister, in order to ward off allegations of anti-Pakistan bias. How is Narendra Modi’s role in exacerbating the 2002 Gujrat anti-Muslim riots any worse than the Sharifs’ in spreading Shia genocide through political alliances with anti-Shia terrorist organisations in Punjab, or Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s role in Baloch killings via the 70s Balochistan operation? Shouldn’t we then be equally ‘ashamed’ of electing Bhutto in 1977 and Sharif in 2013?

It is orthodox patriotism that deems Baloch separatism as terrorism and the human rights abuse in Balochistan a ‘state operation’. Of course it’s not just Pakistan where patriotism contradicts human rights; the Patriot Act in the US violates six constitutional amendments of the Bill of Rights, while North Korea beats its citizens in detention centres if they forget words to national anthems. Meanwhile it is Israeli, Chinese and Turkish nationalism that is the principal driving force behind violations in Palestine, Xinjiang and Kurdistan respectively.

Orthodox patriotism indoctrinates a nation into waging war against anything dubbed an external and internal threat, without allowing an iota of space for the other side of the argument. Redefined patriotism should instil a culture of self-reflection, where righting one’s own wrongs supersede any denigration of others. And with September 6 approaching, where heaps of money would be wasted on a gaudy show of militaristic and aircraft strength, it’s time to accept that bombing the daylights out of the enemy for patriotism is passé – let’s endeavour to outdo others in development and peace.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a former member of staffHe can be reached at Follow him on Twitter

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt