Monday, January 09, 2006


Teaching patriotism without a nation-state

If someone hasn't written a history of patriotism, it's way past due. It might give a clue as to what the patriotism game is about. While the majority of Americans undoubtedly believe that patriotism is an unalloyed good, there are minorities here and abroad who do not. The Wikipedia entry has this observation—

Patriotism is an essentially emotional support for the nation, the homeland. It is not intended to have a rational foundation: soldiers do not fight for a country because it produces more cement than the enemy, but because it is their country.1 Their patriotism pre-supposes its existence — but not everyone agrees with that. Some Islamists, for instance, reject the legitimacy of the nation-state as such, and despise patriotism as un-Islamic....

I'd never really thought about the Islamist rejection of the notion of loyalty to a nation-state. Creating such a loyalty is very much on people's minds here and in Iraq these days, and the chances for success don't look good.

Howard LaFranchi takes a look at the effort in Iraqi schools to keep the schoolchildren convinced they're first and foremost Iraqis but comes up short on optimism—

"We have hope that the children will learn to love their country, and that this will last," says [sixth-grade teacher] Majeed, "but I only say I have hope. The more I live our situation," she adds, "I am not so confident."

Ask Iraqis, and anecdotal evidence of Iraq's divides playing out in the classroom is easy to come by: Shiite teachers extolling their prophets and present-day religious leaders in the exuberance of the Shiite majority's liberation from 30 years of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated rule; Kurdish teachers promoting the dream of an independent Kurdistan; or the Sunni boy who returned home crying because a teacher equated Sunnis with terrorists.

One of the efforts, however, reminds me of how we do things in the U.S.—

Mr. Nahi says a textbook is being developed for the older boys in his school - he has boys 12 to 18 years old - that will focus on respect for human rights. And he says he has held meetings with his faculty to review the new priorities for patriotic education of inculcating love for one united Iraq.

But with no specific civics class for older boys, he says, the primary means of passing on these principles is through the Thursday flag-raising ceremony, a ritual in Iraqi schools where faculty and students gather at the flagpole to raise the flag and hear a short talk. "The theme is usually something about helping to build our country or what makes this Iraq," he says.

Yep. Instead of learning about human rights our children gather about the flagpole. A "decent respect to the opinions of mankind" might require that we attempt to justify not only our national activities but our national existence in terms other than blind jingoism.

Perhaps our leaders know that with the march of global capitalism such considered patriotism will become unnecessary. It's rather ironic that under capitalism the nation-state is withering away. And it is neo-feudalism that now "slouches toward Bethlehem to be born."

Related post
Encouraging wassatiya in the schools (6/10/2004)


1While citizens may initially join the military out of patriotic ideas, that does not appear to be the reason that they're willing to fight. It's not unusual for soldiers to become completely disenchanted with their civilian and military leaders and still continue to put their lives on the line. At that point it is no longer about patriotism but about loyalty to compatriots. [back]

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