Sunday, July 01, 2007

Love thy country?

Patriotism, let's talk about it today. What is patriotism? In simple words it is the willingness of a person to love, respect, defend and sacrifice for his country.

Have you heard the derogatory use of the word "Provincial"? It means that a person who differentiates among people based on which city or state they come from is narrow-minded. In India the term is "regionalism" with common regions being North India - South India, Hindi-Regions-Non-Hindi-speaking-regions, etc. It's not considered a good thing. No intellectual will ever consent to having or respecting region bias. Yet, the same intellectual will not only declare it with pride but will risk his life for his country. I don't need to quote examples because everybody can think of numerous examples from their own country.

What is the difference between regionalism and patriotism? Just a matter of degree, I think. A patriot fights for the bigger boundary - the country. Country is the biggest boundary we have right now, if we merged those borders, we will have one Earth. I have read the term "Vasudhaiv kutumbakam" in Sanskrit, but I have only seen it on emblems of Universities and such, never in practice. If we did dissolve the national boundaries we will have only one Earth, no way to separate one person from another and therefore no reasons to fight. Somehow, I don't think we want that. We actually want the boundaries. And as long as they are at the highest level we feel noble and righteous in defending them.

Before I proceed, I would like to clarify that I do consider myself a patriot and I too feel a surge of pride and emotion when I read poems or songs like this one. [It talks about the Indian flag called Tiranga in Hindi and Tricolor in English].

Given the fact that I am a patriot and hold immense respect for my motherland India, would that be the only fact to consider in my decisions in life?

When 9/11 happened I was in the US. In the post-9/11 days there was a shortage of American flags, factories ran out and could not keep up production to meet the demand. I went to considerable trouble to print a colored Stars and Stripes and paste it on my car's front and back windshields. Almost every car at that time sported a US flag but my purpose was not to blend with the crowd, my decision came from my strong conviction. When it was time to pick sides between democracy and terrorism I chose democracy. It did not matter to me that it was not my own country. My act was very minor, very small, there have been greater examples, people who really fought for another country's freedom, several of such examples can be found in the history of India's Struggle for Independence where people of British origin actively supported the War of Independence, at considerable risk to themselves.

That, apparently, is not called Patriotism it's called Idealism. To fight for one's ideals. [source: Wikipedia]

Another example is from a novel I read long time back when I used to read Ved Prakash Sharma's fantasy-based novels. In this novel (don't ask me the name), two of his main heroes Vijay and Vikas come against each other in a fantastic situation where India is doing something to another country that is inhuman. In this situation, if I remember right, his older hero Vijay supports India and his young protege Vikas, fights him at every corner defending humanity even against his own country. That was the first time I had a doubt about patriotism being the greatest thing ever invented. I honestly could not make up my mind who was right in this situation.

Take another situation. Generation 1, a man or a man and his wife, leave their country, let's say India, and move to another country, let's say USA, and settle down there. Suppose they have a son. As far as legal status is concerned, this child is a born American, he acquires the US citizenship (an enviable intangible in some circles), simply by being born in USA. Let's suppose he's a very patriotic individual. What country should be the recipient of his noble emotion?

The main pro-patriotism argument being, "you are born here, this country has fed you and brought you up, it's your duty to give every drop of your blood to defend her", I'd say his allegiance should be to the country of his birth. But someone might disagree.
Taking the same argument, the same country has fed and supported his parents, whom should they support and defend?

And if you are going to bring up the point of "roots" then I will feel compelled to ask the criteria for choosing the country where your "roots" belong? How far back should you go for "roots", how many generations/miles/years/decades/centuries? If you look far enough you'll find that Americans are not really Americans their roots are elsewhere, same for Indians, same for many other races. So?

On the other side of this, let's take someone who is living in Germany, but is American. Suppose a war breaks out between the countries, whose side he should take? Where he lives or where he was born? Does the duration of his living in Germany count in this decision? about his legal status - visitor visa, work visa, citizenship? How about his accommodation status - is he living in a hotel, renting an apartment or has his own house with mortgage? What should be the proper criteria for assigning his loyalty to a country?

People who are born in a country with oppressive living conditions and their "migration" to another country is actually an "escape", should their patriotism still attach to the country where they were born? Or the one that gave them asylum?

I have no experience of it, but I believe every country would require taking an oath when giving citizenship to one who is not a born citizen, part of naturalization. But is that oath really anything more than the lessons learnt in school, "never tell a lie"? Would you really ignore humanity in order to stay loyal to a flag?

As usual, I have more questions than answers and I can't really define patriotism for you. The best I can do is, define it for myself, and for me patriotism is a word without meaning. Yes, I will love, honor and cherish my motherland as long as I live but if it ever happens, I will not turn my back on humanity to respect a flag!

I have about a thousand more things to say, but I don't want to spend the whole night on this one post and I would really like to go back to writing my book. I hope someone starts an argument...:-)


Vishwa said...

Excellent post Sunil. It's very hard for a thinking man to confirm to all the boundaries created in the world without ever questioning them.

If everybody asked a few more questions, and chanted a few less slogans, we'd be doing much better.


Sagar Goswami said...

Whoa! Excellent thought. You always gives me all the answers of my questions which were somehow inside the corner of me mind, some questions havn't raised yet, but yes I got the answers for them. That is what makes me crazy reading your blog.

Although you've cleared your intention what is patriotism for you. But let me ask you a simple question: "Why do we call our mother land 'Mother'land?" Why not fatherland? BharatMaata hi kyu bulate hein? It may sounds funny but that is the question stuck into my mind sometimes. Like you think about the Ved Prakash's Novel's hero Vikas. It can be same kind of question.

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