Rwanda Über Alles: The argument against nationalism

The German national anthem, ‘Das Deutschlandlied’ isn’t one that easily rolls off  my tongue. However, the opening words and refrain in the first stanza is one that I remember quite well. These memorable lines are “Deutschland über alles” (Germany above all)… Über alles in der Welt (Above all in the world). 

The German national anthem, ‘Das Deutschlandlied’ isn’t one that easily rolls off  my tongue. However, the opening words and refrain in the first stanza is one that I remember quite well.

These memorable lines are “Deutschland über alles” (Germany above all)… Über alles in der Welt (Above all in the world). 

Now if those aren’t rousing words, I don’t know what are. Perhaps that’s why post-World War II Germany decided to stop reciting the opening lines; they now only sing the last stanza of the song.

Perhaps, if the opening words hadn’t been so forceful the world would have been spared a dilapidating conflict. While I’m sure that many German soldiers were mere conscripts sucked into the conflict, many more SS members and Luftwaffe pilots probably believed that they were soldiers from the best nation in the world therefore justifying the ‘civilising’ nature of their aggression.

As the best and most glorious nation in the entire world, they had an ‘obligation’ to spread Aryan civilisation among the ‘heathen’ Slavs, Negroes, communists and anyone who opposed them.

The many wars that have ravaged every single inhabited continent are more often than not caused by jingoistic rhetoric. I can never forget a funny little poem that I learnt while studying African history in secondary school. ‘What ever happens, we have got, the Maxim Gun, and they have not.’       

This poem was written by some obscure journalist working for ‘Punch’, a British weekly magazine published from the Victorian Period to 1992. The Maxim gun was a prototype machine gun that almost single-handedly conquered the entire continent of Africa. The Zulu Impis couldn’t do anything about the British troops using it despite their cow-horn tactics, cowhide shields and ranks of Assegai’s.

But, while the British were painting the African continent red, from the Cape to Cairo (as Cecil Rhodes vowed to do) African lives were being irreversibly changed; more often than not, for the worse. Sure the Brits, for a few decades at least, enjoyed the fruits of a huge Empire but England’s prosperity came at a high cost.

The jewels that now adorn the crown of Queen Elizabeth II cost hundreds of South African, Indian and Burmese lives.  So while the good folks in Britain enjoyed a golden age, everyone else suffered under their yoke.

I’m sure that the young British men and women who conquered swathes of Africa and Asia thought that it was their patriotic duty to expand the realm of the good Queen Victoria. What drove them wasn’t patriotism but rather nationalism. While these two concepts are often used as synonyms, they aren’t.

The term ‘Nationalism’ was coined by Johann Gottfried Herder (nationalismus) during the late 1770s. Precisely where and when nationalism emerged is difficult to determine, but its development is closely related to that of the modern state and the push for popular sovereignty that came with the French Revolution and the American Revolution in the late 18th century.

Nationalism, usually involves the identification of an ethnic identity with a state. The ‘nationalist’ believes that their country, or nation, is of primary importance.

Among the ancient Greeks, patriotism consisted of notions concerning language, religious traditions, ethics, law, and devotion to the common good, rather than pure identification with a nation-state.

Whenever I hear a Rwandan leader talk about the concept of patriotism (gukunda igihugu) I often wonder if they truly understand what gukunda igihugu means. And even if they do, does their audience? J. Peter Euben, a renown scholar, wrote that to Greek philosopher Socrates, ““patriotism does not require one to agree with everything that his country does and would actually promote analytical questioning in a quest to make the country the best it possibly can be.”
I often wonder how different things would have been if people stopped being confused. Imagine how different the world would have been if colonialism hadn’t wreaked havoc on Africa; if the industrialised nations hadn’t spewed millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere just so they could produce more and more; if people actually learnt to love ‘thy neighbours as much as they loved themselves.’

Imagine if people today stopped seeing things through the little prism that is their national borders. Imagine if they saw the bigger picture? Would they still remain so petty? So xenophobic? So racist?  At the end of the day we all shed red blood.

Do I love my country? Yes I do. Do I love my people? To death. Do I think that my country’s interests trump each and everything… even when its interest cause suffering for everyone else? No. Why? Because I am a patriot in the Greek sense.

The truth of the matter is this; each and every inhabitant of this planet is linked in some way. Unless we start thinking about humanity as an organism that will only survive in community, we shall perish in our little cliques.

sunnyntayombya@newtimes.co.rw

 

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