August 18, 2016

Nationalism, Patriotism, Racism and Religionism

Khin Maung Myint
(MPT Retired)

During the struggles for freedom, or in other words, Independence of a nation, it was seen that every country’s national leaders promote the nationalist spirit or the nationalism. It proved to be very effective in rallying the people for the cause. Without nationalism, the people wouldn’t be united or dedicated. Nationalism is the foundation of patriotism, a very noble and honorable spirit born of one’s love for one’s country and always prepared to sacrifice or to give one’s life for the country. However, if misguided, nationalism could turn into racism, which is undesirable. Extreme racism had been seen to breed undesirable behaviours, such as arrogance, discrimination, hatred and could eventually lead to ruthlessness and end up in terrorism.
During our struggles for independence, our national leaders had promoted the nationalism and guided it, in the right directions that achieved their goals. Likewise, other nations in Asia, which struggled or in some cases, fought for their independence also promoted the nationalism to the peak and achieved their goals. However, once their missions were accomplished, they tone down the nationalism and guided their people not to hate the colonists who once ruled over them. Most remarkable examples are those of Singapore and Vietnam.
Singaporeans in their struggle for independence nurtured the nationalist spirit or nationalism and stood up against the British rulers. Once they gained independence, they bore no grudge to their former rulers, but maintained friendly relations and spoke no ill of them. The Vietnamese, who had to wage war against their colonialist rulers, the French for independence and also had to fight the Americans who sided with the South, tried to forget and forgive and moved on. Those two countries are prospering today.
Other former colonies in Asia also maintained good relationships with the British and remained in the Commonwealth as members until today. I am citing this to make my point that nationalist spirit or the nationalism should not turn into racism. Racism, if pushed to the extremes, as in the case of the Nazis, could turn into hatred. Nationalism, if channeled in the right direction would turn into patriotism, which is a great asset in building a nation.
Today if we observe the other countries around the world, we are bound to find that, the present day wars or armed clashes are either racially or religiously motivated. The old concept or the definition of war was, if an issue or a dispute between two nations couldn’t be settled on the table, i.e, politically or by negotiations, they could lead to armed conflicts or wars. However, in my opinion that concept had changed. Look everywhere in the world today, and we are bound to see that the armed clashes and the wars are racially or religiously motivated. In extreme cases, there are armed conflicts between different sects belonging to the same race or religion. In my personal views, racially motivated conflicts rarely flared up into armed conflicts but mostly into riots, which could lead to bloodsheds. Even in a democratic country like the US and South Africa of the past, almost all the riots are instigated by racism. The supremacism or in other words, the race supremacy mentalities or attitudes are behind those conflicts. All these mindsets had taken root since the birth of those nations.
At one point, it had taken a dangerous turn. Not only the race but the colour of the skins is being discriminated. In many public places in the US in the sixties, I had come across signs that read: “Whites Only” or “Blacks Not Allowed” or “No Coloured”. By the term “coloured”, they included the Asians, especially those of East and South East Asian origins. In their opinion we are “yellow skinned”. However, that racial supremacy mindsets have diminished somewhat, but still alive on both sides of the divide, evident from the recent developments in the US.
I am mentioning these things, not to condemn or to demean any one, but to point out to our countrymen that racism and religionism are harmful and should not be embraced. We should not forget the lessons learned from the Nazi supremacist policies that triggered the two world wars. However, this time around, it would be the religionism that would lead to a global war.
The bloody riots that took place in our country were the results of the extreme racisms that got out of control. In my view, extreme racism could sometimes turn into religionism, which could lead to undesirable and dangerous situations that should be avoided at all costs. Such developments should not be tolerated and those who instigate hatred between races and religions should be put under control before they could create further mistrusts and misunderstandings among the different races and religions. These situations should not be created or exploited and used for any groups’ or parties’ advantage. Here, the term parties doesn’t necessarily meant the political parties.
The armed conflicts are the results of the negative racist and religionist mentalities that stemmed from the mistrusts and misunderstandings between the different races and religions. These are the outcomes of the divide and rule practices that our country was once subjected to. Today, thanks to the unrelenting endeavours of the government and the various armed groups, the Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA) had successfully been endorsed. Those remaining armed groups should settle their differences and discard their mistrusts and misunderstandings once and for all and join hands with the other national races and participate in signing the NCA as soon as possible and move our Union forward.
I would like to humbly remind all the concerned parties that there is no religion in the world, which teaches hatred, ruthlessness or terrorism to their followers. Every religion teaches: love, compassion, empathy, and consideration towards others. All religious leaders of all faiths should also avoid condemning other religions that could create controversies and lead to conflicts. Such activities are neither productive nor desirable. It is time for us to nurture and embrace patriotism instead of racism or religionism, which could create division and disunity among our people that could hinder our democratic process.
Today, it is an undeniable fact that we are trailing behind the other ASEAN nations, though we are supposed to be endowed with resources that most countries in the grouping lacked. Also as the geostrategic location of our country put us in a geopolitically important position that gave us an edge over others, we should be in the lead, instead of trailing behind others. It is high time that we abandon our negative attitudes, grievances, differences, mistrusts and misunderstandings between our national races. Let us overhaul our rusted mindsets and leave those that have passed in the past and move on towards a harmonious, united, peaceful, prosperous and democratic future.


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