Do please suspend swift reaction and judgement, if you can, and read, with patience, to the very end, as this is not a simple issue, although it is a vital one. Nationalism, in its nastier forms, is by no means the only problem we face in our times, but it is a thing that divides and affects us all.
And nationalism has many guises.
Tribalism, communal conflict, ethnic cleansing, civil wars without end – all of these, along with the horrors of empires of various kinds, are realities from which we cannot easily escape.
But if we begin to probe into the roots of these pathologies, to understand their nature, and so are able to recognize how they work and take action before they overwhelm us, then perhaps there is some hope.
Our tribal instincts can perhaps be addressed and appeased, without being given primacy.
Speak not to me of proud Bengal – or of glorious India.
Of “nations” and the harm they've done, I need no more reminder.
Of British and of Gallic pride, of German virtues – nay!
You'll only leave me, with your talk, in even more dismay.
Of Israel and Palestine, I think I've heard enough.
Call me when you're sickened by the nationalistic stuff.
Go wave the flag of Pakistan, of Bangladesh or India.
When riots start or wars begin, I know where I will find ya.
On football fields, the children play. It's innocent enough.
But in Brazil, the teams compete. And now the play turns rough.\1
An outlet? Yes. But see the crowds, with men and women crazed.
It's better, yes, than boxing. Yet I still remain amajed.
Let's leave aside the commerce that corrupts us, one and all.
Observe the metaphors we use for games of bat and ball, With headlines screaming, “beat” and “whip” – and verbs more murderous.
How easily we let the instincts coarser conquer us...
Returning then to patriots, who surely have their place –
Remember how you felt when you were struck upon your face,
Although you did no harm to him or her who did the deed.
Unless you're sainted, then arose – your ego, yes, indeed...
And it's the same with nations – when they're wounded, then they rise.
And so, in turn, they're wounders. This should cause us no surprise.
Identities, we have – and they are multiple, until
We're singled out for one of them – and drink, of bitters, fill.
So that's a reason, why we then attempt to reinforce
Identity that causes grief – or is erased by force.
But there are other reasons too, why egos rise from sleep.
Defense is only one of them – and none of them are deep.
Let's run away from empires and let's turn away from tribes.
Let's relish our identities, which are, as one describes,
Multiple. A woman is a mother, sister, child,
A cook and a photographer – with none of these defiled.
So can she be Bengali, and a Muslim, by her birth,
With Hindus in her lineage, and walk upon this Earth
With a passport that was Indian, until that was exchanged
For yet another document – and still not be deranged?
And can you be a Christian and an Arab and a Jew,
From all of these descended – yet be Latin in your view,
From being born, where Spanish now is spoken, and with genes
From those who first had planted, there, tobacco, maize and beans?
You're Croat? Ah, but here I see, your grandmother was Serb.
You're Jewish? Oh. You're hair is light. What's Nordic, you preserve. You're “White”? and she is “Black”? But look – you have the same ancestor.
If that's a question still, then look – Obama is your answer.
In Europe, lands were cleansed, in turn, of pagans, Muslims, Jews,
Of Christian sects that waged their wars for centuries, with views
That still remain to plague the lands where cleansing still proceeds,
As nations rose that soaked the earth with blood from brutal deeds.
Now Shias battle Sunnis in a war that is exploding.
But only yesterday, they sat and chatted, sans foreboding.
So is Kashmir in India or in Pakistan – or in nothing?
If that's our reason for a war, our reason, we've forgotten.
And I could point my finger at the ones who wheel and deal,
Who profit from our madness – and our dooms, with borders, seal.
But when I see how you and I are eager for the bait,
At pointing so my finger, I will take my time and wait.
So go and wave your flag and shout your slogans till you're sore.
But do this, please, at soccer games – in battlefields, no more...
And if you're for the wars we wage – go slaughter with the braves.
But let us have our hours of peace – before we fill our graves...
Go ask the shaikhs in emirates, go ask Manhattan's bankers,
What use they have for nations – and then listen to their answers.
And if you still are drunken from the potions you've imbibed,
Consorting with these cynics is the medicine prescribed.
When foreign troops are ravaging the land where you were born, Then you might take up arms. But when you've helped excise that thorn,
How many more you still might find that draw the people's blood...
The foreigners have left – and yet, of tears, there's still a flood...
The China that was set upon by Western wolves is risen.
But what remains of wisdom in that land of ancient vision?
How many peoples in a land, how rich the tapestry...
Yet when reduced to just a flag, what's left is travesty...
How many dead from empires, how many from our “nations”?
How many more before we reach the end of human patience?
The white sahibs were bad enough, we fought to speed their exit.
The brown sahibs are in their place. In place of Jones, a Dixit... \2
“You do not understand,” some say, “it's all about survival!”
“Survival, yes. For whom?” I ask. The answer, if you're tribal,
Is “Us.” “But who is us? Explain. Were you including me?”
The borders that divide us are where we have made them be...
There always is a history – though much of it is myth.
And histories have horrors – yes, no matter who you're with.
But if we learn, from history, that blood's on all our hands,
The ones who died might smile, perhaps, that someone understands...
We humans, we have troubles from our classes and our creeds.
Why add to these a “nation” – or the empire that it breeds?
Our cities and our provinces – these entities have use.
But they're for all who're born or settle there – without abuse.
The cities and the provinces, they rarely need to battle,
Until it's said, to Russians, “Out!” or to Ukrainians, “Scuttle!”
To be a citizen's a right of birth or domicile,
And horrors rise, when laws or arms, this basic right, defile.
Economics lies at root of much of what we humans do.
Resources, scarce, are battled for – and bare survival too.
Let's strip away the garbs in which this struggle is attired –
And then, perhaps, we'll have a chance, with nation-states retired...
2014 July 3rd, Thu. Brooklyn, New York
1. In case these verses are extant a year or more from now, the World Cup games for soccer were ongoing in Brazil as these were being written.
2. In standard English orthography, that surname should perhaps be spelled, more phonetically, as “Dikshit” – with both the “d” and the “t”being, however, dental consonants – made with the tip of the tongue touching the backs of the upper front teeth, as in most Latin languages, rather than alveolar consonants – made with the tongue-tip touching the upper gum ridge, as in English.
Some might question my use of the term “phonetic” in conjunction with English spelling. Although there are at least two well-established systems for spelling English, differing only in minor ways, it may be a
reach to call either of these a “system”, since they both fail to systematically represent even the basic phonemes of standard spoken English – on both sides of the Atlantic.