An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Asian Nationalism and its inevitability

Rafiq Dossani writes about Asian Nationalism:

There is little doubt that political activity in Europe in the 19th century and particularly during its last decades was, as Eric Hobsbawm puts it, ‘convulsed by the principle of nationality’. Despite its recognized risks of isolationism and suppression of minorities at one extreme and external aggression at the other, the desire for the congruence of nation and state (however theoretically impossible), turned out, at least for several decades, to be a better driving force for economic and social progress than other ‘isms’.

In Asia, Japan is probably the best example of positive nationalism of the time. Scholars sent to Europe during the nationalist Meiji period were instructed to learn what we might now call global best practices. They returned home and modeled Japan’s constitution, parliament, educational and military systems on the systems they had studied in Europe, notably Bismarck’s Germany, the leading nationalist European state of the time.

Japan apart, Asian nationalism was hardly evident upto the first half of the 20th century, largely due to colonialism and internal strife. Even at the start of the century’s second half, the prospects for Asian nationalism looked as bleak. Japan had entered its pacifist phase. Other Asian countries were either too heterogeneous (ethnically, linguistically and in religious terms) to see any serious nationalism, notably India, but also Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines; or were subject to contrary trends, be it communism in China, or right-wing dictatorships in Korea and Taiwan.

Yet, as the new century establishes itself, concerns about rising Asian nationalism are suddenly rife. The US, Japan and Taiwan are concerned that Chinese nationalism threatens Asian and world peace as China develops economically. The US is also worried that South Korea’s lukewarm responses to US initiatives to manage North Korea’s nuclear weapons program reflects a latent nationalism. India has struggled in the past two decades to manage Hindu and Kashmiri nationalism, with varying degrees of success, although its federalized democracy offers more space for dissent than other ethnically heterogeneous Asian countries. Both China and Korea argue that Japanese nationalism is virulent, if latent, pointing to the content of textbooks and visits of Japanese politicians to the Yasukuni shrine. The US-led war on terror has targeted radical Islamic groups in Asia, among other places, leading to strained relations between rulers and Muslim minorities in Thailand and the Philippines.

The old paradigm of democracy as the solution to all problems, including the problems of nationalism, is thus beginning to look weak in Asia. So, is the world right to be worried about rising Asian nationalism?

One way to look at this is to argue that Asia is where Europe was at the start of World War 1. The beneficial effects of nationalism in Europe, in terms of creating nation-states, had by then been obtained, but not the aspirations of its citizens for better lives. These aspirations were diverted by elite rulers, supported by the new age of mass media and high-technology weaponry, to create a new force. As Hobsbawm notes, nationalism emerged in the early 20th century not, as expected, as a milder substitute for social revolution, but as the matrix of fascism.

Even though the language of those times can sound familiar to modern ears, such as the creation of new vehicles of mass communications via the Internet and nuclear weaponry as the new high-technology weapon of mass destruction, the Asia of today is different from the Europe of 1914. It was created under different circumstances: not as an elite-led response to imperialism as in Europe but as a mass movement driven by the need to define a state in the post-colonial era. As a result, Asian countries have focused more on economic development than external postures and are likely to do so for many more decades. This, along with growing transnational economic ties, should help deflect nationalism’s more aggressive outcomes, even in states sometimes accused of being subject to more insular thinking owing to their ethnic homogeneity, such as China, Korea and Japan. Perhaps the near-term destiny of Asia’s nation-states might be more like Europe of the 1960s than of 1914, i.e., favoring the creation of an economic union.

It is too early, perhaps, to say. Nevertheless, that nationalism is a growing force in Asia is a conclusion that needs to be recognized by policymakers around the world.

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These are my comments:

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History hardens Attitudes. More the History, More hardened the Attitudes!

Therefore, to expect that Asia’s nationalism will see any different direction is wishful thinking. Japan-China problems are more deep-seated than most Western issues, or any for that matter!

India-Pakistan issue, on the other hand, is one of existence essentially. If India thrives (and as do Indian Muslims) then the raison d’etre for Pakistan – the two nation theory – goes to dust. So, the strife must continue .. and innocent people must die.. they must be forced to die. In that atmosphere, there is little escape from nonsensical behavior.

I feel that it is an assumption that the Nationalistic feelings are “rising” NOW… I doubt that. I am pretty sure they never died. They were just “channeled” to a different direction. But alive and kicking they were.

Another thing a little unrelated to this but somehow tangential. The Western countries did great in the throes of the Industrial Revolution. You really required a factory and huge capital to do basically anything worth while in those days.

Not many have recognized that Knowledge economy is a GREAT levelling ground! It lets someone with a little brain and a little education can kick the heck out of a kid learning in front of a state-of-art PC in an air conditioned class room!

That is why education and recognition of brilliance .. and celebration of it becomes so much more important!

It is ironical that it is at THIS time US and West has to close it borders more …. and nationalism is on the rise! Brilliance remains within the borders where it emanates from.

THAT to me is the biggest threat to the West ….. and the BIGGEST thing going for Asia!

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