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Nationalism as a Liberating and an Enslaving Force Essay

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Updated: Jul 20th, 2021

Introduction

Nationalist ideas play an important role in modern times, but this ideology faces a unique set of challenges in the 21st century. In the past, nationalism has come out as both a liberating and an enslaving force. For instance, nationalism was the underlying ideology behind the American Revolutionary War of 1775, which ultimately led to the independence of the country. In this case, nationalism is a liberating force.

On the other hand, prodded by nationalist ideas, Germany and its allies such as Hungary-Austria orchestrated events that led to the start of World War I. The repercussions of this war were far-reaching for Germany, as it was required to take responsibility and pay reparations for the damages caused in different places in Europe. This example highlights how nationalism can be an enslaving force. Nationalism is both a liberating and an enslaving force. This paper discusses the above assertion using contemporary examples.

Nationalism as a Liberating Force

The term nationalism has evolved over time and taken different meanings and definitions, but the central idea of pride and commitment to one’s nation engraved in national identity has not changed. Some of the forms of nationalism that have been practiced in the recent past include liberal nationalism and anti-colonial nationalism. According to Heywood (2013), liberal nationalism hinges on the belief that nations have a universal right to freedom and self-determination. On the other hand, anti-colonial nationalism emerged mainly in Asia and Africa as nations created a sense of nationhood to demand independence from their colonial masters (Heywood, 2013).

Based on the emerging sense of nationhood, countries such as Indonesia fought the Netherlands for independence, and they won in 1949. In the same year, China became independent after winning an eight-year war against the Japanese. Similarly, the French were forced to leave Vietnam in 1954 after a military uprising fighting for independence (Heywood, 2013). The above examples underscore how nationalism worked as a liberating force for countries in Asia as they ultimately gained independence. In Africa, anti-colonial nationalism played similar roles as countries, such as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi, launched violent campaigns to fight for freedom and independence.

According to Olasupo, Oladeji, and Ijeoma (2017), “Nationalism presupposed African unity against European domination and rule in Africa or the creation in Africa united ‘nation-states’ as well as their economic and political transformation” (p. 261). Ultimately, all African countries gained independence whether through violence or peaceful negotiations and thus nationalism acted as a liberating force.

Conservative nationalism is another form of liberating force that has occurred in contemporary times. According to Hewood (2013), conservative nationalism deals with social cohesion and the maintenance of social order in a given nation. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda used this form of nationalism to heal and unite the country after the 1994 genocide whereby over 1 million minority Tutsis were killed (Blackie & Hitchcott, 2018).

As the genocide ended and President Kagame rose to power, together with his administration and other international bodies, he created a plan to ensure social cohesion and healing for the country to move forward with development and reconciliation. A nationalistic program, Ndi Umunyarwanda, which means “I am Rwandan”, was launched to help the Rwandese, especially the youth, understand their origins (Blackie & Hitchcott, 2018).

Through this program, the Rwandan people are educated to understand that their differences were created by colonial powers, and thus they should not be divided along ethnic lines. This approach has worked successfully in healing the country through reconciliation based on shared nationalistic values. In this case, nationalism has liberated Rwanda from the devastating consequences of genocide. If the nationalistic program were not in place, the Tutsis would probably be agitating for justice and seeking revenge against the Hutus, who carried out the massacres. However, nationalism has become the redeeming feature and the Rwandan people are united with a shared vision of leaping into a middle-class economy in the few years to come.

Nationalism as an Enslaving Force

While nationalism can be a liberating force as discussed in the preceding section, it can also be enslaving and destructive in many ways. In Sri Lanka, nationalism destabilized the country for many 25 years since 1983 when a civil war started (Seoighe, 2016). The conflicting sides were the Tamil Tigers rebels fighting the government, which is mainly made of Sinhala. During colonization, the British moved Tamils from India to Sri Lanka to work on rubber plantations. However, when the British left the country, Tamils settled, but they were not fully accepted by the majority Sinhala. The government won the civil war in 2009, but the conflict had devastating effects on the country, especially the Northeast part where the rebels were stationed.

Seoighe (2016) posits, “Post-war Sri Lanka is defined by the logic of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism, glorification and expansion of the military, and the exponential growth of state-corporate economic projects” (p. 1). The Sinhala Buddhist nationalism ideology holds that land should be protected and preserved for Buddhism and Buddhists, and thus the government sought total territorial control, hence the conflict. Innocent lives were lost, property destroyed, and economic growth stalled due to the war. Besides, the Tamils were blamed for the assassination of Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa and the killing of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Such losses and incidences underscore the enslaving force of nationalism.

In Myanmar, the Rohingya have faced a wide range of human rights violations, such as ethnic cleansing and government-sponsored genocide due to issues related to nationalism. Alam (2017) notes that the government of Myanmar has refused to recognize the Rohingya as citizens, and thus they continue to suffer as stateless people. Driven by nationalistic ideologies, the government of Myanmar argues that the Rohingya belong to Bangladesh, and thus by settling in the country, they are guilty of trespassing.

In Burma, xenophobic Buddhist nationalism has been driving monks to spread hateful anti-Muslim rhetoric (Gravers, 2015). The monks claim that their culture, language, and national identity are endangered by the presence of Muslims in the region and the widespread inter-faith marriages. These cases highlight how nationalism can be an enslaving force. Conflicts are unhealthy for the development of any region, and thus such occurrences enslave the involved parties.

Conclusion

The idea of nationalism has historical roots, and it is hinged on the premise of national pride and identity. Nationalism led to the independence of America through the Revolutionary War of 1775, and from this perspective, the ideology is a liberating force. In the recent past during the fight for independence, most countries in Asia and Africa based their struggles on anti-colonialism nationalism and liberal nationalism, and they ultimately triumphed to become sovereign states.

Similarly, President Kagame of Rwanda has used conservative nationalism to promote social cohesion and reconciliation after the 1994 genocide that threatened the existence of the country. However, nationalism can be an enslaving force as shown in the Sri Lankan civil war that lasted for 25 years. In Myanmar, the Rohingya continue to suffer because they have not been recognized as citizens. Similarly, in Burma, Muslims have been facing increased backlash caused by Buddhist nationalism. Therefore, in light of the arguments presented in this paper, it suffices to conclude that nationalism is both a liberating and enslaving force.

References

Alam, A. (2018). The Rohingya of Myanmar: Theoretical significance of the minority status. Asian Ethnicity, 19(2), 180-210.

Blackie, L. E. R., & Hitchott, N. (2018). ‘I am Rwandan’: Unity and reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda. Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, 12(1), 24-37.

Gravers, M. (2015). Anti-Muslim Buddhist nationalism in Burma and Sri Lanka: Religious violence and globalized imaginaries of endangered identities. Contemporary Buddhism, 16(1), 1-27.

Heywood, A. (2013). Politics (4th ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Olasupo, O., Oladeji, I. O., & Ijeoma, E. O. C. (2017). Nationalism and nationalist agitation in Africa: The Nigerian trajectory. The Review of Black Political Economy, 44(3-4), 261-283.

Seoighe, R. (2016). Nationalistic authorship and resistance in Northeastern Sri Lanka. Society and Culture in South Asia, 2(1), 1-30.

Annotated Bibliography

Alam, A. (2018). The Rohingya of Myanmar: Theoretical significance of the minority status. Asian Ethnicity, 19(2), 180-210.

This article discusses the suffering that the Rohingya people of Myanmar have gone through after the government refused to grant them citizenship. The author also explores how the minority status of the Rohingya has contributed to their current problems. One of the issues that the author points out is the emergence of Burmese nationalism, which has compelled the government to view the Rohingya as outsiders and trespassers. Therefore, this article will be used to explain the role of nationalism as an enslaving force by highlighting the suffering of the Rohingya of Myanmar. This information will be important in the development of the research paper and addressing the thesis statement.

Blackie, L. E. R., & Hitchott, N. (2018). ‘I am Rwandan’: Unity and reconciliation in post genocide Rwanda. Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, 12(1), 24-37.

The authors of this article discuss the unity and reconciliation process that has been happening in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. The country has made significant progress in social cohesion and remaining peaceful against the backdrop of an event that threatened its very existence. One of the interesting ideas that the authors highlight is the nationalistic program called Ndi Umunyarwanda or “I am Rwandan.” This program has played a critical role in ensuring that the Rwandan people are proud of their country without focusing on their ethnic differences. The article will be used to discuss nationalism as a liberating power. Specifically, the article offers valuable information on conservative nationalism, which has brought peace and order in Rwanda.

Gravers, M. (2015). Anti-Muslim Buddhist nationalism in Burma and Sri Lanka: Religious violence and globalized imaginaries of endangered identities. Contemporary Buddhism, 16(1), 1-27.

According to the authors of this journal article, anti-Muslim Buddhism nationalism has been happening in Burma and Sri Lanka over the years. For instance, in Burma, monks have been advancing the rhetoric that interfaith marriage between Muslims and Buddhists should not be allowed because it threatens their culture, faith, beliefs, and national identity. Sri Lanka has also been spreading such hate messages against Muslims in the region. This article contains relevant information on how Buddhist nationalism is causing conflict in Burma and Sri Lanka. Therefore, the article will be used to discuss nationalism as an enslaving force as part of addressing the thesis statement.

Heywood, A. (2013). Politics (4th ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Chapter five of this book discusses the concepts of nations and nationalism. The author examines the key theories of nationalism with the aim of understanding the forces that define national identity and pride associated with this ideology. The chapter also highlights the political implications of nationalism. This book has useful information on the concept of nationalism together with how nations are formed and structured to advance this ideology. This information will contribute significantly to the research topic. It will be used in the definition of the concept of nationalism in both historical and contemporary contexts. The focus will be mostly on chapter five of the book, but other areas with relevant information could also be referenced.

Olasupo, O., Oladeji, I. O., & Ijeoma, E. O. C. (2017). Nationalism and nationalist agitation in Africa: The Nigerian trajectory. The Review of Black Political Economy, 44(3-4), 261-283.

The authors of this article argue that nationalism inspired African countries to agitate for independence from their colonial masters. The article uses Nigeria as an example to discuss the concepts of nationalism and nationalist ideologies used in Africa in the quest for independence. The authors highlight the concept of self-determination, which is ingrained in liberal nationalism, as one of the aspects that inspired change in Africa. Therefore, the article will be used to explain liberal nationalism and anti-colonial nationalism as liberating forces, which is part of the thesis statement.

Seoighe, R. (2016). Nationalistic authorship and resistance in Northeastern Sri Lanka. Society and Culture in South Asia, 2(1), 1-30.

This journal article explores the role of nationalism in the Sri Lankan civil war that lasted for 25 years. The author also discusses nationalism in post-war era. Sinhala Buddhist nationalism has been at the center of the Sri Lankan conflict. The Sinhala believe that their land should be protected and preserved for Buddha and Buddhists. This assertion explains why the Tamils were not allowed to settle in the Northeastern part of the country. The country went through a civil war for over two decades with devastating consequences. Therefore, the article will be used to support the claim that nationalism can be an enslaving power.

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1. IvyPanda. "Nationalism as a Liberating and an Enslaving Force." July 20, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nationalism-as-a-liberating-and-an-enslaving-force/.


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IvyPanda. "Nationalism as a Liberating and an Enslaving Force." July 20, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nationalism-as-a-liberating-and-an-enslaving-force/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Nationalism as a Liberating and an Enslaving Force." July 20, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nationalism-as-a-liberating-and-an-enslaving-force/.

References

IvyPanda. (2021) 'Nationalism as a Liberating and an Enslaving Force'. 20 July.

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