by Julia Luise Tiemens
As a German, I come from a country with very strong nationalistic values. Germany is a country with a long-standing history of nationalism, that brought the citizens together and created a certain feeling of pride and connection for the country. In the European room, this is normal as it hosts very different countries that are united in their economic and often political interests. My whole life I have lived in a variety of different countries and I by how much the nationalistic feeling differs, even between similar nations that are geographically close. This form of nationalism is relevant in its consequences on political attitude, and the development of conflicts and wars (especially in the middle eastern region). Over the last centuries, the Middle East has gained a stronger standing on international grounds, drawing attention to itself. Therefore, we must take a closer look at the way society works, to understand their attitude towards politics. Is there a form of nationalism as strong or concrete as the European one? Where does the sense of unity come from: Is it about the nation or is it about other factors?
The Middle East is a region with constant power center shifts, making a recurrent feature its instability. Nationalism was established during the collapse of the Ottoman empire when the struggling government affirmed the religious and ethical diffusion of the population. However, the attempts to build a nation have been tangled up with modernization, capitalism, and colonialism which constructed grave differences, defining the area ever since. Regional rivalries, sectarian division, and ethnic conflicts turned movements like pan-Arabism into unfulfilled dreams. New citizenship often refused to recognize ethnic and religious minorities, like Kurds, Greeks, and Armenians. These differences are peculiar as they have no relationship with countries or borders but rather with ideology, creating the problem of a missing sense of nation surroundings. Despite all, there were a lot of – unsuccessful- attempts to overcome this, like the Turkish artificial nation-building. The grand mix of people, race, and religion leads to a variety of competing nationalist movements. By the beginning of the 20th century, agreements were made putting the middle east under strict guidance that denied history and culture. Therefore, the population was divided into artificial nation-states, generating unclarified conflict in the region.
Nation-building was portrayed as a scheme to create modern, secular, political communities, which clashed with the traditional forces such as religion and communal ties. As a consequence, national consolidation was slow and uneven. The inability to distribute resources and the failure to establish modernity stopped nation-building in many cases. However, their constant struggle to maintain nations, raises the question if it is even possible to have nationalism? In the Middle East, Loyalty belongs to religious or ethnic groups rather than the nation-states. Societies are constantly threatening to dissolve into rivalry groups (for instance the Sunni or Kurds). All these struggles are determined by an ideological regime rather than nationalism.
In Europe, western nations begin to move toward cooperation and globalization, creating a certain uncertainty, which leaves space for populism and nationalism. This can be observed in countries like Hungary, which are run by anti-globalization governments. Big events like Brexit or Le Pen’s ideologies about traditional values, affirm the shift further. Despite all a certain national identity of “feeling European”, build on top of all nationalistic views, is present. Yet, the sense of unity does not necessarily imply support for the EU, as it is often rested upon stereotypes against non-Europeans and used by political groups to create an unhealthy image.
Looking on a smaller scale, Germany has been shaped by nationalism throughout history like no other country. Society has been defined by a strong feeling of belonging inside the borders of a territory, which has been reaffirmed during wars. Especially propaganda strongly promoted stereotypes and therefore defined nationalism by prejudice, national identity, and pride. German nationalism and patriotism go hand in hand: There is a deep love for the country and pride for the community and its values. Nationalism, an egocentric value pushed by mass society, was strengthened during WW2. The following period of depression, made the unity lose its weight. However, it was revived during the 2015 refugee crisis, where Germany became the home of millions of middle eastern refugees. First, public reactions were rather enthusiastic, while after weeks this began to change. Social media began to portray the crisis in a racist way, making refugees a risk for safety and security. Right-wing extremist parties took advantage of the uncertainty of the population, to fuel nationalistic notions. The political movements weakened the European sense of unity, yet strengthened the individual one.
While in Europe nationalism is clearly defined, equipping every country with its own strict identity, the lines are blurrier in the middle east. Due to the struggle of creating nations, people usually do not identify themselves with a territory. However, a division inside the country is put together by religion and ideology, making the factor that welds the society together ethical belief. Nevertheless, the division makes it difficult to have a national community. In Germany on the other hand, the history and community call for pride and patriotism. While these two types of love bring people together in a similar way, they function in different ways. In case of conflict and problems it defines who, the loyalty will be subjected to. How can there be two forms of nationalism, so different?
History as well as ideology and identity play huge roles. Germany has a rich history of being involved in international wars, which played a major role in society feeling a strong connection to their home. Whatever happens, there is always the pride manufacturing knowledge that Germany pulled itself back after the war and that it is a fully functioning nation nowadays. The history of most Middle Eastern countries differs in so far that wars never occurred between national boundaries but rather between ideologies. This split the countries, rather than forming a community. These historical circumstances are crucial in the national identity we feel today, which is built on pride, love, and a feeling of belonging. Without it, there would not be national identity and without identity, there is no nationalism. In the end, all countries are defined by ideologies, which in this case differ on the outside but are similar at the core. The controversial nationalism in Germany is a standing wish-thinking in countries like Iran.
Concluding, one can say that middle eastern nationalism is built less concrete and replaced by a concept of ethical ideology, which is less stable as observable in the reoccurring wars. In Europe, most populations are tied by the unity of national identity. What is portrayed on one side of the world as a threat, is desired in another part, portrayed as an ideology. This shows that nationalism does not always have to be feared and is not the only catalyst for wars. As much as it can destroy the bond between communities, it can also bring the people in a community together and create a strong team. While in Germany it is too present, in the middle east it could be the solution to a variety of problems. An equilibrium form could change international politics for the better and contribute to stability and identity.
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