By Shenali Waduge
Let us put things in perspective. A Government cannot solve our problems, it cannot set our goals and it cannot define our vision. Similarly, a Government cannot eliminate poverty, increase economy, reduce inflation, cure illiteracy, provide resources or even save the world. A Government may not have solutions but it certainly can create or worsen the problem. Is there any reason to be surprised why people hate the word Government? This is in reference to not only one Government but to all Governments round the world. Much of the trust that should define politics is no more, common respect has disappeared and in its place is manipulation, coercion, evil, greed and plenty more vices that cover the global political landscape where speeches are nothing but carefully worded empty rhetoric written by some unknown advisor clueless and who cares less about ground realities or their repercussions.
Political campaigns are nothing but beating one’s opponent. It has little to do with one’s desire to deliver what the people needs. It is a game of cat and mouse a stampede to become the victor. Battlegrounds are set and millions and billions are spent in canvassing for people only to double the returns upon victory. Supporters too are nothing but those who look forward to reap the harvest from those that eventually sit on the throne. The Asian psyche of how politics is run is that anyone becomes an opponent of the ruling until such time one becomes included into the list of benefactors. Most often the severest of critics are the first to get up to receive the very leaders they claim to look down upon with disdain – politicians are well aware of these very weaknesses and that is why they are quick to read them and ever ready to deliver hidden desires from State coffers doled out for their silence! There are enough of political santa claus’s amongst us.
So what are Governments referred to – unethical, inefficient, wasteful, corrupt and this list will go on. The first signals of declining political landscape comes with the element of trust and its progressive demise. Whilst the basic needs of the common man is simply food, shelter, education and employment the delivery of these fundamental needs have become stalled as a result of the growing needs of those that bring Governments to power. These are not the voters who make up the common masses but a handful of elite who steer the policy of any elected government. They determine the type of investments, they bargain the type of incentives to be given, they demand and take the bulk of the profits that a country eventually earns. Governments become nothing other than toothless mouthpieces and in the Asian periphery of things they attempt to redeem the situation by bringing those known to them closer into the decision making. This strategy often leads to far greater ramifications because close ties are harder to be broken than those unknown. When every hand takes equal turns into the wealth of the state it is only a matter of time that people will begin to loose trust an aspect any politician cannot afford to loose in times where bigger and larger countries are looking out to eagle in on nations that were once colonized and to renew plundering of their natural resources. Should we be surprised in the rise of have’s and have nots globally?
When trust reaches alarming levels politicians are quick to tap on a word that automatically generates public unity – that is patriotism. You will not find many Americans who still do not believe or accept the shortcomings or connections of the Bush, Cheney oil cartel with that of Bin Ladens after over a decade and with internet freely available. Not many Americans will accept the notion that its Government has been involved in regime change and installing puppet governments by deposing democratically elected ones or even arming thousands of terrorists groups? It is going to take along time for Americans to wake up.
Nevertheless, what needs to be reiterated is that patriotism is today a political tool.
It demands people’s actions, it forces people to self-sacrifice on needs that have been withheld or delayed by the State and it allows politicians and governments some breathing space from all the miseries it has brought upon itself over the years due to inaction, delayed action or wrong action.
It is everyone’s right to ask questions and to demand that answers be given by legislatures who are voted to where they are by the citizens. Citizens begin to question when the application of laws and regulations begin to defer from one citizen to another. In Asia especially, the place given to people with influence is no understatement. Police personnel will often avoid stopping a SUV if the eventuality is a transfer for doing his duty, a Government servant will not question tender misconduct if it may affect his promotion and the list goes on leaving a total collapse of the administrative system simply because a handful of powerful people believe they have a right to throw their weight about never thinking that everything in life is impermanent. Premadasa never lived to enjoy any of the wealth he amassed and all those who surrounded him then are unlikely to even remember his birthday today.
People don’t want war – who wants to loose a piece of their body or die in a worse case scenario. The army doesn’t want to as well. They would rather prevent wars – it is those that do not take part in wars but benefit from wars that give the order for wars to take place. To facilitate the participation of the masses the politicians are quick to derive new laws or official policies. Thus patriotism has come to define and regulate the boundaries on which our governing bodies operate upon us and amongst us.
The problem with patriotism and in patriots in particular is that one finds the seasonal patriots who become far more deadly than those who know exactly when to draw the line and what defines their patriotism. The seasonal patriots are often those that defend the nation with a political benefit in mind which can often be in terms of position, power etc…it is when their expectations are not met that they become far worse than the enemy. A true patriot is never a slave and one who operates freely knowing exactly what is going on internally and externally.
Patriotism has been demeaned. Essentially patriotism is not a group thing it is something individual just as religions should be. Patriotism cannot be forced or legislated – it has to reside in the hearts of the people. The next debate is who is and who is not patriotic. Patriotism comes with the acceptance of facts and with the realism of what prevails in the context of the country’s situation locally and internationally. It’s always a balance of the situation and that is made all the more difficult when religion is brought in – any religion says it is wrong to kill but what happens when a leader declares war?
Patriotism is not only for citizens – just as citizens must love and want the best for their country the politicians must want it too. It is when politicians do not care what happens to the country that makes the situation catastrophic made worse when some politicians use the ignorance of masses to advance their selfish ambitions. The critics are quick to pounce and accuse those patriotic of blindly supporting a country’s government since they dislike the government. This is often a baseless argument attempting to only ridicule those that have a clear focus of what the country needs and where the country should be headed.
Patriotism cannot certainly be under duress “you are either with us or against us” as George Bush claimed. In today’s context it is preferable to think along the lines of human patriotism for it is the lives that matter above all else nor should it be limited to ceremonial gestures.
While a patriot is proud of his/her country for what it does, the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does is one way of looking at the two while others view patriotism as a collective responsibility and nationalism is simply a sense of feeling pride above others. Given the discrepancies and variance of views what we need to take out is that both urge a sense of national responsibility. While patriotism gives emphasis to values and beliefs, nationalism gives more importance to unity through culture, language and heritage. Some would argue that patriotism is passive by nature while nationalism is more aggressive this can be approached on the grounds that patriotism is associated with affection while nationalism incorporates resentment.
Nationalism is to place one nation above all others just now Nazi Germany promoted itself as superior to others. Then there are leaders like Charles Taylor who killed almost 300,000 people claiming to be patriotic, or Osama bin Laden whose ideology is continuing to kill more Muslims than actually saving them while in the US patriotism meant defending the country but blind to the demand for transparency from its Government. Set against the hybrid words of patriotism coming from powerful speeches is the silent patriotic sentiments from a handful of people who can read the dynamics of how global politics is played. In Third World nations especially though leaders are elected they are nothing more than agents of global First World economies who have to agree or suffer the consequences of open economy. What Third World politician would want to admit he/she is but a ceremonial head apart from those who are prepared to go the length and challenge how things are run. Well those that do are likely to end up another Gaddafi or Saddam or even Osama… bottomline is those leaders that do not conform to what a handful of movers and shakers expect them to do their length of time in power is limited.
What no one will deny is that all these “isms” (nationalism, tribalism, colonialism, nepotism, terrorism etc) have generated so much negative energy that the entire world is now suffering as a result.
The views expressed are the author’s own.