Farrukh Dhondy | Of patriotism' & nationalism': It may be time to do a rethink

In any democratic country today, patriotism ought to mean love for and loyalty to a country that defines itself

“If reality is a reflection.
Don’t smash the mirror in a rage
If reality is just a fiction,
Don’t rip up the offending page
If reality is a nightmare.
Ride the white horse into the dawn
If reality is a game of chess
Face the fact – Oh sacrificial pawn!”
From Bachchoo’s Bickerings

Some decades ago, Norman Tebbit, a former pilot turned politician (just like our own Rajiv Gandhi?) and a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government, devised what became known as the “Tebbit test”. It wasn’t put to any practical or political use but was at the time accepted as a measure of British patriotism applied to its ethnic population.

The test was an observation of who was cheering which team when the MCC, or now England, were playing a game of cricket against the West Indies, Pakistan, India or Bangladesh. If you were of Pakistani ancestry living in Bradford or Huddersfield, even if you, and perhaps even your parents, had been born and brought up in Britain, would you cheer for the Pakistani XI or for the British team?

The Tebbit test was never passed into law -- unlike the strictures that today’s home secretary, Pritti “Clueless” Patel, has introduced about measuring earning capacity and only admitting those in the upper brackets, banning those whose potential earnings would classify them as “hoi polloi” (I am sure Clueless doesn’t use the Latin term!). Tebbit’s test was simply a conduit for antagonism.

I confess that I pass and fail the Tebbit test regularly. In the recent series of Test matches between India and England, I was all for Joe Root’s team in the first Test, when “we” were winning, and then switched allegiance in the second and third, with patriotic support for Virat Kohli’s team and achievement. No, gentle reader, in democratic Britain, this admission can’t lead to Clueless sending MI5 to knock at my door at dawn.

The Tebbit test is basically moronic. Cricket isn’t war, it’s just a game and those blue-blooded British who place a bet on India winning the latest Test have used their judgment of bowling and batting, rather than betrayed their country by making money through its defeats.

And yet the idea of patriotism, in the wake of the assault by American “patriots” on their own legislature, and in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, can perhaps do with some examination, or at least discussion.

The arguments for so doing are, forgive me, not rocket science -- though I’ve found dealing with rockets quite easy to master when I light them placed in empty wine bottles and turn them away from gathered family and friends each Diwali.

Were the neo-Nazis who attacked the Capitol in Washington really “patriots”? Other columnists have been examining the word, perhaps for the same reasons that I feel impelled to. I publicly admit, gentle reader, to being a regular subscriber to a right-wing British magazine called The Spectator. Its columnists and editorials are always vitriolic against something they call “the left” -- a label they affix to anything that the writers disagree with. Some of their columnists, with one token exception, are apologists for disastrous Brexit; many of them for Donald Trump when he was in power and some plainly eccentric. One of their columnists, who in recent issues has been an ardent opponent of the UK government’s “lockdown”, is called Lionel Shriver.

I believe that she is a novelist of sorts and won a prize for a book called something like -- I’m sorry, memory fails -- “We must ask Johnny why he killed his classmates”. Her arguments against lockdown said she was in possession of research which showed that lockdowns didn’t work. I would have written a letter to the magazine pointing out that they didn’t work because idiots didn’t obey the lockdown and gathered together at every opportunity and spread the wretched disease. They wouldn’t have printed it.

I’ve picked on this particular columnist and this particular foolishness because last week Ms Shriver quotes Webster’s dictionary to contend that patriotism and nationalism used to be interchangeable until, surprise, surprise, the villainous, shadowy left “hived off” the definition of patriotism to distinguish it from nationalism. “‘Patriots’ can advocate open borders. While ‘nationalists’ are selfish bigots who throw children in cages. Putting a neo-Nazi stink on the word ‘nationalists’ also puts a stink on the desire for more effective border control.” Ms Shriver, an American immigrant herself, wants to use dodgy semantics to slam the door behind her. Hypocrite lecteur, ma semblable, ma souer!

Perhaps Ms Shriver has never read George Orwell and ought to. Here’s his definition of ‘nationalist’: “The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also unshakeably certain of being in the right.”

Ms Shiver should also note that the patriots who attacked the Capitol were neo-Nazis, some of them wearing printed T-shirts saying 6MNE – “Six million not enough”! They were there in support of Mr Trump who was, like her, an ardent advocate of “effective border control”.

In any democratic country today, patriotism ought to mean love for and loyalty to a country that defines itself, as did the exemplary founders of Independent India, as one with cast-iron guarantees of freedom of speech and social and political equality for all.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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