Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Identity (part 2) -Deconstructing common beliefs about Nationalism and Culture

Identity is nothing more than a created conception of oneself that we hold to be true.  Identity defines one's thought process, one's personality, one's perception of reality, and one's life choices.  Though you cannot control your "birth lottery" and what others see you as, you can choose the identity you decide to identity and define yourself as.  For when you destroy myth and see through myth, you can see reality for what it is.  Reality is nothing more than a controlled existence defined by choices we make based on incomplete information that we are given.  Given and exposed to us from the TV and radio, from newspapers, from the education system, and also from our friends and family.  All of whom, expound and cement cultural and nationalistic myths inside of us at a very early age making it hard for us to truly understand not only ourselves but also understand the reality we live in.  When we realize that myths about identity and culture abound and permeate throughout all cultures and history we are privy to a greater awakening inside ourselves and the way we look at the world.

Italy -Italian nationalism first arose as a potent political force in the 1830s in the Italian peninsula under the leadership of Giuseppe Mazzini. Italian nationalism became strong again in World War I with Italian "irredentist" claims to territories held by Austria-Hungary.  However,  in the past, Italy was controlled and under the influence of the Pope's Papal State.  Rome and what was left of the Papal States were annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1870.  However, majority of Italians presently tend to trace their culture back to mythological stories rooted and created around the great Roman Empire (which by the way spoke Latin not Italian and was a completely different culture from what Italians describe as their culture).  Most Italians do not trace their cultural roots back to Giuseppe Mazzini and his nationalistic movement.  In fact, most Italians do not even know of Giuseppe Mazzini and tend to romanticize their identity and their existence by saying their culture has historically existed since Roman times and is the oldest culture still in existence.  A sheer fallacy but in reality, over time, truth is forgotten and myth replaces truth eventually becoming truth. 

Germany -the earliest origins of German nationalism began with the birth of Romantic nationalism during the Napoleonic Wars when Pan-Germanism started to rise. Advocacy of a German nation began to become an important political force in response to the invasion of German territories by France under Napoleon.  With the political genius of the Hohenzollern rulers of the former German state of Prussia a German state was formed.  The formal unification of Germany into a politically and administratively integrated nation state officially occurred on 18 January 1871. Princes of the German states gathered there to proclaim Wilhelm of Prussia as Emperor Wilhelm of the German Empire after the French capitulation in the Franco-Prussian War. 

Sikhism and the Singh Sabha Movement -Under the guidance of the British rulers during the Colonial period, the Singh Sabha Movement created what is known presently as Sikh identity and Sikhism.  Not privy to Britain's often used tactic of "Divide and Rule", the Singh Sabha Movement played into British hands by creating an identity which separated themselves from the other groups in colonial India under the East India Company's rule.  This was used carefully and methodically for Britain's ambitions and gains over India due to the fact under their new formed identity, the Sikhs were able to come to the aid of the East India Company during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, which led to the British Crown maintaining power over India and subjecting Indians under a British Raj.

India -though Gandhi led the movement to "Free India from British rule", Gandhi was funded, supported, and protected by the Indian National Congress (I.N.C.).  The I.N.C. ("founded upon the suggestion of British civil servant Allan Octavian Hume in order for the Congress to form a platform for civic and political dialogue of educated Indians with the British RajAfter the First War of Indian Independence (Indian Rebellion of 1857) and the transfer of India from the East India Company to the British Empire, it was the goal of the Raj to support and justify its governance of India with the aid of English-educated Indians, who would be familiar and friendly to British culture and political thinking.  This was one of of the main reasons the Congress grew and survived in the era of undisputed British hegemony.  It was through the patronage of British authorities, Anglo-Indians, and a rising Indian educated class that kept the I.N.C. relevant and cohesive.  The theory of the 'safety valve' has also been associated with the birth of congress. Congress provided a platform for Indians to bring out their resentment vocally. Its initial aim was to divert the minds of Indians from any sort of physical violence".  This 'safety valve' created and designed by Britain, bought the British authorities time in order to give India  independence under their terms and remain under their influence (i.e: Indian still remains a commonwealth country presently).  This 'safety valve' and the influence and persuasion of Gandhi allowed India to form without having India fragment into pieces and set their British plans backwards.  Originally and before the invasion of Britian, India as it is known presently did not exist.  In fact, it was nothing more than regions, with many of the regions ruled by the Mughals until 1857.

Arab Nationalism -The revolt, one of the most dramatic episodes of the 20th century, was a seminal moment in the history of the modern Middle East, the touchstone of all future regional conflicts.  None of today's states in the region existed until the 1920s. Before that, the Middle East was part of the Ottoman Empire, which included Slavs, Greeks, Turks, Arabs, Berbers, Kurds, and Armenians, as well as Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Like all great empires, the Ottoman Empire was successful because for the most part its leaders let their subjects live as they chose.  However, European ambitions over the Ottoman Empire enabled Britain to send in spies/intelligence officers to foment Arab nationalism as they sent in T.E. Lawrence (among many others).  Lawrence's major contribution to the revolt was convincing the Arab leaders  to co-ordinate their actions in support of British strategy.  Lawrence developed a close relationship with Faisal, whose Arab Northern Army was to become the main beneficiary of British aid (similar to U.S.A. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the support of the Northern Alliance).

The list goes on and on for every region and every entrenched identity in every part of the world.

- In the 1900s, Empires broke apart due to the interference of other competing Empires trying to annex their lands.  This led to many of the nationalistic identities we know presently all across Europe being created (ex: Ottoman Empire's defeat in World War 1 led to France and Britain taking over the Middle East and parts of Northern Africa.  Identities and nation states were formed after World War 2 for these areas that Britain and France took over.  The defeat of the Ottoman Empire also led to the creation of present day Turkey).  Austria-Hungary's defeat in World War 1 led to France gaining long sought areas in Germany and the creation of Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, the Czechoslovakia (which then later became Czech Republic and Slovakia), large parts of Serbia and Romania, and smaller parts of Italy, Montenegro, Poland, and Ukraine.
- Superpowers helped in breaking apart other competing nations by fomenting rebellion inside of the opponent's country.  By creating nationalistic and cultural ideologies and myths, it allowed regions who were separated by distance (far from the center of political power) to ask for autonomy.  The Empire and Superpower would then fund and arm these same distant regions in order to ensue that discord would weaken their opponent so that they would capitulate those problematic regions enabling the Superpower to gain influence in that region.  In doing so, an identity had to be formed for a people out of very little differences that existed beforehand.  A heroic and cultural myth had been created allowing a nation-state to come into existence (ex: Panama seceding from Columbia in 1903 with the backing of the United States).

- Due to the need for rapid modernization, rapid urbanization, and rapid industrialization to take place in many of the countries all across the world, Superpowers enabled larger nations to exist which had enough personnel to carry out these changes needed to move these countries forward.  Totalitarian leaders were enabled to rule over these lands for a given time until these changes were carried out.  When these changes were carried out, Superpowers often weakened the economy of these areas often causing civil discord and civil war to occur.  This brought down leaders and was often enough to break these areas into even smaller areas (ex: Yugoslavia breaking apart into Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Kosovo. U.S.S.R. breaking apart into Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan,  Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania)
- Breaking down present day nation-states into smaller and smaller regions means that these newly formed identities become more dependent on their investors in order to just survive as an identity, a culture, and as a nation.  Presently, due to globalization, no nation can exist on its own and is therefore dependent on the Superpowers that created them.  Also this is due in large part to the fact these newly formed cultures and identities are pulling away from their former nation and turning away from their old identity, often leaving them isolated and heavily fortified (ex: Invasion of Iraq leading to the creation of a South Kurdistan identity; the War on Terror and the removal of President Musharraf  in Pakistan helped to create calls for the creation of Waziristan and Balochistan.  In India, the area of Bodoland seeks independence.  In Bangladesh, Greater Assam seeks their own cultural identity).  Though small in scope, these autonomous areas weaken already impoverished countries and weaken their fragile economies even further.

 There was no actual identity apart from blood lineages and kinship before Colonialism.  After Colonialism and due to Colonialism -beliefs became entrenched religions, regions became whole nations, languages became whole cultures, and cultures became identity markers. Hinduism as religion for example did not exist before Colonialism created it.  India and Pakistan did not exist before Colonialism created it.

- The Atlantic Slave Trade shaped and created identities all across the Caribbean Islands.  From the Indians brought over from India to be indentured servants and from the "Blacks" brought over from Africa to be slaves, the identity of Trinidad and Guyana (though very similar in origin and culture are looked at as very different due to the names associated with the countries -often leading to silly and avoidable conflicts and arguments).

- Every region in any part of the world is different.  Even in Ontario for example each region has it's own culture and views (ex: Chinatown, Markham, Brampton, Little Italy, Woodbridge, North York, etc.).  These different regions are defined and separated by education, by class, by heritage, and by neighborhoods.  Each region having their own "culture" and "identity".  This fact is important because in truth, this is how many identities and cultures were formed in the past.  Out of nothing.  Out of the smallest differences by the powers that be who wanted nothing more than to create a "divide and rule" policy for their own gains.  

Hitler and the Nazis tried to create the myth of the Aryans.  For the most part, intellectuals did not support Hitler or the Nazis.  The masses did because they needed jobs so they quickly identified with the myths Hitler propagated and accepted them.  More so, this ignorance of the masses was due to the fact Germany was going through the Great Depression during Hitler's rise to power and the failure of the Weimer Republic. Hitler was able to craft and create his identity and culture by creating scapegoats and targeting Jews, Communists, Disabled people, and Homosexuals.  His cultural myth and identity revolved around the Nazis and Germans being a master race, the Aryan race.  However, this becomes a theoretical problem when it comes to the Nazis and Aryans because though, "Hitler and the Nazis claimed that they belonged to the Aryan master-race. Blonde, blue-eyed and fair skinned; congenitally a cut above the rest – especially those with darker skins. Aryans were nothing as they were described by Hitler.  In fact, Arya is a Sanskrit term – used to describe the invading tribes and horse tamers of 1700 BC, who believed themselves superior to those that they defeated . After a few generations, people started applying it to the social or ethical condition of being superior. Furthermore, the Medes were once known as Arii, and Persians who replaced them were called Aria – hence Iran, the modern name for Persia. In the 19th century, Max Muller modernized the term when he tried to describe the 'Indo-Germanic' race, though ironically he later claimed there were no evidence that such a race ever existed".  This also became a theoretical problem due to the fact Aryan blood is filtered through Northern India and Central Asia (also known as Indo-European people).  Therefore, creating cultural myths and identities is easy unless it comes under close scrutiny and examination when it usually falls apart.
Many identity markers exist in reality.  After your "birth lottery" which is out of your control, you have the power to pick an identity that works for you and also simultaneously be able to understand the identities of those around you if you so choose.  Do not limit yourself to definitions by the color of skin, by the fairness of your skin, by the education level you possess, by your heritage, by the neighborhood you live in, by your chosen or given religion, by your gender, by the country you are born into.  Choose your identity carefully.  It's what makes you unique.  It's what makes you, you.  Identity can be used either as a tool or as a weapon, you are ultimately the instrument that decides that.

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