Nationalism is a strong word with different meanings for different people.
For many, nationalism implies patriotism or national pride. Those who avoid the negative connotation may think of the word and envision domestic, pleasant symbols such as the classic American BBQ, a good game of baseball or the pillars of democracy.
For others, nationalism is a powerful tool wielded to instigate conflict or target other domestic neighbors, regional out-groups or international undesirables. To define nationalism is to address concepts involving sovereignty, socially constructed communal identification and conflict.
When considering cases of ethnic, political or ideological conflict, history has shown that nationalism can play a major role in initiating the tension and potentially heightening violence, such as the rise of nationalism leading to the Rwandan genocide. We also see how nationalism can potentially extend the duration of conflict and hinder any potential resolution, such as during “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland and the domestic-level spoilers who tirelessly aimed to prohibit the resolution of conflict. Additionally, nationalism has often been used as a weapon for elites to mobilize civilians to do their bidding, such as the way Slobodan Milosevic utilized Serbian nationalism to maintain control over the former Yugoslavia.
Although nationalism has been the root of many ethnic, political, and ideological conflicts, many argue that nationalism is positive in nature. For some, nationalism provides citizens with a sense of shared identity. In the case of the United States, nationalism can be used to promote success within one’s own nation or provide positive examples of how to achieve said success. We see these positive symbols of nationalism when we envision the American dream: a house in the suburbs complete with a white picket fence, a couple kids and a pet or two.
It is expected for many to debate whether nationalism is inherently bad, good, or somewhere in-between. However, as nationalist elites rise in political rank in such influential, developed nations, is it important to pick a side? As we observe political contenders such as far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen receive nearly 35% of the French vote during the 2017 presidential election, we would say yes, we may want to deliberate on concepts of nationalism further as they become more relevant.
Similarly in America, with the contentious inauguration of President Donald Trump, nationalism continues to be a major issue. Although not as openly controversial, some may consider Trump to hold similar nationalist attitudes to someone such as Le Pen, whom he endorsed during the French presidential election. With new legislation such as the travel ban which could, for 90 days, deny entry to blacklisted countries and prohibit refugee access and the Mexico border wall proposition, one may find many similarities between the two.
In the modern era where Islamic extremist terrorist attacks persist in developed nations with an active press, are nationalism and anti-immigration policies the solution as fear increases? Considering that many terrorists in recent years have been citizens of the countries they have terrorized, can nationalism and anti-immigration stances alleviate these threats? Is it possible that the most developed nations on the globe fall outside the threats of nationalism, contrary to past examples? Should we look to the past before condoning nationalism or should we continue to cherish our national pride, rally around the flag, and condemn those of which we are worthy of our condemnation?
These all are questions worth asking and debates worth having. Hopefully you will join in the conversation.