Written by Mariem ELTagoury
I vaguely remember a time when patriotism was a thing… a good thing at that. I remember how we were taught to respect the flag; to stand properly in line as we sang the National Anthem; stories of soldiers, officers, spies and others serving the country courageously during times of war were all the rage back then. To die for your country was the highest honour anyone could achieve; it’s amazing how times have changed.
Most of those things would be perceived as quite cliché nowadays. Critique about the state of things is the new norm- if you’re not part of the grumbling crowds you’re perceived as odd and maybe even treacherous. If the “Raafat Al-Haggan” series was released today, in my opinion, it wouldn’t have received the flying star ratings it got in the 90s. I distinctly recall an old colleague who, at the time between the two millennial revolutions, told me, “I don’t want to die for this country, I want to live for this country.”
Around the world, people are divided; it’s not just about political candidates anymore; there’s a far bigger drench in societies worldwide; a questioning of what is right and wrong, honourable and dishonourable, a questioning of humanity – if moral counts anymore.
“Raise your head up high, for you are Egyptian,” is one of the many famed patriotic phrases we’ve heard at one point in our lives. There’s no denying patriotism has played a huge part in our upbringing, it’s mentioned in our history books, it’s a strong theme in film & drama, and we even had a subject for it in school… but have all these efforts to endorse patriotism in the millennials’ generation been successful?! Or have governments, institutions, and politicians over processed the notion of patriotism that it has lost its essence?!
I’m personally constantly surrounded by negative remarks about the country, the constant negativity, desires to immigrate, the decline of favour for military service. There used to be a time when supporting the troops was THE thing that everyone could agree on! The stories of men who’d bravely take bullets for their country, those who sacrifice their lives for a cause… are they dissolving into myths of a time past?! Has patriotism become outdated? Is patriotism dead?
To answer such a question, one must pause and ask first “what is patriotism?”
Is it the frenzy the crowds get when the national male football team scores a goal? Is it the pride they have when an athlete wins a medal in the Olympics? Is it the sight of the flag and the chorus of the national anthem, when blood pumps harder, veins are about to burst at men’s temples, and women passionately scream with burst of emotion?
Is it a notion built in society? After all, as humans we long for the feeling of belonging to a group, to a family, to clan… to a nation?
According to Merriam-Webster, patriotism is: love or devotion to one’s country.
Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw stated that, “Patriotism is your conviction that a country is superior to all others because you were born in it.”
Socrates discusses patriotism in Plato’s Crito (51c-51d), Maurizio Viroli writes: “… We have a moral obligation towards our country because we are indebted to it. We owe our country our life, our education, our language, and, in the most fortunate cases, our liberty. If we want to be moral persons, we must return what we have received, at least in part, by serving the common good” (Viroli 1995, 9)
Upon discussing the matter with 37-year-old Egyptian, Psychiatrist, Ghada, who works with young teens on a regular basis, she explains, “people love the place where they are born by nature and where their life memories are.”
26-years-old, Egyptian, political writer from Daily News Egypt, Adhm Youssef has a different way of describing patriotism, “It is the act of having pride of something you didn’t participate in. And this if exaggerated can lead to national superiority.”
18-year-old, Hussein Ahmed, half Egyptian, half Ecuadorian, born and bred in the USA and student in Stony Brook University, believes, “true patriotism is both loving and wanting the best from your country.”
30-year-old, Aleksandra, from Zurich, Switzerland, who holds a masters degree in political science, describes a patriot from her part of the world saying, “If someone expresses pride to be Swiss for example or emphasizes achievements of ‘our country’, if someone wears symbols associated with the country, participates in traditional holidays, puts flags for the national day, probably votes for a political party that is rather protectionist (we have the SVP political party). If someone is proud if his/her Swiss origins…and likes to mention that in public…”
The many definitions of patriotism lead one to question if it is a good or bad trait to have.
It is no secret that politicians and governments have long used patriotism as a means to gain public standing and push personal agendas; and in fact, it has motioned many nations in certain directions, whether a positive one as in the case of South Africa and India, both which hold glorified independence and economic up rise in the past years, or a negative one as in the case of Germany, the Nazi uprise and their horrid downfall in World War II.
It is no secret that post World War II, there has been a strong notion in Europe to move towards globalism rather than patriotism; the birth of the European Union has provoked society to move along these lines even more. One could even argue the question if patriotism is dead in Europe!
In the past five years, our society has gone through many strifes and many times the question of whether or not young people are patriotic has risen; whilst young people accuse their elders of the same. In the midst of the chaos, one has to beg the question: is there a possibility of us becoming another Europe soon?!
27-year-old, Egyptian, Sara Enan, who’s travelled to 25 countries describes it as such: “well if I’m an Egyptian abroad and there is another Egyptian in the community, even if that person is not my friend or someone I associate with, but if I know they are looking for a job or a house I would jump to help. If I have a non-Egyptian friend looking for a job or a house, I would give priority to the Egyptian first, even if I’m closer to the non-Egyptian. Indians do it, Europeans, Lebanese, everyone does it! It’s two-fold because we help each other, but at the same time it still creates separation between people instead of allowing everyone to become more of a unit.”
Aleksandra was leaning to neither side, “In general, I guess it’s like with many other things that are neither useful nor not useful…if you have them in a healthy dosage, it’s fine.”
Adhm believes it is a negative trait: “a very dangerous one. When you mix it with religion, you have Muslims and their superior understanding of heaven and hell. If you mix it with culture, you will have western imperialism, where the enlightened white man saves the brown man. If you mix it with capital and money, you will have the US and the ‘I am the super power’ rhetoric. When you mix it with politics, you have military fascists, claiming they are the defenders of the nation, for example The Nazis, Zionism, etc…”
Ghada thinks otherwise, “it is a positive trait for sure. It is more healthy for one’s self and for the society’s wellbeing to have a strong sense of belonging. Coz that means people care about themselves and about others. A country is at the end, the society…the people. It is not just land.”
If people are so divided on patriotism; is it possible that they don’t truly understand it?
Check Part 2 to find out.