Crash Course World History: Decolonization and Nationalism
Extensive mention of Indonesia! Win!
I have a friend who feels very shaky about the idea of Nationalism. She feels uncomfortable during football tournaments, for example, because of all the flag waving.
And I really understand that, particularly within the European context. A lot of nationalism is very much defined by comparing your national idea against another. A lot of national identities were created through conflict with another. Humanity in general has a tendency to define itself by what it is not, and what it is not is typically a nearby neighbour they don’t like.
Modern Nationalism in Europe also tends to manifest in extremely horrible ways these days, as typified by nuts like Anders Breivik and so on. Nationalism has become a right wing philosophy in Europe, and particularly bastardized into neo-Nazism by skinheads all over the continent.
Nationalism is called Patriotism in America, and it suffers much the same problem.
I think differently though, and I think this because of my experience growing up in Indonesia, but also in South East Asia in general.
As a recap, quite a few countries in Asia have only relatively modern national identities, and some are very recent indeed. Indonesia only exists as a nationstate because it was a former Dutch colony. Otherwise the country is full of vastly different peoples populating a huge archipelago which has kept them different for a long time.
Despite that the Dutch ruled over this vast area, the people within it didn’t really develop a national consciousness until the Second World War. And this was entirely because Sukarno, who would be its first president, pushed that identity upon them. He (along with his colleague Hatta) developed the Indonesian language, developed its flag, its songs, and so on.
And that’s really what makes Indonesia today. It’s still a fantastically diverse country, but it sticks together because there is, somehow, a sense of being Indonesian over being Javanese or Papuan or Balinese.
This was a real challenge after the last dictator, Suharto, resigned. With a somewhat more liberal political system many provinces saw their chance to push for at least autonomy if not greater independence. They did this because the central government tended to be more exploitative of such resource rich provinces and not all that generous when it came to investing in the people of said provinces.
But altogether the Indonesian polity is a stronger one together than separate. Aceh, which fought some 25 years for independence, was the most badly hit province in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. After that their resistance movement signed a peace treaty because they both couldn’t fight anymore and also needed all the aid that only a large national government from Jakarta could provide. They are now an autonomous province, which is a fair compromise.
The point is that former colonies, which often inherited some form of political structure from their former colonizers, need nationalism as a tool to keep people invested in that infrastructure. They need something for the people living there to identify by and have faith in their new national governments.
And they do this by flag waving, by national anthems, and sometimes by the kind of repression only dictators can implement.
So would Indonesia be better off as an assortment of states? Java, Sumatra, Flores, Sunda? Personally, I don’t think so.
East Timor, or Timor L’Este, is independent today because it too fought a 25 year war against Indonesia. It had more legitimacy than Aceh because it was still a Portuguese colony until 1975, and within days after it was granted independence it was annexed by Indonesia. So in a sense they were only trying to win back their independence, while Aceh was fighting for an idea which predated Dutch colonization.
But Timor l’Este is a wildly poor state now. It has some trade resources and it’s not doing as badly as it could be… but it suffers from the trade barriers and tariffs of being a small country trading with larger richer countries. Whereas the various Indonesian provinces trade without tariffs within the large nationstate, which then provides a preferential export rate to other countries. I would argue that all of these provinces are richer being part of Indonesia than they would be if they were independent. Unfortunately I don’t have supporting figures for that.
Indonesia itself got up to some conflict shenanigans during its history. Aside from the wars in Aceh and East Timor, they also had a Confrontation (with the capital C) with Malaysia and occasionally suppressed independence movements in Papua (then Irian Jaya) and other regions.
Would there have been more or less conflict without the overarching Indonesian government? I would argue more. While the various provinces didn’t always like being ruled from Java, and some conflicts came from migration of say, Madurese people to traditionally Dayak areas, different regions had sometimes very local conflicts. The best example is Maluku.
Maluku is a much more mixed religious region, in that it has comparable numbers of Christians to Muslims. Most of the time they get along, but things got violent particularly after 9-11. I personally figure that it’s possible these two peoples would have fought anyway. Or possibly different local nationalisms would have further defined themselves in conflict with their neighbours.
But the way things happened is that there was the umbrella identity of Indonesia. When people struggled against the government it wasn’t so much against the national identity and the desire to assert themselves as different (except Aceh and East Timor) but much more often because they saw their economic resources taken from them with little payment. And so their reasons are more economic, less political or cultural.
My point is that all over Asia, nationalism became a binding and stabilizing force, and much less of a destructive one, often the lesser of two evils. That’s why I think nationalism still can have a positive role to play in providing legitimacy and stability to post-colonial nationstates.
So the Tumblr blog I’m reading is trying to argue against interracial marriage by saying it destroys specially different genomes (yo there any scientific backing for this shit?) and so destroys race which destroys culture which destroys diversity which is good for everyone?
Trying to understand this.
It’s not working.
This is the one she means.
People who advocate such bizarre concepts as “racial purity” often completely misunderstand the lesson of history: that things change. The people today are the product of centuries of moving, invasions, changes, intermarriages, and whatever else.
In his case, as a British nationalist, he believes in racial purity of the English, or possibly even just white, race. The thing is today’s English are made up of lots of what were formerly different peoples: Angles, Saxons, Normans, Scots, Picts, and so on.
So what does it mean, to be “traditional” if your traditions are not intrinsically linked to race?
I didn’t reblog his thing directly, because it is a horrible blog and will probably only invite flames and a pointless, fruitless argument. But no doubt, it is pretty scary that those ideas even continue to exist.
There was a time when nationalism was a cool fad for all the young revolutionaries. This was about 100 years ago. It has changed a lot, and now it’s really not a productive idea. The new, progressive and productive world is a cosmopolitan one, with influences from around the world. That enriches it and makes it miles better than it ever could be with distinct and separate peoples.
|—||Louis de Berneries, “Birds Without Wings”|
The self-asserted briliiantness that is Newt Gingrich has gotten himself into a passel of well-deserved hot water for his comment that the Palestinians are an “invented people.”
The reason Newty Newty Newt Newt got himself into trouble for this crack is his obvious and quite vicious political reason for making it: Gingy is asserting that there is no necessary connection between a group of Arab persons he says are called “Palestinians” and that part of the world long known as “Palestine”—the bulk of which today is contained within the State of Israel. The implication of the Newtbrain’s comments is clear: since the Palestinians aren’t somehow “real,” they have no claim to the land of Palestine, and the Israelis can do whatever they want on “their” land. His Newtship denied a people’s existence, and thus made them dispensable.
Such dismissals are the stuff of genocides, and Newtface deserved every attack he got.
Which leaves me in an odd place: I want to note that every people is “invented,” but to disassociate myself from Newtly Newtcastle’s vile comments. Bear with me before flaming me.
Think about it: there were no “Americans” 400 years ago. The Pilgrims weren’t Americans. Neither were the Puritans. Most of the Founding Fathers considered themselves English gentlemen up to the Revolution; Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy’s leading general, considered his country to be Virginia—which is why he turned Lincoln down when Lincoln offered Lee command of all the Union armies after Virginia—Lee’s country—seceded from the Union. Among the many changes wrought by Civil War was a change in construction from people saying “the United States are” to today’s “the United States is.” It took the Civil War to make the Americans a people—and even then I can find you people are skeptical of this notion today.
More broadly, nationalism as a sentiment and an attachment is a relatively new idea in the world. The creation and maintenance of fellow-feeling across large territories is significantly a phenomenon of post-French Revolution history. (Note that I am stealing from many scholars here; this is NOT an argument original to me.) Whether it is Americans or French or Russians or Chinese or Kenyans or Argentinians, the notion of nationhood based on geography is relatively new in world history. The notion that people are a nation based on a shared ethnicity is even more recent—a product of the notions of ethnic nationalism embedded in concepts like Zionism that emerged in the late 1800s. All national peoples are invented. That’s the actual point of nationalism as a concept.
If I thought His Newtness meant any of what I just wrote, I’d have been duty-bound as a scholar to defend him. But I don’t. I think he was making a cheap political point and layering it in the pompous dressing of someone who thinks he understands a deep and complex point, but relies on the fact that the person he’s talking to knows even less about it than he does and so can’t or won’t challenge him.
The only thing worse than ignorance is having just enough knowledge to think you know what you’re talking about while those around you remain sufficiently stupid to not be able to call you out on it. Ladies and gentlemen: I give you Newt Gingrich.
And another viral Facebook post:
A little girl wanted to know what the United States looked like. Her Dad tore a map of the USA from a magazine and then cut it into small pieces. He told her to go to her room to see if she could put it together. After some minutes she returned and handed the map correctly fitted and taped together. The Dad was surprised and asked how she had finished so quickly. She said, “On the other side was a picture of Jesus and when I put him back then our country just came together!”
I’m most concerned about her not knowing what the US looked like, yet was capable of putting together the face of Jesus from small pieces in minutes. I call shenanigans on this post. </sarcasm>
God, I hate this cut and paste crap. Click to search the phrase “if you agree” on Openbook. It’s the new chain email, I swear.
There was once a time when the scariest Christians in the contemporary world were say, Irish. The IRA were doing bombings in England, shooting policemen and soldiers and all that, mostly related to faith with many political undertones.
Right now, I have to say that American Christians scare me more. I know there are any number of moderates, but in no other country do you get the same viral fanaticism. They’re not doing bombings, unless you count the firebombings of abortion clinics (which is religiously motivated), but at a time when most of the Christian world is pretty moderate, they stand out.
The European Union’s 2010 Terrorism Situation and Trend Report has some fascinating findings. It showed that of the 294 terror attacks committed in Europe in 2009, only one was conducted by Islamists. That’s a third of one percent. The most recent statistics show there were 249 terror attacks in Europe in 2010. Only three of those attacks were carried out by Islamist terrorists. Again, that’s about one percent. Most of the attacks were by separatist groups or anarchists.