Friday, June 4, 2010

Patriotism, nationalism and the rest...

The country, at the moment, is going through a surge of patriotism. There are flags everywhere. Sometimes they are the right way up and sometimes not. Sometimes cars have socks over their rear-view mirrors. Sometimes they have flags on the aerial. Sometimes they have flags on the boot, the bonnet, the windows. And sometimes, on all of these.

What I find astonishing is that white people who, a year or two ago were sneering, and saying we would never be ready, and the crime rate, and bemoaning how boring soccer is in comparison to rugby, these are now festooning their cars with flags. And, don’t get me wrong, I don’t see anything essentially wrong with that.

Is it that there has been a sea-change in the way in which people are looking at their country? Are they displaying pride in the achievement of getting ready for the event? I hear discussions about the 2010 FIFA World Cup in the changerooms at the gym. Whereas before, white men would be dismissive and churlish about it, suddenly they are speaking authoritatively about it. They have opinions on who is going to win. They have all been to see something in the stadium – and they are impressed. They like this player, that team and this coach. It is a remarkable and noteworthy change.

Clearly, the sport of football will never be the same again in this country. Young children are bewitched by it – mine are, and I am not a soccer fan. The blue eyed boy of apartheid – rugby – is now joined by a fairly well resourced competitor. At the moment, there is only one game in town and its balls are round.

And it is true that when you watch television broadcasts of South Africans singing the national anthem, a lot of whites still do not know anything other than the English and Afrikaans parts of it, while a lot of blacks either do not know (or refuse to sing) the English and Afrikaans, or they refuse to sing it.
But generally, despite things like this, there is a general outpouring of patriotism.

Now, simultaneously with this experience, I have been having some – well, “discussions” would be too grand a term for these things – but let us say “interchanges” with a range of my friends on Facebook, about Israel and the recent international outrage which the Israeli government has committed with the “Freedom Flotilla”, leaving 9 people dead. Some of my harder core Jewish friends – maybe even Zionist friends – are infuriated that I should even think such a thing. Because to them it seems, Israel is not capable of doing wrong. It is only “them” - Muslims, Arabs and non-Jews who do terrible things to Israel.

It has frequently become extremely nasty indeed, these Facebook inter-changes. It happens whenever I, or anyone else associated with me, takes a negative view of Israel. And it has given me pause for some serious thought on the issue of patriotism.
Because, if I am honest, I have to say that I am deeply suspicious of patriotism, in any form and in any guise. When I see flags fluttering in the wind in numbers, I see Nazi Germany. I see the kind of fervour which that maniac Hitler was able to whip up and the way in which that entire nation, young and old, were enthralled. And I hate it with every fibre of my being. It is that kind of stuff which enables evil to be baptised good. And I cannot but see the same thing happening in Israel today. It is a strange and curious irony indeed.

I think, in the case of Israel, that the land has been deified. To the extent that it needs to be served unconditionally. To the extent that it has power to demand absolute loyalty and allegiance. To the extent that some people are prepared to defend it against any and all odds. To the near hysterical responses to even the mildest criticism. This is the behaviour of a worshipper – a devotee - not a citizen.

And it is this worship of the land that I fear so much. Here, the xenophobic attacks that have happened are usually based on gross ignorance; on lack of analysis and education; and on huge doses of selfishness and ingratitude. But what it finally based on? It is based on this thing called being “South African”. And that “being South African” can somehow be used to justify terror, murder, robbery, and that thing which the bible (in the story of Sodom) identifies as virtually unforgivable, inhospitality.

It is the same with Israel. It was the same in Nazi Germany. It was the same in apartheid South Africa. It is horrific.

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