Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Been thinking about patriotism lately. How could I not? I see it everywhere around me, in US and Middle East. What an overrated virtue. And why should it be a virtue anyway? Is there anything more sentimentally mawkish? I was citing George Bernard Shaw's the other day (that Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels). Patriotism is a form of conformity, and a tool for governments to instill obedience and spread ignorance. I have never felt such a worship for flags or symbols of countries. Why should I? What do they mean? If I do not like (or understand) religion--any religion--why should I have reverence for relics of pagan belief systems? You know that flags, national symbols, and emblems are but modern forms of totemic symbols of ancient people. Flags and anthems mean nothing to me. I was displeased in the last trip to Lebanon when the organizer of one talk I gave in my family's home town (Tyre in South Lebanon) insisted on beginning the event with the Lebanese anthem. I protested. And a few years ago, I was giving a talk at some Rotary Club here in California and they insisted on doing a pledge of allegiance. I refused to stand up or participate, and two people immediately left to protest my rudeness. One person later asked me about my stand. I explained that I feel no obligation to pledge allegiance to any god or nation or flag or potato--OK, maybe for a potato. I only owe allegiance to my own set of principles and beliefs. Nothing more. Patriots will leave our earth as misguided as those who die and hope for the delights of heaven. You want delights? Go eat mangoes. Now. When I had my citizenship test years ago, I was asked about the number of stripes in the US flag. How would I know, I told her. Is this Jeopardy we are on? She could not understand how a political scientist would not know the answer. I did offer a guess of 28 stripes or so. Pure guess of course. Take the Lebanese flag: they have a silly cedar in the middle, because ultra-nationalist Lebanese are proud of the silly cedars. I keep telling them that Morocco has more cedars than Lebanon, to no avail. I always recommend replacing the cedar with something else; something more meaningful, like a fried chicken, or an eggplant, or a hummus dish. Why not? Before I go on, let me cite from the last page of Edward W. Said's Culture and Imperialism:
"No one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are not more than starting-points, which if followed into actual experience for only a moment are quickly left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white, or Black, or Western, or Oriental."