In the last edition of New Civilisation magazine Farooq Khan discussed the new epoch that is emerging and touched upon how Islam will redefine the globalisation debate. In this edition he explores how Islam can practically solve one aspect of the globalisation debate: the problem of identity.
Many western thinkers have argued that globalisation will elevate humankind. However we find that globalisation shaped by the capitalist ideology magnifies the economic rivalries, social malaise and ethnic tensions in nation states, and between nations states, which leads to increased conflict, hatred and global instability. The traditional philosophy, which defined the nation state, is outmoded because the ethnic, and cultural makeup of nations has been transformed through human migration, and global economic integration is affecting the sovereignty of nation states. Consequently nations have to rethink their conceptions of national identity, as the social cohesiveness of societies across the world is threatened by this new epoch. That is to say western political philosophy of the industrial era is struggling with the new challenges of the post-industrial era. Gordon Brown described some of these challenges in his speech to the British Council:
“I believe that just about every central question about our national future – from the constitution to our role in Europe, from citizenship to the challenges of multiculturalism – even the question of how and why we deliver public services in the manner we do – can only be fully answered if we are clear about what we value about being British and what gives us purpose and direction as a country…Take devolution and nationalism. While the United Kingdom has always been a country of different nations and thus of plural identities – a Welshman can be Welsh and British just as a Cornishman or woman is Cornish, English and British – and may be Muslim, Pakistani or Afro Caribbean, Cornish, English and British – the issue is whether we retreat into more exclusive identities rooted in 19th century conceptions of blood, race and territory, or whether we are still able to celebrate a British identity which is bigger than the sum of its parts and a Union that is strong because of the values we share and because of the way these values are expressed through our history and our institutions.”
The western world’s cultural and ethnic makeup has radically changed especially with the influence of the Muslim Diaspora, which presents another dimension to the debate as western governments seek to integrate the Muslim community. Politicians and thinkers differ in how to achieve social harmony and there is a great need to widen the debate as Jan Petersen, the Norwegian Foreign Minister recognises:
“Building bridges between the Muslim and Western worlds is also about building bridges within our own societies. It is easy for us to forget this in Norway, with a Muslim population of about 100,000. Most western countries have much larger Muslim populations, and the Middle East has Christian populations. Muslims in Europe and the Americas, and Christians in the Middle East, can play a vital role in bridging gaps within their own societies…Building bridges doesn’t mean assimilation or integration. Building bridges means establishing channels for contact, for talks, for the exchange of ideas.”
However these problems are not specific to the western world where migration has increased exponentially rather it affects every nation in the world because human migration, cultural and ethnic diversity is not uniquely a modern or western phenomenon. Human history is shaped by the migration of peoples to every part of the world, but globalisation and the natural dynamics of human progress exacerbate centuries of violent undercurrents and ethnic hatreds. Therefore globalisation threatens not only the social cohesiveness of nation states but also the entire world as long as it proceeds upon secular conceptions of identity; a ‘new’ political culture needs to emerge to reshape the thinking and inclinations of humankind, which is the subject of this essay.
Nationalism in the west
Nationalism is a concept often understood in a modern context as a consequence of the emergence of the nation state. However we find that nationalism, and the meaning of nationalism has existed and evolved throughout human history. In origin nationalism emanates from a primordial feeling of identity because it is a visceral emotion connected with human survival, just as emotional manifestations of procreation such as love are connected with the survival of the human species. Anthropologically societies have evolved from family structures leading to the formation of tribes and clans, which meant that people partly defined their identity according to ethnicity. Modern nations have grown out of the natural boundaries of geography and the complexities of internal conflict between ethnic groups, together with the natural course of human progress. As a result the concept of identity has had to continually evolve to encompass different ethnic groups, and political systems have had to adapt and change in order to embody new conceptions of a state’s national identity, which is one empirical evidence that nationalism is an irrational basis for defining a nation’s identity; if the basis of identity is correct then it shouldn’t deviate from its own principles otherwise the thought in origin is incorrect. This is the problem facing modern nation states as they struggle to define a multinational identity, which is logically consistent and therefore intellectually satisfactory.
When we examine the nature of nationalism and how it has evolved it becomes quite clear that it has had a catastrophic impact upon the course of human history especially when nationalism emerged as a political philosophy out of Europe. Therefore I aim to explore how nationalism evolved from a primordial identity to a political philosophy in the context of western history since the global problems of ethnic hatreds and state conflict are exacerbated and in large part caused by secular philosophy.
Medieval Britain encapsulated the true emotional nature of nationalism; made up of a number of states, each state was ruled through family structures who fought each other for territorial and economic power. England was made up of seven kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy that comprised of the kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Wessex who fought each other until they merged to become the kingdom of England during the 10th century. Inevitably the state of England, which emerged out of the fighting between tribal clans, meant that a new identity had to emerge in order to bond the people of these seven kingdoms. The defeat of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 at the hands of William of Normandy, later titled William I of England, and the subsequent Norman takeover of Saxon England led to a further dimension in shaping England’s identity. This would however require much bloodshed in order to create and impose an identity that would bond people together across the British Isles. Consequently the English Middle Ages were to be characterised by civil war and insurrection, until the Kingdom of Great Britain emerged out of the repression of the Scottish, Welsh and Irish people. We find that such human behaviour is characteristic of all people when the level of thinking is low. The Scottish and Irish states also suffered from the inequities of nationalism just as the tribes of Arabia suffered from this destructive emotional manifestation of the survival instinct.
It is no coincidence that Britain like pre-Islamic Arabia remained in a period of decline for centuries. Indeed it is no coincidence that nationalism coexisted with theocratic Europe of the Dark Ages, or that nationalism coexisted with idol worship of pre-Islamic Arabia. This is because nationalism in origin is not the product of profound thinking rather it is an emotion that has caused centuries of slaughter on the European continent and throughout the world. It is a primordial feeling that drives nations to acquire mastery over other nations because people believe their nation is ethnically and culturally superior. The Anglo-Saxon heptarchy fought each according to tribal lines, and when the English kingdom was created, they looked upon the Scottish and Irish people as inferior, at times suppressing their language and culture, just as the Arab tribes would fight each other according to tribal prejudices. Therefore nationalism creates a cycle of violence and Europe’s bloody history is a powerful motivation for the creation of the European Union. This is by no means exclusive to the European experience rather it is symptomatic of all societies where the level of thinking is low.
Consequently nationalism and Christianity kept Europe in the Dark Ages until the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment when religious dogma could not withstand the intellectual rigours of rational and scientific thought, just as idolatry and nationalism of pre-Islamic Arabia could not withstand the rational basis of Islam. However Europe’s intellectual revolution did not eliminate nationalism, whereas Islam successfully removed this destructive force; that is until the European colonialists implanted nationalism in the Muslim world in order to divide the Uthmani Khilafah, which is further rational evidence of its destructive nature. Here it is important to understand why nationalism and Christianity kept Europe in the Dark Ages, or why nationalism will always prevent a nation from achieving the correct progress before addressing Islam’s solution to identity. When we examine this question we find that the nature of nationalism and Christian thought lack the sophisticated complexity or intellectual depth and breadth to solve human problems. This is because nationalism in origin is not a thought and therefore one cannot build any thoughts either to intellectually understand, or derive solutions from some semblance of a philosophical system. Rather it is an emotion that bonds people upon the basis of ethnicity and the struggle for human survival, which is a recipe for conflict and genocide, as evidenced in Rwanda.
Christian thought however is a spiritual belief devoid of detailed thoughts and systems of how to organise and solve complex human problems. Societies in Europe were therefore at the mercy of rulers who couldn’t rule the people with any intellectual consistency. On the contrary the people of Europe were ruled according to the maxim of maintaining monarchical and Church power. The people were at the mercy of the pope’s dishonest notion that he ruled according to Divine inspiration or that monarchies were appointed through Providence. Therefore people were solely dependent upon the ability of the ruler rather than a deep political philosophy, which would give people an intellectual view and basis to solve human problems. Since it is thoughts especially comprehensive political philosophies that elevate the standard of living in society, which is what happened when secularism and the capitalist economic system emerged out of the darkness of theocratic Europe.