Revisiting patriotism

By: Izhar Hussain

Patriotism is a concept open to debate. It is determined by the standpoint of which side of the fence is acceptable to the environment one lives in. At best, any attempt to define it in exactitude would actually be pastiche or a motley collection of views, ranging from nationalism to the love of your country; albeit, conceptually, patriotism and nationalism are distinct; they can be complementary, but are not synonymous. In the estimation of this scribe, patriotism is the love of a country. But to do so, one has to necessarily love one’s own countrymen/women, even if we have disagreements with them. To use Napoleon’s words, “I love thee (country) with all thy faults”.

Patriotism is beyond waving the flag, it is about the spirit to be righteous. Patriotism is a respectable and venerable word, only if it is judiciously and duly practiced. All distinctions and division arising out of linguistic preference, color, creed, sect, sub-sect, caste, and so on, have to be permanently buried for any semblance of patriotism to emerge. Internal division can never lead us to patriotism, which demands the reflection of a harmonious and cohesive society. If the country is good to him, why shouldn’t any citizen be good to his country. Each citizen owes a debt to the country that gives him or her an identity, an image and most significantly, respect. Proud to be a Pakistani should be a common and unifying slogan of the entire populace. Patriotism is not to be used as a smoke screen for any hidden agenda to harm the country. This vein of thought is best described in Samuel Johnson’s words, “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels”. If the motive to demonstrate patriotism is ignoble, then it is without doubt outside the ambit of acceptability. Are all citizens patriots? Do we need to evidence existence of patriotic feelings? Everybody is a patriot, as a given thing, to be deemed otherwise requires evidence. The freedom to declare and accuse anybody unpatriotic must not exist in any society. Irrefutable evidence alone will determine if anyone is not a patriot. Those individuals who are willing to “sell” the “interest “ of their country for a dime, must be the ones who should be legally pursued, for declaring these as anti-state. Since our birth as an independent nation state, there has been no reduction, but only growth, in the number of people, who have now across decades, self-assumed the position to issue “Certificates of Patriotism” and more regrettably, also “Certificates of Traitorship”. None of them had any locus standi; they never met the test of law; those taken to courts were disposed with muted opinion. (Even Mujeeb-ur-Rehman, was eventually released following the Agartala case─ later he was branded, Father of a Nation). Such is history of humankind.In the murky world of Pakistani politics, all opponents are labeled without a thought or whimper as “traitors”, “sell-outs”, “agents of the enemy”, ” agent provocateurs,” and so on. The political leadership laden with enormous quantum of political immaturity, across the board, subscribes to the view that anybody, who is not with them or their ideology, is an enemy of the State. There has been gross misunderstanding at Islamabad that patriotism is about “loyalty to the Government in power”. This is such a fallacious and suicidal approach; it doesn’t even merit serious thought or consideration. Our political pygmies most likely imagine themselves to be as great as Napoleon Bonaparte, and compare themselves to ,him where he is believed to have remarked, “I am the state”; loyalty to him, meant loyalty to France.
Patriots need no certification, they all are so, by pure conduct and character. They are non-saleable. Their principles are non-negotiable. They remain priceless because a very thin line lies between recognition as a freedom fighter and being a rebel, it is wondered, if patriotism is just a lofty idealistic thought and hence an illusion ? Yasir Arafat is a case in point. History tells us how individuals were transformed on its pages from being traitors to being founders. The outcome of an event determines the status. Of critical value is a recognition that “the supreme functionality of statesmanship(for lack of any Statesman in our midst, we can here lower ourselves to just politicians) is to provide against preventable evils”.

All men are born equal. All intrinsically are patriotic. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but the content of their character”, thus spoke in 1963, the Revered Martin Luther King, Jr. Lincoln’s efforts about 150 years ago, have recently been irreparably damaged by the Floyd incident. Are coloured people less patriotic? They must remain entitled to the basic rights of a patriot, hence justice.

A patriotic leader reconciles the past with the present for transcending into the future. Mere sentiments make no in-road into the annals of history, only action does make history. Alexander Solzehenitsyn, the rebel(?) from te USSR wrote, “The debilitating dream of a status quo is the symptom of a society which has come to the end of its development.” We must remove the fetters of thought that provoke us to declare each other as unpatriotic. In the framing of foreign policy, beware not to consider that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. I recall Voltaire’s words, “It is lamentable that to be a good patriot one must become enemy of the rest of the mankind.” Nay, it shouldn’t be so.

Patriotism is not a hollow slogan of frenzied emotion but is about love for your country. Sloganeering is in fact a lackadaisical reflection of patriotism; we see this played out at all the “Jalsas”. Our country is where liberty dwells with justice─ let this be the slogan. Building bridges across differences is the duty of a common patriot, for the common good of all citizens.

The traditional confusion about patriotism in our country relates unfortunately to and also quite conversely to the real thought, is that, it is about loyalty to the government, and less to the country. The coin has landed on the wrong premise of thinking. We need to toss it once, with both sides inscribed with “Patriotism is loyalty to the country”. Mark Twain had aptly said, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government, when it deserves”. It follows, loyalty to a government is dependent, on whether it “deserves” or not; while to the country, it is “unconditional”. If the government is impotent, incompetent, corrupt and incapable, no demands can be placed upon the compatriots, for loyalty─ this denial cannot be construed as lack of patriotism, as we are regrettably made to believe, by politicians of all shades of hue and colour. Being in contradiction to the government does not render anyone as a traitor. Dissent is part and parcel of a democratic dispensation. It is lack of hatred, bitterness and dislike that brings to fore the true quality of patriotism; in fact defending your country from the government (politicians) is Patriotism. Patriotic behavior requires continuous and sustained sacrifice, it must not be made to look ‘virtue of the vicious’.

Bill Vaughan says, “A real patriot is the fellow who gets a parking ticket and rejoices that the system works.” Try that here! Just observe the behavior of the elite where for being a violator of the traffic rules, they are stopped by the constable; the poor constable ends up apologizing for having dared the unthinkable─ stopping a “Patriotic Elite Citizen”. Our traffic lights are moved from auto to manual, so that the “Celebrated patriots” do not have to, God forbid, stop at red lights. This attitude is a “red light” for the social pundits to ponder, in which direction are we heading. 
All my countrymen/women are “patriots” . No less, no more.

The writer is an independent researcher and columnist based in Karachi. He can be reached at [email protected]