Nations and Nationalism Outside Europe

Nations and Nationalism Outside Europe

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By Leonid Savin

Translated by RO

The non-West, like the West, also developed their concepts of nation and nationalist ideologies. Although the influence of Western modernity was evident, often when trying to develop an authentic ideology, they referred to predecessors from among philosophers and theologians. Let’s start by looking at a few concepts in the Arab world and among Muslims.

Arab philosopher Abd ar-Rahman al-Kawakibi defined the concept of “nation” not as “a conglomeration of sleeping creatures, an aggregate of slaves of the usurper-owner”, but as “a community of people bound by a common race, language, homeland and rights” 1 .

Abd al-Aziz Douri notes that the concept of the Arab nation is represented by four interrelated identities. The first is related to the current understanding, which is based both on ethnic principles, including tribal structure, and on the role of the formation of Islam in the Arab geographic space. The other three were philosophical thought, literary work of Arab writers, as well as popular consciousness.

But language is also important. According to Ibn Khaldun, one may not be an ethnic Arab, but if the Arabic language is used, then belonging to the Arab nation is beyond doubt. Thus, he divides the Arabs themselves into three groups: “lost” tribes (ba’ida), “pure” Arabs (Ariba), and “assimilated” Arabs (musta’riba), and also notes the “followers” of the Arabs (tabi’a) – all of them can be called Arabs because they speak Arabic

Durie points out that the idea of the Arab nation as a separate nation appeared in the era of the late Umayyad period when the empire began to deal with external threats 2 . As a reference source, the statement is given by Abd al-Hamid, the secretary of Marwan ibn Muhammad, who in his work Ila l-kuttab draws an analogy between the Umayyads and the Arab Empire, saying: “Do not allow even a strand of the Arab Empire to fall into the hands of a non-Arab clique.” 3.

Al-Tawhidi (d. 1024) argued that the Arabs constitute a nation that has special qualities and virtues 4.

A more detailed and structured understanding of the nation was proposed by Ibn Khaldun. In his opinion, there should be more than one condition for the foundation of a nation (be it religion or ethnos). Environmental factors have an impact on lifestyle, skin color and other physical characteristics are taken into account, along with the formation of character and various habits. Using the example of various peoples of the pre-Islamic period, Ibn Khaldun shows that the disappearance of a state does not always mean the disappearance of a nation, it depends on the spirit of solidarity (asabiyya) of one people 5.

But language is also important. According to Ibn Khaldun, one may not be an ethnic Arab, but if the Arabic language is used, then belonging to the Arab nation is beyond doubt. Thus, he divides the Arabs themselves into three groups: “lost” tribes (ba’ida), “pure” Arabs (Ariba), and “assimilated” Arabs (musta’riba), and also notes the “followers” of the Arabs (tabi’a) – all of them can be called Arabs because they speak Arabic 6 .

The Supreme Mufti of Russia Ravil Gainutdin writes that the concept of “nation” for Muslims is linked with such terms as 1) Shaab – a people united by a common territory, culture, and language; and Kabila – a tribe united by the closeness of kinship; 3) Ummah – a community, a large group of people united by bonds of spiritual kinship and religious doctrine 7.

The term “ummah” is the most widespread and is used in many countries to emphasize the unity of Muslims. However, this interpretation appeared only in the twentieth century. Al-Farabi (d. 950) distinguished between the umma (umma), which he called a nation in the ethnic sense, and Milla (Milla), which refers to the followers of a particular religion. Al-Masoudi (d. 956) made the same distinction 8. This is indirectly indicated by the term “nationality” in the Turkish language – Milliyet, since it is a tracing copy from the Arabic language, made in the era of the Ottoman Empire, where not only Turks but also Arabs, Berbers, Kurds, Slavs, and other peoples were subjects.

According to Grigory Kosach, the Arab-Muslim culture, general self-awareness, and psychology of a stable group can be identified as an Arab nation (al-umma al-Arabiya). It qualifies as an eternal, unified community with a natural space – the Arab homeland (al-Watan al-Arabiya) 9. This space was once unified (which gives reason to talk about the possibility of its recreation) and stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf.

The Arab homeland was not and did not become a single state, but the peoples living in the countries of this space (two terms “country” in the Arabic language should be distinguished – bilad – political and socio-cultural reality and al-Qutr – a temporary reality that can be canceled or eliminated ), Are the peoples of the “Arab nation”.

Thus, rebuilding the unity (al-wahd) of the Arabs is the task of the Arab national movement.

In the modern era, one of the apologists of Arab nationalism is the Syrian Christian Naguib Azuri, who in 1905 published in Paris the brochure Reveil de la Nation Arabe dans l’Asie Turque, in which he proclaimed the self-determination of the national Arab movement and demanded independence from the Ottoman Empire. These ideas began to develop in the context of the liberation movement and acquired their own characteristics in different regions. In the context of twentieth-century secularism, the emphasis was on Arab rather than Muslim identity.

Saty al-Husri in 1950 in his work “Arabism First of All” noted: “Arabism – belonging to the geographical space -” Arab homeland “and the use of the Arabic language as a language of communication and mutual understanding. Arabism is above religious narrow-mindedness ” 10 .

The Iranian view of the nation also has its own characteristics. Before the Islamic Revolution, under the Shah’s rule, Iran was strongly influenced by Western scientific theories that represented the dominant school. “In the dialectic of confrontation between the basically Western ideology of nationalism and Islamic traditionalism, a new approach was formed, which was expressed in the ideas of Mortaza Motahhari … Motahhari represented the nation as an evolving community in constant motion. Therefore, he denied the existence of certain permanent and unchanging foundations immanent to the nation and forming its “spirit” 11 .

Ayatollah Motahhari based his theory on the fact that the Iranians are historically inherent in “natural morality”, but the Zoroastrian religion turned out to be untenable, so Islam defeated it. When the Iranians became Muslims, this contributed to the development of “natural talents”, the establishment of social justice, spiritual and social unity of the Iranian people. Islam did not supplant the historical and civilizational subjectivity of the Iranian nation but acted as the pivotal element of this subjectivity. Considering the flourishing of various religious and philosophical schools in Iran after the spread of Islam there, including Sufi traditions, as well as the development of various forms of visual art, this explanation is quite logical and rational.

Motahhari acknowledged the existence of the Iranian nation and even justified its exclusivity, but has given the notion of nation, which is not confined to national borders and reaching the level of Islamic unity and solidarity even anti-imperialist forces all over the world 12.

The concept of the “return to itself,” according to Motahhari was an excellent allegory of national awakening and revival of the Iranian people, when he realized that they “have their own doctrine, and independent thought, they are able to stand on their feet and rely on their own strength” 13.

Discussing “returning to oneself”, Motahhari uses additional allegories to define the situation in Iranian society, namely “embarrassment” or “self-alienation” (khodbakhtegi) and “stupor” (estesba) as the central psychological attitudes of Iranians in pre-revolutionary times, which arose under the impact of Western colonialism. Motahhari notes that the worst kind of colonialism is cultural (este’mar-e farhangi), where in order to gain an advantage over someone, they take away his individuality along with everything that he considers to be his, and then make him fascinated by that what is offered by the colonialists ” 14 .

Arshin Adib-Magaddam, a professor at the University of London of Iranian origin, uses the term “psychonationalism” to describe the phenomenon of the Iranian nation. As a representative of the diaspora who grew up in the West and is a supporter of liberal ideas, he believes that society in Iran has developed differently than in Europe. “In Europe, the nation, as an idea to die for, was invented in the laboratories of the Enlightenment. 

In addition to Ayatollah Mortaza Motahhari, the main theorists of Iranian religious and national identity were Ali Shariati and Mehdi Bazargan.

If for Motahhari moderate and peaceful nationalism, leading to cooperation and social ties between people, is compatible with Iranian-Islamic national identity, 15 Ali Shariati defines nation and nationality in relation to culture and, therefore, sees a close connection between these terms and religion. According to this line, over the past 14 centuries, the two stories of Islam and Iran have become so intermingled that it is impossible to seek an Iranian identity without Islam or an Islamic identity without a strong Iranian presence within it. According to Shariati, these two elements – Iran-e-Eslami (Irān-e Eslāmi) – constitute Iranian identity. He believes that cultural and national alienation can only be overcome by relying on the Iranian nation, supporting its Shiite culture 16

At a critical transitional moment between the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Islamic Republic, Bazargan noted that “opposing Islam to Iranian nationalism is tantamount to destroying ourselves. Denying Iranian identity and considering nationalism non-religious is an integral part of the anti-Iranian movement and the work of anti-revolutionaries ” 17 .

Arshin Adib-Magaddam, a professor at the University of London of Iranian origin, uses the term “psychonationalism” to describe the phenomenon of the Iranian nation. As a representative of the diaspora who grew up in the West and is a supporter of liberal ideas, he believes that society in Iran has developed differently than in Europe. “In Europe, the nation, as an idea to die for, was invented in the laboratories of the Enlightenment. In Persia, the idea of ​​a whole nation was institutionalized in the 16th century by the Safavid dynasty. As in any other country … the birth of the so-called. the nation was rather arbitrary, cruel and full of myths about natural origin and roots ” 18 .

The Iranian Revolution was a hybrid phenomenon. The revolutionaries were not nationalists in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, the leader of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, was against the Persian nationalism supported by the previous regime. Yet the Iranian state, since it was institutionalized after the revolution, could not completely escape the legacy of psycho-nationalism in the country. The political formula for power remained the same. There was a clear line between the sanctioned ideology of the state and those outside it. The state adopted a sacred hegemonic position that required the sacrifice of the people for the sake of the nation, more specifically codified in terms of the “oppressed”, ummah or Iranians. 

The paths and metaphors changed from the shah’s traditional Persian nationalism, and after the revolution, they acquired a stronger religious, theocratic, and clearly transcendental coloration. But this emphasis on the nation as a sacred project continued, and the state remained the sanctioned ideal to which everyone should be cognitively indebted. This is psycho-nationalism par excellence. But at the same time, there is a nuance and difference in relation to the situations in Europe and North America. In Iran, psycho-nationalism is not permeated with the systematic grammar of racism. This genealogical and biological emphasis on differences that were developed in the laboratories of the European Enlightenment never turned into a systematic movement in Persia, not least because Muslim political thought and philosophy – at its ideological epicenter – is anti-racist. and the state remained a sanctioned ideal to which everyone should be cognitively indebted. 

 In Iran, psycho-nationalism is not permeated with the systematic grammar of racism. This genealogical and biological emphasis on differences that were developed in the laboratories of the European Enlightenment never turned into a systematic movement in Persia, not least because Muslim political thought and philosophy – at its ideological epicenter – is anti-racist. 

This is psycho-nationalism par excellence. But at the same time, there is a nuance and difference in relation to the situations in Europe and North America. In Iran, psycho-nationalism is not permeated with the systematic grammar of racism. This genealogical and biological emphasis on differences that were developed in the laboratories of the European Enlightenment never turned into a systematic movement in Persia, not least because Muslim political thought and philosophy – at its ideological epicenter – is anti-racist. and the state remained a sanctioned ideal to which everyone should be cognitively indebted. This is psycho-nationalism par excellence. But at the same time, there is a nuance and difference in relation to the situations in Europe and North America. In Iran, psycho-nationalism is not permeated with the systematic grammar of racism. 

This genealogical and biological emphasis on differences that were developed in the laboratories of the European Enlightenment never turned into a systematic movement in Persia, not least because Muslim political thought and philosophy – at its ideological epicenter – is anti-racist. In Iran, psycho-nationalism is not permeated with the systematic grammar of racism. This genealogical and biological emphasis on differences that were developed in the laboratories of the European Enlightenment never turned into a systematic movement in Persia, not least because Muslim political thought and philosophy – at its ideological epicenter – is anti-racist. In Iran, psycho-nationalism is not permeated with the systematic grammar of racism. This genealogical and biological emphasis on differences that were developed in the laboratories of the European Enlightenment never turned into a systematic movement in Persia, not least because Muslim political thought and philosophy – at its ideological epicenter – is anti-racist.19 .

But psycho-nationalism is not exclusively a Persian-Iranian invention. According to Adib-Magaddam, in contrast to traditional studies of nationalism, psycho-nationalism focuses on the cognitive impact of this form of mental violence and represents the psychology of the path where the idea of ​​a nation is constantly invented and introjected into our thinking as something worth killing and dying for. It is thanks to psycho-nationalism and the subconscious consciousness of societies susceptible to it that a revival of right-wing movements is observed in Europe.

In India in the 19th century, there were numerous discussions about their own identity and place in the world. “Indian nationalists really ‘imagined’ the nation, primarily because a single country, India, even within the borders of the modern republic … never existed before” 20 .

The ideology and practice of Indian nationalism began with Westernized activists studying history, culture, and languages. This early-stage includes the creation of the Society for the Acquisition of Basic Knowledge in Calcutta by Bengali reformers in 1838. A prominent figure in the reformist movement was Krishna Mohdi Banerjee, a Bengali Brahmin who converted to Christianity in protest. He wrote a treatise On the Nature and Significance of Historical Knowledge, in which he called for the rationalization of historical knowledge, for the search for means to exalt the country and the people.

Gandhi used the term swaraj. Therefore, the understanding of Indian nationalism is directly related to the concept of “swaraj”, which can be translated as “self-government.” Swaraj represents the “metabolic principle as well as the principle of political activity”

Maithili Sharan Gupta, in Voice of India, published in 1902, used the term Hindu jati 21 . His text uses the traditional approach for epic narratives with the idealization of the past, then the beginning of the decline, which is described in the Mahabharata, the spread of Buddhism and Jainism, the invasion of “non-Aryans” and the arrival of Muslims, after which the homeland of the Hindus was plunged into darkness. The concept of “jati” has been proposed for the meaning of “nation”.

The fallacy of this was pointed out in 1913 by Bipin Chandra Pal, who said that in pre-colonial India the concept of “nation” did not exist 22 . Etymologically, he was right, as the term jati is a distorted English version of Jaatihi (Sanskrit जातिः), which means origin, caste or class.

But in 1909, Mahatma Gandhi argued that “we were one nation before they (the British) came to India. Our forward-thinking ancestors saw India as an indivisible country. They insisted that we were a united nation, and to this end have arranged the holy places in various parts of India and sparked a national idea among the people with the power, unseen in other parts of the world ” 23 .

Gandhi used the term swaraj. Therefore, the understanding of Indian nationalism is directly related to the concept of “swaraj”, which can be translated as “self-government.” Swaraj represents the “metabolic principle as well as the principle of political activity” 24 .

Indian philosopher and one of the founders of the national liberation movement Aurobindo Ghosh argued that “nationalism came to the people as a religion … nationalism lives by the divine power contained in it … Nationalism is immortal, since it does not arise from man, it is God who manifests himself ” 25 .

Another important element of Indian nationalism is the Hindutwa. The book of the same name was written in prison in 1923 by Vinayak Damodar, an ideologue of Hindu communalism.

But in India, the concepts of both the Hindu and the Muslim nation were developed in parallel (the concept of the latter was actively used in the creation of the independent state of Pakistan). In addition, some insisted on the priority of Bengali culture (as Bonkim Chondro Chottopaddhai said, “Bengali genius shone most brightly”) , thereby laying the foundation for the creation of an independent state of Bangladesh and the foundations of political separatism in the lower reaches of the Ganges of modern India.

Savarkar considered the concept of Hindutva as a complex of the main generic features of the Hindu “nation” he constructed, whose belonging was determined by territory, blood (descent from the Aryans), culture (classical Sanskrit) and religion (Hinduism) 26 . The entire subcontinent, according to Savarkar, is home to the “one nation” of the Vedic Aryans.

Madhav Sadavshiv Golvalkar assigned religion an even smaller role (despite the emergence of other religions, he called the Hindus the most noble people) than Savarkar, however, he believed that the Aryans did not come to India, but were the indigenous population.

Both Savarkar and Golvalkar took up the ideas of the Aryan race, which was developed by European orientalists, writers and theorists.

But in India, the concepts of both the Hindu and the Muslim nation were developed in parallel (the concept of the latter was actively used in the creation of the independent state of Pakistan). In addition, some insisted on the priority of Bengali culture (as Bonkim Chondro Chottopaddhai said, “Bengali genius shone most brightly”) 27 , thereby laying the foundation for the creation of an independent state of Bangladesh and the foundations of political separatism in the lower reaches of the Ganges of modern India.

In conclusion, it is necessary to make an important remark that for most states of the world the term “nation” has an alien origin. Western Europe, where “nation” and “nationalism” were finally formed, emerging from Hellenistic philosophy and Roman law, geographically is only a small peninsula of Eurasia, but over the course of several centuries, the whole world fell into the possession of this narrative.

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect our Editorial Policy


Author

Leonid Savin is a Russian geopolitical Expert and the deputy head chief of the International Eurasia Movement


Endnotes

1 Aliyev A. A. “National” and “religious” in the system of interstate relations between Iran and Iraq in the XX century. M., 2006, p. 79.

2 Duri AA The Historical Formation of the Arab Nation. A Study in Identity and Consciousness. Volume I. Beckenham: Center for Arabic Unity Studies, Croom Helm, 1987, p. 97.

3 ‘Abd al-Hamid al-Katib, Ila l-Kuttab, ed. Muhammad Kurd ‘Ali in his Rasa’il al-bulagha’, 2nd ed. Dar al-kutub al-misriya, Cairo, 1913, p. 221.

4 Duri AA The Historical Formation of the Arab Nation. A Study in Identity and Consciousness. Volume I. Beckenham: Center for Arabic Unity Studies, Croom Helm, 1987, p. 106.

5 Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddima, Vol. I. Bulaq, Cairo, AH 1247, p. 123.

6 Duri AA The Historical Formation of the Arab Nation. A Study in Identity and Consciousness.

Volume I. Beckenham: Center for Arabic Unity Studies, Croom Helm, 1987, p. 112.

7 Gainutdin R. Islam and the Nation // Faith. Ethnos. Nation. Religious component of ethnic consciousness. M .: Cultural revolution, 2009, p. 219.

8 Duri AA The Historical Formation of the Arab Nation. A Study in Identity and Consciousness.

Volume I. Beckenham: Center for Arabic Unity Studies, Croom Helm, 1987, p. 110.

9 Kosach G.G. Arab nationalism or Arab nationalisms: doctrine, ethnonym, variants of discourse // Nationalism in world history. Moscow: Nauka, 2007, p. 259.

10 Ibid, p. 319.

11 Gibadullin IR Dialectics of the interaction of Islamic ideology and Iranian nationalism on the example of the ideas of Ayatollah Mortaza Motahhari. Nations and nationalism in the Muslim world (on the example of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, ethnic Kurdistan, neighboring countries and regions). Institute of Oriental Studies RAS, Center for the Study of the Near and Middle East, Moscow, 2014, p. 16.

12 Ibid, p. 17.

13 Motahhari M. On the Islamic Revolution (Peyramoon-e Enghelab-e Eslami), Tehran, Sadra Publications 1993, p. 45.

14 Ibid. pp. 160-161

15 Moṭahhari, Mortażā. Ḵadamāt-e moteqābel-e Eslām wa Irān, 8th ed., Qom, 1978. pp. 62–67.

16 Šariʿati, Ali. Bāzšenāsi-e howiyat-e irāni-eslāmi, Tehran, 1982. pp. 72-73.

17 Bāzargān, Mehdi. “Nahżat-e żedd-e irāni”, in Keyhān, 23 Šahrivar 1359/14 September 1980, cited in Dr. Maḥmud Afšār, “Waḥdat-e melli wa tamā-miyat-e arżi”, Ayanda 6 / 9-12, 1980, p. 655.

18 Adib-Moghaddam, Arshin. Interview // E-IR, July 26, 2018.

http://www.e-ir.info/2018/07/26/interview-arshin-adib-moghaddam-2/

19 Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Psycho-nationalism. Global Thought, Iranian Imaginations. Cambridge University Press, 2017.

20 Vanina E. Yu. The Past in the Name of the Future. Indian nationalism and history (mid-19th – mid-20th centuries) // Nationalism in world history. Moscow: Nauka, 2007, p. 491.

21 Gupta M. Bharat bharati. Chirganv, 1954.

22 Pal B. C. Nationalism and Politics // Life and Works of Lal, Bal and Pal, p. 295.

23 Gandhi M. K. Hind Swaraj // The Moral and Political Writings of Mahatma Gandhi / Ed. R. Iyer. Oxford, 1986. Vol. I, p. 221.

24 Alter, Joseph S. Gandhis Body. Sex, Diet, and the Politics of Nationalism. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000, p. XI.

25 Yerasov BS Socio-cultural traditions and public consciousness in the developing countries of Asia and Africa. Moscow: Nauka, 1982, p. 142.

26 Vanina E. Yu. The Past in the Name of the Future. Indian nationalism and history (mid-19th – mid-20th centuries) // Nationalism in world history. Moscow: Nauka, 2007, p. 512-513.

27 Ibid, p. 507.


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