nationalism in international relations

Written by Mahrukh Khalid Siddiqui 12:13 pm Articles, Current Affairs, International Relations, Published Content

Nationalism in International Relations: Tracing the Roots of Xenophobia

Nationalism captures the important yet equally detrimental—if manifested unwisely—unity that is triggered from the loyalty and dedication towards one’s homeland. To the author, Mahrukh Khalid Siddiqui, xenophobia and discrimination are viewed as the by-products of classical nationalism. Discriminatory actions are fueled by presumptions, prejudice, lack of knowledge, and stereotypes.
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About the Author(s)
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Ms Mahrukh Khalid Siddiqui graduated with a degree in Social Sciences with a major in Development Studies from Bahria University Islamabad. She is currently working as a Technical Associate in the Government Affairs Department of Siemens Pakistan.

What is Nationalism?

In its simplest form, nationalism is to show loyalty and pride for one’s nation. It is the sense of unity between the residents of a nation based on common norms, values, religion, language, customs and traditions. However, nationalism in international relations also differentiates one nation from another.

Nationalists prefer to isolate themselves from the rest of the world for reasons like fear of contaminating their unique culture and identity or because of a sense of superiority. Although this may seem like a peaceful separation, nationalism in its extreme and political form can lead to fascism where on the pretence of protecting their nation and identity, uncivilized methods and militarism may be used.

Where Did Nationalism Come From?

In today’s time, a person’s identity is determined by their nationality. However, this wasn’t always the case. In the past, the concept of vast empires and kingdoms existed and so people introduced themselves based on the town or village they belonged to. As these entities were large in size, this meant that there was a diverse range of people living under a single kingdom or empire. Thus despite the social and cultural differences, everyone lived together.

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The main reason for this was the absolute power that the king or, more specifically, the religious authorities held so if they decided that the subjects would cohabit then no one could retaliate against them. The land was conquered for reasons like economic expansion, power and glorification and more diverse ethnicities as a result became a part of the kingdom or empire.

Nationalism initially began to branch out when the Protestants because of conflicting beliefs separated themselves from the Catholic Church during the 16th century. However, the first official signs of nationalism in international relations came about when the concept of nation-states was introduced in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1658. When this treaty was signed, the 30 Years’ War (1618-1648) between the Holy Roman Empire and various German groups came to an end.

The Age of Enlightenment also started in the 17th and 18th centuries alongside the French Revolution and so power was no longer absolute, as concepts like religion and traditions lost focus and the world shifted towards industrialization. Capitalism came to rise and economic differences were emphasized which lead to the competition to reach the top. In order for a nation to develop, it needed to do better than other nations and so rivalry led to fear and animosity.

As a result, nationalism created xenophobia. Another possible reason for the rise in xenophobia pointed out by historians was the dark colonial past of the nations. This left them scarred and so fear turned into hatred for foreigners, and people likened them to their past colonial rulers, who would steal their resources, identity and freedom.

Growing Xenophobia and Racism

Although the pre-constructed stereotypes and prejudices are slowly being extinguished with the help of globalization and media, they still exist in some forms around the world. Immigrants in particular are victims of discrimination and abuse by society. Afghans in Pakistan and Mexicans in the United States are two major examples. Although these minority groups are provided rights, anti-immigrant politics over these communities still exist today.

It even took quite some time for the Pakistan government to officially issue identification cards to Afghan immigrants. Politically speaking, America being a democratic government provides rights and freedoms to those who gain American nationality, but it is the opinion of the majority group which is given more importance while the minority groups like immigrants or ethnic groups are overlooked.

Latinos and many other minorities in America have shared their experiences of being discriminated against at school and the workplace for simply being different. Mexicans were also accused by Donald Trump of increasing crime rates and disrupting the peace of America.

Police officers of today carry out extra inspections when it comes to black people in fear that they may commit a crime. The murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) are two key examples of this phenomenon. Similarly, with the spread of COVID-19 in America, Asian hate crimes rose by 76%, according to the FBI.

As a sub-category of xenophobia and nationalism, Islamophobia is also prevalent based on the myth that all Muslims are terrorists. Such discrimination has led to violent incidents like the 2019 Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand. In the eyes of nationalists, such actions are necessary in order to protect their country and keep their fellow residents safe. While the victims find it unjustified, some residents deem them as heroes.

Nationalism in a Globalized World

One might say that the entrance of globalization and international relations should’ve diffused the effects of nationalism by connecting countries all over the world through mediums like the internet and media. Unfortunately, media has played a great role in constructing prejudice and propaganda against other nations and communities.

Brexit is proof of this stance. After the decision was made official, political instability was instigated in the United Kingdom through media thus dividing the population. This imposed the concept of otherness. Each side considered itself correct and so spoke against the other. Racism and xenophobia also came to rise as the debate on left-wing and right-wing parties came about post-Brexit and so crime rates escalated.

Moving forward, developing global cooperation is a must for survival. With the outbreak of Covid-19, countries had no choice but to ask for or provide help. Universal concerns like the deteriorating global climate also require the involvement and cooperation of all countries. Thus, nationalist governments should be wary of their actions and work to exterminate pre-constructed views through positive media messages and advocacy.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.

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