Historically, political movements have been slandered as unpatriotic. This highlights the uncertainty of what actually counts as patriotism, alongside the allegations against activism for inciting hatred for one’s homeland.
It’s easy to blur the lines between patriotism (having pride and love for one’s nation) and nationalism (believing in the superiority of one’s nation and all its actions). Nationalism uses an ‘us versus them’ philosophy to alienate other groups of people which may be accompanied by racism. Governments globally use this tactic of hiding nationalistic policies under the guise of patriotism. Just think of slogans like ‘America First’. Countries like China, Russia, and North Korea have all used such tactics to expand their control, take over land, and push down the opposition.
Labeling political activism as ‘disrespectful to one’s nation’ is by no means a recent concept. The Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War Movement in the USA in the 1960s were subjected to such accusations despite the fact that most people nowadays agree with these movements. In recent times, the Black Lives Matter movement has also been called unpatriotic. Kneeling during the national anthem was called ‘disrespectful to the national anthem and the ongoing protests have also been opposed similarly. Hence, it’s fair to say that people often perceive valid criticism of government policies as an insult. Rhetoric like “if you don’t like this country, then leave” may be used in response to criticism of the oppressive systems in place in many countries. The treatment of national symbols like flags and statues is often the focal point of discussions rather than the issues that have caused the protests.
This behavior is not limited to the United States. In Pakistan, many people criticized Malala Yousafzai for painting a negative picture of Pakistan in the eyes of the world instead of addressing the issues existing within the country. This is also the case when marginalized communities and minorities express their thoughts about the oppression they face. In India, many people (including famous celebrities) commend the government despite its appalling actions in Kashmir all out of love for their country.
This just goes to show that nationalism and fanaticism may be worlds apart but they exist in the same spectrum. Like two points traveling in an enlarged circle are bound to coincide with no corner to drift to, it’s inevitable for one crazy ideology to collide with another. The fusion of both can serve as a blockade for sanity. The effects of which can be detrimental and result in the creation of a society full of people who let emotion intervene with their ability to differentiate between right and wrong. Let it cloud their judgments and guide their justifications for wrongdoings of their country and people by purely that. To exemplify: I can have strong emotions for my dog while simultaneously discouraging its unruly acts. This doesn’t make me indifferent towards it but shows my concern for its well being. Humans and animals are both emotionally driven. The difference though is that humans are capable of making sense of that emotion and not let it take over rationality when provided with information that threatens it. It’s inevitable for a dog to blindly follow its owner, but for humans, it’s not. Turning a blind eye towards everything that’s erroneous and trying to silence the voices that bluntly call it out is irrational and ignorant. After all, what sets us apart from animals if not moral conscience and the ability to differentiate between rights and wrongs.
Moving forward, it’s important to understand that loving one’s country does not mean disregarding its flaws. Perhaps true patriotism is not believing that one’s country is perfect but rather believing that it has the potential to be better.