Tuesday, July 11, 2006

France, Football and Re-mapping Nationalism

I ask my class of 40 or so students, if given a chance, how many of you will you give up your Filipino citizenship? All but a couple raise their hands. Nationalism is something we Filipinos hardly ever relate to pride of place, or people or home. "Nationalism" is hardly ever something we exhibit overtly, not unless some of us reach a degree of popularity abroad, for, say, winning boxing matches or beauty pageants. Nationalism in this day and age seems passé. I think so too. But that doesn't mean Nationalism doesn't serve a very important function. It generates duties and obligations to a piece of land and space. It’s important in raising capital by way of taxes. It can make you commit absolutely illogical acts such as dying for you country.

I ask my students, now ok, so what nationality do you want to be? They want to be British or Canadians. Many want to be French. Now those seem to be a proud people. And they are. Or, they market themselves as such. The French are a proud people. But what most of us don't realize is that this pride has taken hundreds of years in the making.

First, let us be clear that “Nationalism" is a concept that traces its origins in a particular time and context. Nations have only been in existence for the last 350 years. The very first nations, as we know them today, were born in Western Europe and exported to the rest of the world through colonization and imperialism. The creation of a nation was a prerequisite to the creation of a State. States are the most successful political organization in modern history. After all, it is the construct with which all 6.3 billion of us frame our political, social, economic and cultural lives.

Nation and State are concepts that are often conflated, used interchangeably by many. But a nation is not necessarily a state. And a state is not necessarily a nation. A State is a distinct territory (land) with sovereignty (self-rule), a government and a people, recognized by the rest of the world as such. A Nation is a grouping of people who consider themselves a member of more or less the same socio-cultural unit. To illustrate, Israel is both a nation and a state. Palestine is a nation, but it is not a State because it neither has a territory to call its own, and neither is it recognized by the international community as such. There can be many nations within a State.

Obviously, not all nationalisms are created equal. After all, some nations are much older than others. Some nations have had the advantage of having been created in much longer span of time and were the results of perfectly natural social processes. France is an old nation. It created a single language, a single religion and even a single standard of measuring weight and length and such. France has had to eliminate all other differences within its territory. Maim, kill, suppress. After a while your people will feel they share a single destiny because they speak the same language in telling their stories. This "feeling" is strengthened as you wage wars that will further distinguish your people from others. If you are able to create empires that span the globe, then you've got to start believing you're something special.

Some nations are created out of thin air, proclaimed a “nation” on a piece of paper. Some nations were made on the whims of European cartographers divvying up the globe.

In this age of global migration, people, carrying with them pieces of their own nations can now uproot and settle in other countries. This is where “nationalism” becomes problematic. When you change nationalities, it is assumed you are now a firm believer of a new ideology, the set of values your new country holds dear. Carrying a new passport doesn’t automatically discard your old values, the ones you learned from birth. Like they say, you can take the Filipino out of the Philippines, but not the Philippines out of the Filipino. Even doubly problematic is when your allegiance to your new country comes into conflict with the old one, especially if these two share a troubled colonial past.

The World Cup is certainly one of those arenas where nationalisms are proudly worn on the sleeve. France recently placed second in the World Cup finals, playing with a starting line-up of mostly dark-skinned players, sons of migrants from North and West Africa as well as the Caribbean. I say this can only be a leap forward to harmonizing France's race relations. French nationalism has been undergoing a sort of overhaul in the last decade. The tensions probably reached an all-record high in the riots of August last year, when disenfranchised black and Arab youths set France's cities on fire. For a couple of hundred years, French nationalism was exclusively white and exclusively Christian. Now it must accommodate non-whites and non-Christians.

But just because France sends a “rainbow-colored” football team and small African countries such as Ghana reach the quarterfinals doesn’t mean there isn’t ignorance still. The ugly speculations (see below) regarding Zinedine Zidane’s expulsion at the nth hour Sunday night point towards the kind of crisis conflicting nationalisms and identities place on a globe in flux. Is he Algerian? Is he French? Is he French-Algerian? Is he French-Algerian whose family was a traitor to Algerian freedom fighters during the struggle for independence? Which makes him....more French and less Algerian? It is a conundrum.

Now imagine all those hyphenated Filipinos populating the globe. Heck, imagine yourself, right here, right now. Nationalism?!? Wuzat?

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