Narrow vision

Ethnonationalism is a form of nationalism in which a nation is defined in terms of ethnicity. Nation states are formed on the basis of a shared heritage which includes a common language, faith and ethnic ancestry. Conflicts tend to arise when ethnic or national identities are in opposition to one another. Most ethnic conflicts have a background of domination, injustice or oppression by one ethnic group or another. Although ethnic conflict is viewed as being based on religion, economic inequality, or political and linguistic factors, the conflict is fundamentally based on identity.

In the cosmopolitan world, dominant communities fear the loss of their dominance. Therefore, they use any means, violent or non-violent, to cement their position. The exclusionary form of identity politics has brought religious chauvinism to the fore. This has resulted in the acceleration of inequality in society. Religious terrorism is another angle of ethnonationalism seen in present times. The growth of various terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State is a case in point.

The ethnic nationalism present today is evident in many states' immigration policies in the form of repatriation laws. For instance, Israel's Law of Return grants every Jew the right to settle in Israel and automatically acquire citizenship. In the political sphere, ethnic nationalism and identity politics have become intertwined, blurring the distinction between the two in popular perception. The exclusionary theories of sovereignty and self-determination have never matched their practice. Rather, they are animated more by the fear and hatred of the 'other'. This can be seen in the America First policy of the president of the United States of America, Donald Trump. His populism is a blow to civic nationalism. He has raised his stature as an old-fashioned isolationist by his anti-immigrant talk and the denunciation of free trade agreements. Trump signed an executive order suspending all refugee admissions from seven countries with 'terrorism concerns'. This move was widely criticized as a ban on Muslims. Trump also advocated the construction of an "impassable" wall along the Mexican border.

In Russia, the president, Vladimir Putin, has shunned cosmopolitan liberal values for distinctly orthodox practices. In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned away from the European Union and from peace talks with the Kurdish minority in favour of a strident Islamic nationalism. In China, only the Han people are viewed as 'properly Chinese', while everyone else is a second-class citizen. Global economic weakness and a rise in inequality appear to be causing a disturbing growth in ethnic nationalism.

Sectarianism has been an ugly reality in many of the conflicts that plague the Middle East. Iran and Saudi Arabia have formed alliances with countries who share their theologies and backed military groups in those that do not. In India, despite the secular outlook enshrined in the Constitution, the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government pursues a fundamentalist Hindutva policy. Since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, groups of radical Hindu nationalists have been terrorizing religious minorities across the country. Churches have been vandalized, Muslims have been lynched by mobs. The prime minister remains outward-looking and modernizing, but he has ties with radical ethnic-nationalist Hindu groups that preach chauvinism and intolerance. The foreign policy of a country in a sense is reflective of the political ideology of the ruling class.

Since ethnonationalism is a direct outcome of key elements of modernization, it is likely to gain ground in societies undergoing such a process. Political stability in modern nation states can be ensured only when they uphold universal values such as freedom and equality. Notions of tolerance and pluralism are the only alternatives to the polarized atmosphere created by ethnonationalist practices.


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