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STUDENT VOICE: Are we seeing a rise in nationalism or an appropriation of it?

The Verse’s Rosie Pacey asks whether we are seeing a rise in nationalism or an appropriation of it and whether this is a good thing or a bad one. 

In recent years, we have seen a rise in the far-right go hand in hand with a worrying rise of nationalism all over the ‘West’. Nationalism has come to stand for xenophobia, and for racism. However, this has not always been the case; fierce nationalism can be the rallying point for liberation, as seen by many ex-colonial nations as they fought for independence.

How, then, does the nationalism of ex-colonial nations such as India, Zimbabwe, and South Africa – that helped to fuel their liberation from British oppression – differ from the nationalism we are seeing in the West, that fuels racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia? Do the differing connotations of these two feelings of nationalism mean they are something different entirely? And do we in the West have a right to condemn all forms of nationalism when they have been the focal point of liberation, often from our own oppression?

I think that any answer will be problematic in its own way, but would start by looking at questions of power; is nationalism being used as a way to gain power for below, or is it being used to further the power of those in a privileged position? Is it empowering the oppressed, or threatening minorities? When Independence Day is celebrated in Haiti, it is celebrating something very different than Nigel Farage was when he claimed 23rd June 2016 would ‘go down in our history as our Independence Day’. For Haiti, independence marked a fight against racism, against colonial oppression, and against a racial hierarchy of power set against the majority of Haitian people. But what was Farage celebrating on Britain’s ‘Independence Day’, when power has historically and systematically been constructed in Britain’s (particularly ‘white Britain’s’) favour?

When Theresa May shoves the ‘threat’ against ‘British values’ down our throats, is she not wrongly placing Britain as a victim, when throughout history it has used its ‘British values’ as a weapon to oppress its colonies? As Brexit bills look set to dominate parliament in 2018, we can expect a continuation of the rhetoric that Britain is an ‘underdog’, along with more calls for nationalist interest. Is this an appropriation of a type of nationalism provoked by true underdogs such as nations like Haiti, or is nationalism an inherently flawed concept, bound up with ideas of race and xenophobia?

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