Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nationalism & Its Effects

“By nationalism…I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism.”

- George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism, 1945

Today is Memorial Day – a day of remembrance of those who have, and are, sacrificing their lives and their homely luxuries in order to protect our fundamental freedoms. Our leaders are seen honoring these citizens in uniform and comforting unsure families back at home; they promise that the end is near, that the battle has been fought.

What leaders do not recognize is that war is in their own hands – and so is peace. They have the power to arrest the cycle of destruction, hatred, and alienation amongst the nations, races, religions, and ideologies of the world. To accomplish such a feat is to sway the hostile winds of history toward a new path – a path of progressivism, a path of unity. What a secure, astute world requires is what one might deem a predominant doctrine of inter-nationalism to replace the fatigued, Cold War-era nationalism.


Case 1

 The Star - Spangled Banner is raised high into the clear, blue sky as hundreds of onlookers salute its prestige.

 With the world’s largest economy and a self-proclaimed cultural melting pot, the United States provides the perfect example of negligent, and often destructive, nationalism. This American form of nationalism has evolved into interventionism brought about by “the fear factor.” Be the threat Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, Iran’s nuclear program, North Korea’s nuclear tests, or Al Qaeda’s encroachment on Pakistan – the United States believes all the worlds’ evils shall direct their weapons toward its society. Such consistent practice of presumption combined with nationalistic fervor leads to deadly consequences: the Vietnam War, the current fiasco in Iraq, and the Guantanamo embarrassment, (just to name a few).

The Bush administration’s “War on Terror” – a war on an ideology, not an enemy – is a result of such heightened fear and trepidation. In essence, the United States possesses a “United States vs. Evil” foreign policy doctrine; therefore, the nation creates more enemies for itself by involving its military might in extraneous affairs and tensions the world over. The overwhelming burden is undeniably carried by the people who must supply their country with soldiers to combat the extrinsic.


Case 2

 The white, green, and saffron of the tiranga[1]waft through the humid air as farmers gather their crop for the yearly harvest.

 Sixty-one years after its independence, India proudly claims to be the world’s largest democracy and guardian of one of the world’s fastest growing economies – but the country has, is, and will remain plagued by the equivalent of an everlasting, giant leech: the Pakistan-Kashmir complex.

Were the nation to relinquish itself of its nationalism, the leech could simply be removed. But to the Indian government, and to the Indian people, seceding from Kashmir would signify its ultimate surrender to its neighboring rival, Pakistan.

Since the partitioning of India, the status of Kashmir has been disputed and has lead to a culture of rivalry between two peoples who were once united. Stubborn Indians believe that Kashmir forms the geographic “head of India” and that national identity would be incomplete without this block of rugged, yet gorgeous mountain territory. Meanwhile, stubborn Pakistanis struggle to comprehend why India would deplete its military and monetary resources for a strongly Islamic region whose people would prefer identification with Muslim Pakistan over Hindu India. The conclusion: an “India vs. Pakistan” doctrine. The political tension has unfortunately permeated into popular culture; the greatest victory for an Indian cricket team would be over Pakistan’s team.

And through the entire conflict, the people suffer. Terrorist organizations with questionable connections to the Pakistani government attacked Mumbai in November 2008. As Orwell writes, each side seeks only to advance “its interests,” thereby leaving common humanity behind.


Case 3

The regal Magen David [2]is hoisted above the azure waters of the luxurious Mediterranean beach, just miles away from a sanguine battleground.

Israel, a country that was destined to nationalist foreign policy from its very existence, represents a most severe example of nationalism’s detrimental effects. From Zionism to Palestine to the Mossad[3], Israel’s nationalism has promoted a largely dichotomous view of the nation to populations around the world: one either fully supports the Jewish state or one does not.

Furthermore, Israel has successfully manipulated the horrors of World War II into its national identity and into its current politics. One who is against current Israeli actions is easily termed anti-Semitic and insensible to the Jewish past. Such false corollaries are only augmented by the substantial military aid provided to Israel (a fully industrialized nation) from nations like the United States. When one publicly opposes such donation of military aircrafts or protests against excessive military action against Palestinians, Israel instantly defends itself by conjuring images of Nazi Germany. Unless this correllary is dismantled, progressice strides toward peace shall remain nearly impossible.

Secondly, Israel exemplifies a state in which, due to nationalism, has alienated its minorities. Former President Carter explicitly stated this fractured relationship by appropriately titling his book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” Not surprisingly, a recent United Nation's conference on racism was jeered and boycotted (especially by the United States) due to its critical view on Israeli policy toward non-Jewish citizens. One must remember that Israel is a theocratic democracy – practicing the will of its citizenry, but within extent of a sole religious ideology. The result is alienation, and consequentially, the creation of firm enemies. And in a global neighborhood – especially one comprising of nuclear powers – the creation of firm enemies concludes in determined bloodshed.



As our country mourns and memorializes those military men and women who have magnanimously sacrificed for their country and its ideals, one must question the greater well-being of humanity, not just of Americans. The destruction of borders and national identity is not the solution and is most definitely not demanded. Rather, steps toward cooperation and unity offer our world the greatest hope, a shift from nationalist unilaterialism to inter-nationalist communication. The European Union has united Europe's greatest (and historically most adverse) powers with a goal of economic and military stability. Europe has witnessed the grotesque nature of two World Wars on its soils – and hopes to prevent further fracture through unity. Unfortunately, such a system of cooperation and compromise is lacking in many communities, thus leaving the people, the potential, and the future behind in a black smog of fired artillery.

[1]               The Indian flag; “tricolor”

[2]               The hexagonal “Star of David” upon the Israeli flag

[3]               Israeli Intelligence Agency, often criticized for overly severe actions such as torture     and assassinations

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jawad Ali & KS Chitra - "Bi Amr Al Hob"

A few weeks ago, the young Saudi singer Jawad Al Ali released his new 2009 album titled "Bi Amr Al Hob."

What distinguishes Jawad Al Ali from the scores of other Rotana-supported Khaleeji singers? This determining factor is clearly his passion for fusion and global interpretation of music. His musical style is more similar to that of the Kuwaiti group Guitara than to his fellow Saudis such as Abdo or Abdul Majeed Abdullah. 
Jawad most definitely isn't afraid to take advantage of the influence of the Khaleej's massive South Asian population. He has previously filmed a music video with a Bollywood theme and has also sung some Hindi lyrics on a television show.
But the 2009 album,"Bi Amr El Hob," represents a new, grander effort at building a bridge across the Arabian Sea. In the album, Jawad works with famed Indian playback singer KS Chitra to produce a beautiful duet - and the album's title song.

The song appears in three different versions on the album:
  1. Hindi
  2. Hindi/Arabic
  3. Turkish/Hindi/Arabic
Needless to say, the track itself is a gorgeous blend of vintage orchestration and new-age fusion. At the beginning, one hears Chitra and Jawad race through intricate Indian scales and then the track progesses into grand Oriental orchestration with an always subtle tabla.
A high point of the track is listening to Chitra's high-pitched melifluous voice glide over the Arab orchestration. 
I find only one aspect of the track detracting. One hears, for example at 2:07, an eerie "voice" of technical garbage. I would have loved to hear more natural vocals in this computer's place - whether it be Chitra's or Jawad's. But this is only a miniscule detraction; this track is yet impressive.

In my opinion, I've been swept by "Bi Amr El Hob" to an extent that the other tracks on the album are not worth mentioning. In this I mean that they are no different (to me) from other Khaleeji songs. Khaleeji audiences with more understanding of the lyrics might better embrace these other tracks. 

Overall, congratulations to both Jawad Al Ali and KS Chitra on this accomplishment. Hopefully, such partnerships shall continue both in music and in global politics.