Wednesday, February 08, 2006

History, Patriotism etc

German philosopher Goethe once famously remarked that 'Patriotism ruins history'. Falstaff's piece on martyrdom (and on, yeah, Rang De Basanti again) pretty much makes the same point. The piece itself is a remarkably well-written one, with a lot of insights that are hard to argue with. Consider this passage, for instance:

Was their (Bhagat Singh's and his companions') desire to kill people driven by a well-thought out game plan to achieve real change in India's political situation, or was it driven by a feverish search for self-definition? Isn't it more plausible that a group of insecure and frustrated young men, burning with a sense of personal injury to which no real source could be ascribed, chose, as an identity, the role of 'martyrs', purely to escape the realities of their own impotence (this is how terrorists are recruited btw)? Were these truly idealogues of violence, or were they merely callow youths who stumbled upon a good way to both release their natural aggression and sanctify it in the name of their 'motherland'? Patriotism may or may not be the last refuge of the scoundrel, but it is certainly the last refuge of those with nothing else to pin their self on, of those who have no other claim to make upon the world. Behind all that high-sounding ideology is simply the brute aggression of those whose only contributions to the world can be reductive.

Find a fallacy in this argument? I cannot.

For, it is indeed true that history is always dictated by the victors - in this case, us. A wild analogy, to illustrate: in Osama Bin Laden's own wierd world, the 9/11 suicide bombers are probabaly hailed as great matryrs and revolutionaries. Please note that I am NOT calling Bhagat Singh a terrorist here. But as Falstaff mentions above, all jingoism and/or patriotism aside (more about that later), it is plausible (even probable) that the 24-year old Bhagat Singh was a confused, frustrated and courageous young man whom political events seized by the scruff of the neck; not, as history claims, the other way round.

Now, about the patriotic/jingoistic bit. There is a fine line that seperates the two, and many people don't realize this. Dissent is not equal to disloyalty; disagreement with India's nuclear policy is not tantamount to treason (contrary to what the government then claimed). Refusing outside help during a national disaster/calamity amounts to jingoism, IMHO (especially as thousands of people are still waiting to be rehabiliated - read a fine account of the tsunami disaster here, at Dilip's blog). I completely agree with Mark Twain when he opines that patriotism should be 'loyalty to one's country, and not to its institutions or office-holders'.

Conclusion: invite dissent and provocation - no topic should be taboo. Non-conformity invites debate, and perhaps a better solution by consensus. Instead of banning artists who seek to break the mould and make ask us questions about ourselves (Deepa Mehta being a classic example), encourage them to break free of the so-called moral shackles. And crack down on those who choose to make protests in an unruly or even violent manner - hard. To end with yet another quote, this time by Voltaire - 'I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it'.

No comments: