11 December 2015

Meditation on patriotism and internationalism

Jayantha Dhanapala, speaking at the launch of the first volume of Judge G.C. Weeramantry’s biography, ‘Towards one world’, describe this exceptional human being as a patriot and an internationalist.  Some would say that the two are incompatible, that a patriot (a term associated with nation) cannot be an internationalist and that an internationalist, by definition, cannot be a patriot. 

There are those who call themselves internationalists and believe that this requires them to disavow and indeed vilify any kind nationalism. They feel obliged to trash anything and everything that affirms smaller political units than the ‘globe’.  They dismiss the idea of ‘nation’ since this is seen as a stumbling block towards the border-erasure that is considered a necessary precondition for Utopic-creation.

There is a way in which the embrace of the larger unit is both convenient and irresponsible. It can also be an excuse for sloth, for not doing that which needs to be done right now, right here at home. 

Where does internationalism begin?  Does it begin and exist and die in the largest metropolis, in the all-nations-represented forum, a cyberspace facility that celebrates diversity, in a political tract, a song, beautiful words, a same-time storming of barricades real and imagined in every major city in the world, in an armchair, a dream, a thought-process, a painting, a twirl of smoke or the aftermath of inter-racial love-making? 

I thought it might be useful to start at the other end of the stick.  No, not ‘nation’, but smaller units therein.  ‘Self’, for example. Here’s a train of thought:

Do we know who we are?  And if not, can we claim to know members of our family? If we can’t figure out those who share our households, can we claim to know our neighbours? If we don’t know our neighbours, what of our community, the village, the city, district, province, nation and the world? 

If we are only vaguely conscious of the constituent elements that make us how can we claim to know who we are? Do we know what histories live within us, make and break us?  What are the philosophies that feed that which we call ‘opinion’, what were their sources?  What laugh-lines pick us up when we are down and who wrote them? What are the dreams and moments of magic that reside within in some container labeled ‘Anticipation’?  Are we aware of the Good Samaritan in us and the mass murderer too?

If we know ourselves, we can identify and correct blemish, enhance whatever grain of goodness that’s in us.  If we explore self without being self-absorbed, I think we can cultivate humility and therefore obtain the quality of compassion, the ability to see and excuse blemish and scar in another person.  This I believe is the essence of the dictum ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ which echoes in part the Buddhist line ‘Sabbe Satta bhavantu sukhitatta’ (may all being be happy).

Patriotism and internationalism, then, begins with self and self-exploration. The degree of self-realization feeds into the ability to identify with family, household, community, village and so on to larger political entities leading to the ‘international’ dimensions of being and engagement. 

If we cannot recognize in someone the same will to live and same fear of death that concerns us, then we are essentially denying ourselves self-recognition.  Patriotism is not flag-waving and anthem-singing.  The same goes for internationalism.  If we are to be successful as individuals we need to figure out ourselves, warts and dimples all.  We have to correct flaw.  The same goes for community and nation.  We are none of us perfect.  We tend however to ignore, disavow or downplay our tumours.  They consume us in the end. 

A person cannot outrun a competitor if he or she is crippled; and screaming that opponent is crippled will not give one steady feet.  Patriotism is a chest-thumping thing; it brushes aside chest-congestion as myth. That’s how nations experience heart-break. 

Internationalism is made of heart-word but peopled by those who by definition refuse to acknowledge the permanent residency of heritage within body and mind. 

There are better ways to be patriotic and internationalist.  It requires humility, compassion and wisdom.  That’s Judge Weeramantry.  A man. A nation. A world too.  Recognised. Recognizable. Like the sky, as my father once put it; belongs to all and yet is no less private.     
  
malindasenevi@gmail.com

This was first published on December 10, 2010 in the 'Daily News' for which newspaper I wrote an 'everyday column' titled 'The Morning Inspection'.
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