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Is Nationalism A Source Of Cohesion? Essay

Is nationalism a source of cohesion or conflict? Nationalism is the attitude that the members of a nation take in seeking to achieve a form of political sovereignty when they care about their identity. This shared identity is often based on common origin, ethnicity, values and traditions. Thus, nationalism creates a social structure imagined by people who conform to a certain set of values and harbors social cohesion between those alike, while also creating conflict between different communities of people. The impact of nationalism rests heavily on the history and formation of the state in its nation-building period.

In its attempt to establish sovereignty, states like Singapore promoted multiculturalism as a core to its history and has been successful in promoting social cohesion. In comparison, the United Kingdom promotes its strong colonial history and British tradition that is mostly irrelevant in the 21st century society. Instead of adapting to effects of globalization, they have undertaken a defensive stance in freezing its national values to repel the threat of diversity as its seen as a form of social conflict. As a result, the rigid concept of nationalism questions one’s true sense of identity.

What the state defines as its set of values is irrelevant and inconsistent with one’s own. Singapore: nation-building Nationalism creates social cohesion across various ethnic groups by promoting common values that encourages multiculturalism and coexistence. Durkheim (1893) stated that social cohesion is the “interdependence between the members of society, shared loyalties and solidarity”. Relatively new, Singapore was founded in 1819 by the British and built its population of migrant workers from China, Malaysia, India who sought a better future.

After gaining independence in 1965, the Singapore government addressed divisive factors such as race and religion. Understanding that common practices were key to nationalism, it became mandatory that all students sing the national anthem and take the national pledge at the beginning of each school day to foster social solidarity. * (Valta) Quoting from the national pledge, the citizens are encouraged to “pledge as one united people, regardless of race, language, or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality”.

This “drive for equality” (Valta 2010) promotes co-existence and “mutual respect” (Jackson Preece 2005) to create “unity out of diversity that are found within their borders” (Suvarierol). By “inventing traditions” (Hobsbawm 1983) like the National Day Parade, the state is able to celebrate its independence and display its military strength every year. While these programs are created for the benefit of uniting society, they are enforced in an authoritative way that reflects on the government’s desire for control and order.

The lack of choice further resonates in their military policies where all Singaporean men are obliged to serve 2 years of National Service to the state. After all, Arendt (Jackson Preece 2005) describes “political order (as a) human artifice” to constrain freedom and are the “foundation of an ordered and secure collective existence”*. This act of nationbuilding contributes to the foundation of a political entity where it is essential that the people living within it develop an inseparable bond to their national identity.

In doing so, people will be socially conditioned to collectively support the behavior and actions of the state, giving it sovereignty. As a result of this collective spirit and common goal to withhold independence, Singapore transformed from a small fishing port, to a prosperous financial hub. With a GDP per capital of $83,066, placing it the 3rd highest in the world, Singapore’s success resonates in its cohesive society and the sovereignty that accompanies a strong national identity.

Singapore: Imagined communities, education The aim of nationalism is to create a socially constructed community to ensure a socially cohesive society that one identifies with. According to Gellner (2006), “Nationalism invents nations where they do not exist”, supports the claim that nationbuilding tools will lead to “profound emotional legitimacy”. Understanding the multidimensional relationship between citizenship and identity is essential in building a national identity. A policy influenced by any single race is impractical, as it is impossible to expect others to support values that do not align with their own.

Thus, in attempt to foster ethnic cohesion between the Chinese, Malay, Indians, the Singapore government built a national identity based on multi-racialism and bilingualism in schools. These aspects are deeply ingrained into the youths of the nation through the education system, and as a result has become a building block of the nation. This leads to the formation of “deep, horizontal comradeship”, seen as “imagined communities” by Andersen (2006), to describe the phenomena of anonymous connections and mutual respect between people who they will never ever meet.

Bilingualism was implemented in 1966 to ensure that everyone could communicate through a common language, English, whilst still preserving their heritage by learning the language of their race. Adopting the approach of liberal cosmopolitanism, it allows people to relate to both a national and personal identity, rather than compromising one for the other. Complementary to bilingualism, the compulsory subject of social studies teaches all students the importance of racial harmony and reports on the government’s response maintain order during the 1969 and 2013 race riots to eradicate any misunderstanding.

The government’s belief in education further resonates in its program to integrate new citizens, titled the Singapore Citizenship Journey, an e-learning platform that seeks to “enrich” one’s understanding of the country. Through the education system, the Singapore government nurtures a culture that appreciates and understands the need for social solidarity. The mutual respect for one another built on the framework of multiculturalism and harmony is central to cohesion in Singapore.

United Kingdom: nation-freezing as a source of conflict While diversity is seen by Singapore as crucial to its success, the United Kingdom views multiculturalism as a threat to its strong British heritage and a source of social conflict. The belief is embodied in the UK Independence Party and its policies opposing immigration and membership to the European Union. Tied to its history of a colonial state with a “peculiar imagining of history and power”, the UK acts to “conserve itself in a particular idealized” British identity.

This act of new nationalism seeks to “reconstruct national identity… s unitary and static” in response to the threat of hybridity of cultures. UKIP’s opposition against the free movement of people within the EU, secondary to the larger issue of the UK EU Membership Referendum is a demonstration of the state’s strong desire to regain sovereignty over border control. The struggle for cooperation trickles down the local level where integration and assimilation becomes a main concern regarding immigration. Apart for diluting perceptions from Britishness, immigration poses a serious threat to cohesion and attracts various negative stigmas such as poverty.

This outcome attracts unequal treatment within society and puts ethnic minorities in “moral isolation”, giving them more reason to stick within their own group of people. As these “imagined communities” grow and thrive, they are seen as outsiders and threat to the British identity. The segregation is further exacerbated through nation-freezing tools such as citizenship tests, where idealized values and outdated knowledge of British history are forced upon migrants.

These mediums aim to retain sovereignty through promoting a ingular identity of British culture, rather than respecting and recognizing the native identities of migrants. As a result of this unequal treatment and oppression, ethnic minorities fail to develop a sense of belonging and loyalty to the state. Rather than contributing to the state, these groups of people engage in conflict as demonstrated in the 2011 London Riots. Therefore, the same nationalistic tools that were employed to build the British identity led to conflict and became the downfall of the state.

Conclusion: In the face of globalization, nationalism can be used as a tool to appreciate a culturally diverse society and attain social cohesion. By accepting and endorsing multiple identities, individuals become more accepting and adaptable when moving into different geographical boundaries. The “fluidity of individual identity” (Scheffler 2002) is a modern phenomena and its internalization is a result of successful education programs that effectively promotes the benefit of multiculturalism.

However, it is inevitable that certain local populations fear that the influx of migrants pose a threat to their heritage, culture and state sovereignty, as the formation of new ethnic communities often demand mutual recognition. The lack of understanding and respect for other ethnic communities builds on a greater sense of nationalism within groups, segregating the people and leading to social conflict. Thus, nationalism is a powerful tool that must be employed strategically to unite the people.

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