A recent debate with one of my friends challenged my own conceptions on patriotism. Patriotism, if we refer ourselves to a more dictionary definition, is “the love for one’s country.” The many other online dictionary websites that I consulted proposed very similar definitions of the word. It is quite startling to me that I hear about this controversial term almost everywhere I go, sometimes in very polemic ways, when the literal definition of this word suggests peace.
Personally, I have never been very patriotic. I have the honor of being amongst those of which Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and many other nationalist political figures point to, growling: “Boo, those dual-citizens.” When I am asked to give certain elements of my identity, I have an urge to say that I am a Parisian or a citizen of the world. Yet, by fear of being considered an utterly conceited snob or a very cheesy hippie, I say that I am Franco-American.
It is not by shame that I do not wish to say this; I am not in denial. However, when I say that I belong to a nationality, I feel a sour sentiment of obligation to love this country because I am a member of this “national community.” It almost seems like an oxymoron to think about countries as “national communities,” even though I hear this term more and more.
At the beginning, I felt ashamed of not thinking of myself as patriotic. I felt like the ugly duckling in a pile of firm nation-lovers and I wondered what was it about patriotism that I did not like. I then came to realize, no matter how much I was convincing myself that patriotism and nationalism are different, that these two distinct notions do have something in common. National preference. By this, I do not mean that patriotism triggers as narrow and radical a vision of the world as nationalism does. Nonetheless, national preference does mean that there are feelings for a people and for a land because one is originally from there. I guess that concept does not make much sense to me. If I ever have feelings for a people, they must be rooted in a reason, a struggle, an experience, something that ties me to them enabling me to feel connected to them.
The only moment of patriotism I ever had actually was when I was here at Wheaton on November 13, 2015, the night my city was mercilessly attacked by a group of religious fanatics claiming to belong to Daesh. That night, I was particularly emotional for many reasons, some of which regarded my concern regarding the safety of my family and friends, but also because I felt an intangible sentiment of membership towards a community I felt connected to because I was living the same struggle as them.
As comforting as this feeling was at the moment, it is not healthy. The tears that flowed down my face when my friend received the alert on her phone did not pour two years ago when the Benyamin Netanyahu Israeli Government started bombarding the Gaza strip in Palestine. They should have poured when I learned from Le Monde and The New York Times that my Palestinian brothers and sisters were caught up in this wheel of misfortune. Considering France, my birth country, is at the origin of many of the conflicts in this region through the quest it undertook after WWI in pursuing colonial hegemonic supremacy, I should have felt this more acutely.
By falling into this emotional and inextricable circle of biased feelings, we come to act as if certain lives are more important than others, and we cannot think like this. The lives of my Cambodian sisters and brothers are as important to me as the lives of my French fellow citizens. However, through the cultivating of this perspective of national preference, we are necessarily biased in how we react to tragedies like the ones of the Gaza strip, the Kenyan school shootings, the Beirut bombings or the Parisian shootings.
Therefore, it is important to consider that Patriotism divides more people than it actually gathers.