Nationalism gets in the way of supporting good causes

Think of how you describe yourself. Likely your country of origin and current citizenship are on the list. But why do those define us when the geographic location of our birth is quite arbitrary? When there is a political demonstration or natural disaster nationality shouldn’t matter, and yet a sense of nationalistic pride or sorrow tends to arise if you have ties to the region. Look at the groups organizing demonstrations in support of Egyptian protesters — many are Egyptian-based. But whether or not we care should not be answered by our loyalties to a nation. They are a group of people who need our support, one way or another.

Nationalism has many forms and has been a significant part of shaping the borders in Europe, especially in the last century. There has been radical nationalism under fascist regimes such as Nazi Germany where leaders attempted to ensure their ethnic group dominated the region. In contrast, other nationalities hoped only to distinguish themselves as a group with a common culture and language, as was seen in Poland, the Czech Republic and many other European countries. Nationalism is loyalty to a state or ethnic group, no matter how big or small. But the geographic location of our birth should not define who we do or do not care about in moments of joy or sorrow.

Consider when natural disasters occur, the media draws in the attention of its readers by appealing to their nationality. In the Montreal Gazette, one headline read “One Canadian Dead in Haiti Quake.” One. Over 25 paragraphs later the journalist felt it was important to inform the readers that 100,000-250,000 Haitians had died. This headline reads like many others because that is the sad low our media has to go to to get the attention of readers. Does one Canadian, of over 34 million, really matter more than potentially a quarter of a million people? In all likelihood you do not know that individual so it should not make the disaster matter more. The only real connection I have with that person is we have a common Canadian citizenship. In reality, I could probably connect more with a person from Montana than with someone from across the country because of our common rural upbringing. To think I should care more about a death because that person was born or lives within the same borders as me is wrong.

We need to consider why we lend support to others. Individuals with ethnic ties to Egypt are more likely to care about the current turmoil because they have family and friends there, which is understandable. Realistically, the protests in Egypt will not directly affect the majority of Canadians, but that is not a sufficient reason to look away. Our nationalistic ties automatically draw us to care or ignore a situation — we need to end this. The political turmoil in Egypt and many other countries in the region matter because the people are struggling for freedoms which we take for granted. The Egyptians do not want to reform their country into the image of Canada, but they are fighting for democracy. In Canada, that is a basic right. Support for Egyptians should be because of the plight of the people, not because of a nationalistic attachment or lack thereof.

The international news section in the newspaper is not irrelevant. People should disconnect themselves from the arbitrary notions of loyalty to an ethnic group or state. If they know people directly involved, of course it will matter more. But they shouldn’t let their Canadian nationalism keep them separate from those in need or celebrating success. Instead, they should care because the natural disaster or political demonstration is affecting the lives of other human beings, no matter their citizenship.

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