Recently the ‘Sindh Writers and Thinkers Forum’ in Karachi arranged a dialogue on ‘Internationalism and nationalism’’ after a debate in Sindh in which some people equated nationalism with fascism. I was invited by friends and I expressed my views and the piece below was the basis of my talk.
A debate is going on in Sindh where some think that nationalism equates with fascism and liberalism with patriotism. Before I go any further, let us see what fascism is. Whilst talking about fascism, we need to know where the word comes from. It comes from Latin Fasci (Fa-sha-ay) meaning ‘bundle’ and fascis (Faa-shees) or fasces is its plurale tantum, meaning a bound bundle of wooden rods with an axe with its blade emerging at the top of it – which goes back to the Roman Empire – representing the forcible inclusion of different people or nations into one fold as the strength is always in numbers i.e. with the number of people, military might of professional soldiers with arms and ammunitions and armada, political and legal fraternity, sophisticated intelligentsia, resourceful mercantile class and above all international bankers to sustain the fascist entity. Although there are many polities that don’t use such symbols officially, their conduct is purely on fascist lines. Countries like Pakistan, Iran and Turkey are among them. The simple definition of fascism: a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which people are not allowed to disagree with the government: a very harsh control or authority.
Before I say anything on the actual debate, I want Aristotle to clarify a few more things. Talking about tyrants (read states), he says they employ means which help them govern with ease. “The three aims of the tyrant are: one, the humiliation of his subjects; he knows that a mean-spirited man will not conspire against anybody; two, the creation of mistrust among them; for a tyrant is not to be overthrown until men begin to have confidence in one another — and this is the reason why tyrants are at war with the good; they are under the idea that their power is endangered by them, not only because they will not be ruled despotically, but also because they are too loyal to one another and to other men, and do not inform against one another or against other men ; and three, the tyrant desires that all his subjects shall be incapable of action, for no one attempts what is impossible and they will not attempt to overthrow a tyranny if they are powerless” — Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC).
The humiliation that the people face at the hands of army, Rangers, Frontier Corps, intelligence agencies and the police isn’t something that I need to tell; all must have seen it firsthand. This results in loss of self-esteem and confidence in face of the might they are faced with. Second is creation of mistrust and this they do by sowing doubts in minds of people about the ideas they stand for; for example, isn’t nationalism fascism. They also use obscurantist and delusory tactics to divert attention from their injustices by emphasizing on past like here on Talpur rule which becomes the object of wrath for some to divert attention from the present day injustices. Making people powerless is easy when they are divided, deluded and in disarray. These three aims of the states are promoted by those among us create disunity, dismay and distraction while sounding philosophical.
The purpose of this new debate is in my view twofold. One it shows that you are a democrat and a liberal and this is in vogue as it brings sponsorship of the state and many different non -governmental organizations which think by pouring in money they can change the ethos and conditions of people. This aspect one could forgive and be liberal (pun intended) towards it. The second aspect is deadly, dangerous and fatal because it condones and promotes submission and slavery to the state agenda which demands that you submit all your rights and your sentiments to it because it knows what is the best for you and it can handle all that your human dignity lives on, survives on and thrives on. The state never aims or desires to fulfill your needs for it just wants submission under different garbs and it tries to deliver blows with iron fist in velvet gloves. This is exactly what those who say nationalism is fascism are serving. Certainly nationalism should not be limited to hurling abuses at the oppressor but then neither can liberalism be given the freedom to support state violence in name of democracy and amity. You cannot go and support the state just because the nationalist parties are not like what you desire them to be. Sheikh Saadi says:
Agar az Jahaan Huma shawad Madoom
Kas na rawad Zair e Sayyta e Boom.
If the Legendary Huma has died out here
You should seek not the shadow of Owl instead.
The excuse that nationalist parties aren’t good enough doesn’t justify support of fascist state either.
The state employs various devices and mechanisms to promote submission and their malicious designs are well served by so called liberal intellectuals who condemn the national liberation struggle and call them fascists and this way the state violence against us is not only considered as necessary but legal and justified. If this is their liberalism then what will their fascism be? The state violence in Balochistan, Sindh and Gilgit Baltistan is being perpetrated on exactly these grounds and those who forward and promote the argument that ‘nationalism is fascism’ are abettors in violence of the state against people and equally guilty of crimes against the people.
This state will never be for the people. Bangla Desh and their violence against Bengali nationalism there remains overlooked and forgotten for then too there were intellectuals who supported the perpetrators of violence i.e. the army, the Al-Shams and Al-Badar under the same argument that nationalism is fascism. Were Bengalis the fascists when they were demanding their national rights or was the Pakistani establishment the fascists? I suppose it doesn’t need rocket science to understand that who was what. Is the demand for rights to self-determination in Balochistan and Sindh fascism? I believe that demanding their right to be free isn’t fascism but the suppression of their right to national self-determination is fascism.
The state and its intent and role are well expressed by Mikhail Bakunin; he says “In public life…from the standpoint of patriotism, when these things are done for the greater glory of the State, for the preservation or the extension of its power, it is all transformed into duty and virtue. This explains why the entire history of ancient and modern states is merely a series of revolting crimes; why kings and ministers, past and present, of all times and all countries — statesmen, diplomats, bureaucrats, and warriors — if judged from the standpoint of simple morality and human justice, have a hundred, a thousand times over earned their sentence to hard labour or to the gallows. There is no horror, no cruelty, sacrilege, or perjury, no imposture, no infamous transaction, no cynical robbery, no bold plunder or shabby betrayal that has not been or is not daily being perpetrated by the representatives of the states, under no other pretext than those elastic words, so convenient and yet so terrible: ‘for reasons of state’.” So are the nationalists fascists or the establishment and its apologists?
Aren’t the horrors perpetrated by this state ‘for reasons of state’ in Bangladesh, Balochistan, Sindh and KPk enough to make the liberal intellectuals understand the essence of the state and not to come out with arguments which help promote and justify violence against the people for ‘reasons of state’. Isn’t there any understanding of the history or the present day scenario to be able to comprehend that the people have to have the priority and not the state. But when material interests become a priority the welfare of people and their right to rights can go and jump in Lake Baikal which is the deepest lake in the world.
Nationalism prompts the Palestinians, the Kurds in Turkey demand for their homeland and their rights and also of those Kashmiris who have nothing to do with either Pakistan or India so are they too be termed as fascists? Or is the argument of nationalism being fascism here limited to the demands of Baloch and Sindhi people?
The nationalists are often faulted and condemned for violence but what is very conveniently forgotten is that their violence is answer to the greater violence perpetrated by the establishments. Intifadas do not happen out of blue. Not only are the nationalists condemned by the so called liberals but they proactively justify the violence that the state employs against them by saying that if you are violent the answer will be violent. They, if ever, condemn the state violence it is in most mild and timid terms. The violence of the state gets a blanket approval but nit picking is reserved for the nationalist violence. All those who support the state violence are complicit in crimes against humanity and they along with the state are the fascists and not the nationalists who seek their right to a life of dignity and freedom.
Many a times the huge sacrifices of the people for their nationalist cause are made an object of opprobrium by the liberals and they say it is a needless loss. Were the sacrifices of Vietnamese under Ho Chi Minh needless against the Americans, of the Libyans under Omar Mukhtar against Italy needless, the Intifadas of Palestinians against Israeli occupation needless; there are countless examples of national struggles which achieved success after huge sacrifices? Friedrich Nietzsche says, “No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” For a life of dignity and freedom no price is high enough. The struggle for national liberation is indeed the struggle for the “privilege of owning yourself.”
The nationalists are also warned and admonished that there is very little chance of success in the struggle they wage. Vietnamese were told that, Bengalis too given the same lessons and this is what is being told to Baloch and Sindhis too. I F Stone (1907-1989) has expressed the underlying sentiment and thought of those struggling superbly: “The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose, because somebody has…to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important, major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing for the sheer fun and joy of it to go right ahead and fight, knowing you’re going to lose. You mustn’t feel like a martyr. You’ve got to enjoy it.” It is always the hope of victory that keeps people fighting.
People who denounce nationalism because they demand their right to their land and resources forget what Frantz Fanon in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ says. He says, “For a colonised people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity”. Without their homeland being free of exploitation and oppression no people can live in dignity and peace. The other option is submission and slavery for which Immanuel Kant says, “One who makes himself a worm cannot complain afterwards if people step on him.”
I prefer to be a fascist who stands up for national liberation of people rather than a submissive and docile liberal who supports state oppression of people fighting for their rights in name of federalism and unity of nations under it. It is always fascism that opposes national liberation under different subterfuges and alibis which the liberals own as their own and condemn the nationalists as fascists. If Khair Bakhsh Marri, Makhdum Bilawal, Sher Mohammad Marri, Majeed Langave, Ali Sher Kurd, Hameed Baloch, Sirai Qurban, Balaach Marri, Akbar Khan Bugti and all those who have died and lived for Balochistan and Sindh were fascists or supporters of fascism then I would be honoured to be counted among them.