Is Loyalty to ones country negotiable?

Article written 20 November 2008

Over 5000 years ago a world war took place.  Armies of the world sided either with the righteous Pandavas or the evil Kauvaras. Dronacharya who was a teacher of both the Pandava and Kaurava princes decided to side with the Kauravas.   When asked as to why he sided with the wrong people he replied that all his life he was an employee of the Kauravas and his loyalty lay with them. As the world becomes a global village a similar situation has become relevant for millions of people who have settled in many parts of the world away from their homeland.  In her column in the Independent on 10th of November Yasmin Alibhai Brown discussed this issue.  She argued that genuine identification with the nation is not in the gift of anyone and nor should it be.  Nobody she said could force you to love your country. Patriotism cannot be forced upon anyone.  Her contention was that love for ones country should come spontaneously and that, ‘We will withhold that kiss if the state disappoints’. For minorities everywhere this is a serious issue. In my letter that was published in the Independent on 15th November I argued that loyalty to one’s country cannot be negotiable. Once you become a citizen of a country it is incumbent upon you to identify with the country. Minorities everywhere have to make a special effort to join the national mainstream. This is as true for immigrants who have settled here as it is of the English who have settled in Spain.  To claim that, ‘we will withhold that kiss if the state disappoints. ’, implies that a democratically elected government should shape its policies in such a way that it never offends the minority. This is an untenable position which will do the minorities no good. This country gave thousands of refugees like me and Yasmin an opportunity to settle and prosper. That for me is enough to be a patriotic citizen. While minorities have rights they have obligations too. The word, ‘minority’ conjures up an image of helpless, defenseless people which in many cases is true but minorities can also be bullies and unreasonable. In many countries minorities are economically dominant. The majority is not always in the wrong simply because it is a majority and a minority is not always right simply because it is a minority.  The politicians in their desire to be politically correct and with an eye for collecting votes sometimes try to out do each other in being the champions of minorities. However this is a cause of simmering resentment in the majority and in the long run does more harm to the minorities then good. Take for example the recent idea that was floated that the festival of Christmas should be renamed, ‘a winter festival’. The idea was that this term would not offend the minorities!  Some politicians send Christmas cards which only say, ‘seasons greetings’! Well meaning academics, politicians and social scientists whose gut feeling is always to side with the minorities no matter what the cause, in the long run do great harm to the very people they champion.   Those of us who came from East Africa have now been here for 30 years or more, most of us have prospered beyond our wildest dreams, our children are highest achievers and they are playing a crucial role in all walks of life. There are no glass ceilings for them. We do not need to play the racial card perpetually. We cannot blame racism for all our ills. Unemployment, educational underachievement, crime all is sometimes blamed on the majority community the generic term being, ‘racism’! This very often hides the culture of failure and superimposes the victim syndrome!  When a people who have welcomed you to their country get continually accused of racism all it does is harden attitudes and it impacts the minority negatively in every sphere of society. We are now in a position to give back to this society in a big way, we are on an equal footing with the majority community and we must shed any inferiority complex.  This country has given us the freedom to practice our faith without fear, it goes out of its way to promote our culture and if we are truly honest with ourselves and do not have short memories we will remember that it was ordinary English men and women who showed as exemplary kindness and helped us take those first steps to settle comfortably in this country. How can we now say that you cannot take our patriotism for granted? Loyalty to ones adopted land cannot be negotiable. Minorities everywhere must identify with the national mainstream; they must also respect the majority culture and the ethos on which the nation stands. The goodwill of the majority is essential for a minority anywhere and this goodwill has to be earned. We need to participate in events of great significance such as the Remembrance Day or the festival of Christmas which is not only a religious event but a national event. The joys of your adopted land should be your joys and its sorrows should be your sorrows.  As President Kennedy famously said: ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country’. Dronacharya was right 5000 years ago; you cannot be disloyal to the hand that fed you.

Nitin Mehta MBE

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