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February 29, 2012, Wednesday

Latent negative nationalism in Turkey

According to a recent quantitative survey that is representative of Turkey, 71.6 percent of people in Turkey consider themselves Turkish nationalists while 58.9 see themselves as religious.

The survey was conducted by the Area Research Political and Social Research Center and about 200,000 people surveyed in all cities in Turkey. Naturally, Turkish nationalism decreases to very low levels in Kurdish-dominated Eastern Anatolian cities and increases to 90 or so percent in many Turkish-dominated cities. Of course, without knowing what their exact definition of nationalism is, we cannot make conclusions about how they combine their Muslim religiosity with nationalism as Islam is not fully compatible with nationalism and is definitely against “negative nationalism.” Nevertheless, my argument is that even though an overwhelming majority of these religious Turks may see themselves as “positive” nationalists, they may be suffering from “latent negative nationalism.”

Let me first explain what I mean by positive and negative nationalism. There are several definitions of nationalism but generally speaking it is the belief that citizenship in a state should be limited to one ethnic, cultural, religious or identity group. In psychology, manifest social roles and identity mean that a group agrees these roles and identity are relevant to a particular social setting, whereas latent social roles and identity are conventionally defined as being irrelevant, inappropriate to consider or illegitimate. Positive nationalism, which is a manifest nationalism, is related to more or less patriotism and civic nationalism. It does not have a strict ethnicity focus and is open to people from different ethnic backgrounds as long as they are ready to share the imagined general characteristic and attributes of the nation. This nationalism is not intolerant towards the other, is open to dialogue and is not exclusive. As such, Islam does not have a problem with this type of nationalism as long as it does not have any superiority complex and acknowledges that the value of a person depends on his humane values and his relation to Allah, which only Allah knows and which is not the business of other people. Roughly speaking, negative nationalism is what positive nationalism is not. It is ethnicity-based, bordering on racism or being staunchly assimilationist, has a superiority complex, is exclusive and intolerant. The latent nationalist frame of discourse or cognitive conceptions of latent negative nationalism has a feeling of national supremacy, national egoism and ethnocentrism versus depreciation of others, ethnic marginalization, ethnic intolerance and ethnic thinking.

Academic literature on the issue suggests that even though nationalism resides in public cognition, individuals are not conscious of their nationalist sentiments or their physical attachment to nationality at all times in their ordinary daily lives. The presence of nationalism is invisible and it requires some cognitive effort since the mundane facade of everyday life hides internalized sentiments of nationalism in collective cognition. As Ernest Gellner argued manifest nationalism brings what is anchored deep in cognition to the surface, generally in the form of dramatic expression. Dormant or latent national identity erupts during crises such as international conflict, unpleasant encounters with outgroup members, ritualistic events, such as celebrations, sports games, religious ceremonies, and so on. Latent nationalism and manifest nationalism are not static categories, but two extremes of a continuum or spectrum.

A practicing or religious Muslim cannot be negatively nationalist. Yet, this is only true in theory and without them realizing it they may have negative nationalist inclinations, orientations and feelings. I call this “latent negative nationalism” and I argue that this condition that is quite related to latent identity confusion in psychology needs a psycho-political analysis, which I am not able to do. Nevertheless, let me tell you this much: At the weekend, some negative nationalists provoked a rally that was commemorating the Khojaly massacre of Azerbaijanis by the Armenian military and they held pre-prepared signs that read, “You are all Armenians and you are all bastards.” I am sure that the religious Turks have nothing to do with it but I question the lack of required negative reaction to these terrible swearwords and insults. Let us employ some empathy and ask ourselves if the insults and swearing were directed at us, what would our reaction be?

We, practicing Muslims, must all check and control our hearts, minds, cognitive frameworks, etc., to see if and to what extent we suffer from latent negative nationalism.

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