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The Rise of Ethnonationalism: An Alienated State of Being

By Nabgha Shahid

Accompanied by discourses on exclusivity, the need for pluralism and a cohesive action plan, contemporary sociopolitical settings emphasize on the need to counter the rising ethnonationalism that has begun to infiltrate nations globally. Is a carefully curated scheme really the most apt solution for ethnic nationalism disguised as self-preservation? The stark reality, then, is that there is no panacea. No fundamentally, systemically installed method can guarantee the erasure of an ongoing parade of ethnic supremacy that threatens to engulf a nation whole.

In 1971, the ‘great split’ between Pakistan and what came to be known as Bangladesh, became perhaps the greatest signifier for the rise of ethnic nationalism that would, since then, only escalate to unforeseen magnanimity. In 2023, just a mere 52 years later, tussles erupt over which ethnic identity reigns supreme, and since, identity is fluid, it extends to the parameters of religion. Who, then, gets to decide which to give precedence to? Is it Sunni? Perhaps. The majority seems to agree. Shias? There is a greater opposition to that. Or is it those who one cannot even name? Precisely.

Increasing tensions dominate one’s sense of self in today’s world. You are simultaneously yourself but you are not. You must masquerade yourself as part of the larger hegemonic masses. Any slight inconsistency, a change in your accent, or a chink in your religious armor can betray you. There is a sense of statelessness within yourself. You may go to academic conferences, political and literary settings overflowing with the need for revolutionary measures. Peace. The word rehabilitation emerges over and over again. It is particularly intriguing to witness. Then you go home to your comfort spaces and hide. You gradually dissociate yourself from the world around you, cocooned in a self-curated vacuum where none of this exists, and while you have the courage, the potentiality, the capacity to formulate a haven, there are people around you who are not afforded the same privilege. They are stuck in this state of statelessness and you watch in silence from afar.

We are strange people living in a strange, strange world. This peculiar world often robs us of our honor, our dignity. We are the frontrunners for majestic proclamations, ideologies based on morality, and strategies for conflict resolution. We want to be heard. This is a strangely global phenomenon. Human beings believe that their sense of morality, their value system, takes precedence above all. Then, they meet humans unlike them and this façade sheds off. The morality is punctured when another set of beliefs, another system of existence threatens their dominance, and challenges their sense of self. What, then, becomes of great advocacies of inclusivity and pluralism when they are but hollow statements embellished with words like ‘peace’, ‘diversity’, and ‘conflict resolution’?

There is perhaps a need for circular causation, an erasure of what we have held most dear to us; the underlying sense of supremacy that evokes the worst in an individual. In this circular causation, this intricately woven complex set of institutions that depend on each other for regulation, there must be an opening for a dismantling of ethnonationalism. In times like these, we must depend on each other for a full-throated condemnation, must limit the autonomies of those who bring forth notions that have debilitating impacts on our fundamental human rights, and most significantly, we must observe. We must never close our eyes. That is where the panacea lies.

The world is steeped in a whirlpool of chaos that will eventually consume all in its wake. We are, but, silent spectators to the happenings of a mass genocide in the Middle East. But we observe and carry the resistance within ourselves, As long as we are resistive and observant, we are free. A revolutionary Turkish poet, Nazim Hikmet penned down to his wife, the following, while imprisoned:

“They’ve taken us prisoner. They’ve locked us up. Me inside the walls. You outside. But that’s nothing. The worst is when people – knowingly or not – carry prison inside themselves. Most people have been forced to do this, honest, hardworking, good people who deserve to be loved…”

We must never let ourselves be chained to the shackles of ethnonationalism and ascend to a level of acceptability where every individual, every identity, every race is liberated. A world that only repeats one thing over and over again. Freedom. That is a world worth living for.


About the Writer:

Nabgha Shahid is currently a student of English Literature at Kinnaird College for Women Lahore and an In-House Writer at Erato Magazine. She is a strong advocate for feminism and is an ardent lover of Gothic Literature. Through her writings, she wishes to impart awareness about the plight of women in Pakistan.

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