Blood And Belonging Essay, Research Paper
Politics of Western EuropeNovember 17, 1994Politics of Western EuropeBLOOD AND BELONGINGThis is a critique of the book, Blood and Belonging, by MichaelIgnatieff. This paper will explain the subject of the book and itsrelevance, discuss Michael Ignatieff’s methods and conclusions on thesubject and finally include a personal critique of the book by theauthor of this paper.The author of the book travels on what he terms “the sixjourneys.” On these “journeys” he encounters different cultures, as he travels to six different coinciding areas of the world. He examinesthe unique expression of nationalism that each populace displays byinterviewing various members of that particular society. The six areasthat he travels to are specifically chosen for the clarity whichnationalism is expressed in society. Nationalism is a factorcontributing toward both present possible future instability in theseareas. These areas are former Yugoslavia (specifically Croatia andSerbia), Germany, Ukraine, Quebec, Kurdistan and Northern Ireland. According to Ignatieff, in Croatia and Serbia there is a desire for aseparate identity between the two nations. The fear of losing one’snational identity has caused ethnic hatred. A terror so strong andhistorically persistent, it has driven people to a desperate state todo anything. This is a large contributor to the reasons for the extremeviolence present there today. The author states, “A Croat, thus, issomeone who is not a Serb. A Serb is someone who is not a Croat.” This quotation profoundly expresses the short-sighted mentality presentin their conflict. In his travels in Germany, the author points out an importantquestion. Does the nation make the state, or the state the nation? This question by far does not stop here, especially when Germany is thesubject. The essence of the German people is seen by some as aggressiveand offensive, thus the existence of the German problem. If the nationmakes the state then Germany will always be a threat. If the statemakes the nation, then the aggressive nature of the German nation, whichlead the world into two global wars, can be harnessed and redirected. The question has its roots and answers in the recent reunification ofGermany. The Ukraine is concerned with not being Russian. It is hereIgnatieff receives a complete vision of what nationalism is. He states,”I understand what nationalism really is: the dream that a whole nationcould be like a congregation; singing the same hymns, listening to thesame gospel, sharing the same emotions, linked not only to each otherbut to the dead buried beneath their feet.”Quebec is a model that presents a possible future of the statesystem. Ignatieff uses the example of Quebec to illustrate therelationship between nationalism and federalism. He implies that “iffederalism fails in Canada it can fail anywhere.” If the balancebetween “ethnic and civil principles” is not maintained in Canada, whois not an impoverished country and has a large, successful economy; thenperhaps the modern world has not transcended the grasps of nationalism. The Kurds represent a nation without a state, who findthemselves surrounded by other nations who are more aggressivenationalists. The term Kurdistan is a definition of the areas used byIgnatieff to explain the area of major Kurdish populace concentration. There is no real borders, no flag, no government and Kurds mustacknowledge the state in which they reside (i.e., – Syria, Turkey, Iranand Iraq), of which, is not Kurdistan. Finally, the sixth journey ends in Northern Ireland. He makesthe observation that this is the ideal place to conclude his project. Northern Ireland contains a recurrence of the themes that seemed soprevalent in the other journeys. In Ireland ethnicity, religion andpolitics are all bound into one expression or identity. These are alsoevident in the five previous studies. Is Michael Ignatieff’s work relevant? The answer to thisquestion is, yes it is. The issue is important. Nationalism presentsitself as a phenomenon. The questions of why people need to retain acultural identity and the way they go about preserving it is stillunanswerable. Evermore unfathomable is the violence permeated throughnationalistic expressions, which are “necessary” by the partiesinvolved. The very existence of the enigma created by nationalismdictates the need to explore the subject in more depth. The situations in the book are not isolated events. Nationalismexists in every state all over the world. There is a dichotomypresented by Ignatieff between nationalism and federalism. He explainsthe political doctrine of nationalism by stating “(1)that the world’speoples are divided into nations, (2) that these nations should have theright of self-determination, and (3) that the full self-determinationrequires statehood.” Federalism, though not a particular ideology, is ameans of sharing political power among different peoples within a state. The various systems of government which fall under the definition offederalism are not problematic to the people; unless, of course, theyare not completely legitimate. If the government is illegitimate, thenideally nationalism steps in to demand a completely self-determinedgovernment, which renders proper representation to its populace. Despite the diversity of a state’s population, theoretically, harmony is
maintained since the people are properly represented or controlled. This situation with variation is experienced throughout the world. States are dynamic, also their government and populace. If the dynamicsof the government or the state do not keep up with the pace of change inthe populace, then instability will rise in the name of nationalism andshake the very foundation of the state if left unchecked or notplacated. The method used by the author of the book was personalinterviews with both prominent people and the normal everyday person inthe areas visited. He also uses descriptions on the surrounding areasto accent the point of discussion. His intent was to objectively takethe reader on a stroll through the areas he visited. Through his styleof writing, he allows the reader to sit in on his interview byhighlighting specific questions and the responses that take place in hisconversations. Finally, he creates visual images that he had viewed asironic and analogical in support of his observations. Ignatieff comes to the conclusion that nationalism is not theproblem of this world. Continuing, he goes on to say that when oneloses their individuality to become a “patriot,” that is where thedanger lies. Being yourself is something that ethnic nationalism doesnot allow. Political ideologies can become blinding to its possessors. At the beginning of the book mentions that he is a liberal. Thetraveling and experiences did not change that at all. He notes theimportance of “liberal virtues – tolerance, compromise, reason,” butconcludes in an observation about how these virtues are opposing humannature. Ignatieff addresses the violence factor that surroundsnationalism like a plague, concluding that, nationalist rhetoric is anexcuse to commit acts of violence. He observed that most of theviolence is performed by young men between the ages of 18 to 25. Hisexplanation is that the liberal mind set forgets that not everyone hatesviolence. He also says that there exists in males a basic loathing ofpeace. Human nature is the reason for the violence or Ignatieff thinksthat it is specifically male human nature. I personally enjoyed the book and found it to be interestingreading. It had the aspect of a novel without losing its academicnature. Michael Ignatieff’s writing style was creative and supportedhis observations well. He portrayed the destruction that he found inhis journeys in a way that allowed the reader to experience the samedespair and hopelessness of seeing it first hand. Another interesting perspective that the author added to thebook was his own identity. He traveled to places that he had eitherlived at or where his family originally came from. His family rootsadd a personal touch that would otherwise have been left out. Religion and its role in society are important concerningnationalism. It is in this author’s opinion that religions not beviewed as a secondary facet to nationalism. The Islamic uprisings inFrance and the peace talks in southwest Asia between Israel and Syriaare two different perspectives to the argument. Claude Barreau, advisorto the minister of interior in France says, “Foreigners arriving inFrance . . . now have a new fatherland. Islam has a place in France,provided it is willing to stay discreet as the other religions. ButIslamist are coming as colonisers.” This illustrates an underlyingprincipal that splits Europe down the middle. France is arepresentation of Europe according to the late Charles De Gaulle. France has adopted internal policies to control the growth of Islam bylimiting both social expressions of that faith and by specificimmigration procedures. Are not the three million plus population ofMoslems in France entitled to nationalistic expression of their identityas French Muslims? Where does that leave the Bosnian Muslims, theTurks or any other non Christian state located near or inside Europe?The second point deals with Israel and Syria. The two countrieshave been at odds with each other since 1947 when Israel was recognizedas a state. The main reason for the clash is the difference ofreligion, not national identity. However, both countries have evolvedsince their beginnings and have strong nationalistic tendencies. Bothcountries are now leaning toward compromise rather than a holy war. Asthe talks continue for the return of the Golan Heights to Lebanon theMoslem Jew factor still remains tense. Of the recent peace talks is thestrip of land called the Golan Heights in north of Israel. Avoiding anattempt to explain an extremely complex situation or to oversimplify thematter, it is a fact that many heads of state in the region are choosingpolitical solutions to old religious problems. However, the foundationsof their society are religions, to be specific Islam and Judism. Thisreligious factor will never cease and always cause instability in theregion because of fundmentalism present on both sides.In conclusion, the subject of the book, Blood and Belonging,has been discussed. The relevance of the book’s theme was examined along with the authors methods and style of writing. This critique alsoaddressed the conclusions drawn by Michael Ignatieff concerningnationalism and its expressions in the world. Perhaps the world willallways have to deal with the dichotomy dicussed in this paper, howeverone can only hope that a long lasting solution will be found. BIBLIOGRAPHY1. Ignatieff, Michael Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the NewNationalism. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993. 2. “It Depends on Rabin.” The Economist, 24th-30th September, 1994, pp.42-43. 3. “Secularity Defied.” The Economist, 8th-14th October, 1994, p.53.