Romantic Nationalism

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Stir up any of them you can with your voice and rally against them your cavalry and your infantry and share with them in their children and their wealth and make them promises! The promise of Satan is nothing but delusion. (Quran, 17:64)

There is a subtle danger that leads people away from religion, prevents them from submitting to God as their Lord, and ultimately brings numerous other forms of trouble and distress upon them. This danger can be recognised in many different areas of our lives: the clenched fist of a fascist, the rousing anthem of a communist, or in the words of a letter written by a young man expressing his love to his loved-one. All arise from the same pernicious source.

The most disturbing aspect of this danger is that an overwhelming number of people do not see it as a danger at all, nor do they realise either that it is actually a state of mind completely inimical to religion. In fact, many view it, not as a dangerous error, but rather as a virtue to be encouraged and widely propagated.

This danger of which we are speaking is sentimentality that leads people to live, not according to their reason, but according to their emotions; that is, according to their desires, hatreds, their susceptibility to temptation, and their stubbornness.

Sentimentality has become part of a culture of ignorance that has now brought millions of people throughout the world under its influence. In fact, it is one of the weapons that Satan uses to divert people from following the way of God, because someone who has fallen into the clutches of sentimentalism loses the ability to use his reason. And, when he cannot use his reason, then he cannot appreciate the fact that God has created him, nor can he come to recognise His signs and purposes, nor can he live in accordance to the sublime truths of religion. A life lived righteously is dependant on the use of one’s reason, for God sent the Qu’ran "so that men of understanding may ponder its Signs and take heed." (Qur’an, 38:29)

More precisely, if not treated, the disease of sentimentalism renders it impossible for a person to understand or experience religion in its true sense. Moreover, unless treated, the disease of sentimentality will make it impossible to bring an end to the pointless disputes, senseless suffering, assaults, distress and cruelty people inflict upon themselves in this world. Romanticism is one of the outcomes of sentimentalism which is understood as romance or the Romantic movement of the nineteenth century, but besides these forms, romanticism is also closely related to certain political sentiments. Chief among them is "romantic nationalism," which appeared at the end of the nineteenth century, and exercised a great influence in the world until the middle of the twentieth.

First, it must be clearly stated that our criticism is not against nationalism per se, but against "romantic nationalism." There is a great deal of difference between the two.

Those who disbelieve filled their hearts with fanatical rage-the fanatical rage of the Time of Ignorance-and God sent down serenity to His Messenger and to the believers, and bound them to the expression of heedfulness which they had most right to and were most entitled to. God has knowledge of all things. (Quran, 48:26)

Nationalism, in the most common sense of the term, refers to an individual’s love for his people and for his country. This is a good and completely legitimate sentiment. Since it does not go against religion, it has no damaging effect for humanity. Just as an individual’s love for his mother or father is a legitimate feeling, so also is love for the nation, that nurtured him in a common faith and culture, a legitimate feeling.

Nationalistic sentiments become illegitimate when they become irrational or overly passionate. If a person, out of love for his country, begins, without justification, to harbour feelings of hostility towards another nation, or tramples over the rights of other nations and peoples in the interests of his own-for example, if he seizes their land or confiscates their property-he has exceeded legitimate bounds. Or, when he lets his love for his nation turn into a kind of racism, that is, when he claims that his own nation is inherently superior to another, he has adopted an irrational outlook.

God draws our attention to this irrational nationalism in the Qu’ran. What is described in the following verses as "fanatical rage," is a characteristic feature of societies who are divorced from the religion.

Those who disbelieve filled their hearts with fanatical rage-the fanatical rage of the Time of Ignorance-and God sent down serenity to His Messenger and to the believers, and bound them to the expression of heedfulness which they had most right to and were most entitled to. God has knowledge of all things. (Quran, 48:26)

While the above verse speaks of "fanatical rage," it also speaks of the serenity that God bestows upon those who believe in Him. This juxtaposition points to the fact that if a person who loves his kindred, his clan or his community, harbours hatred or aggression towards others as a result of that love, his behaviour is errant. On the contrary, God desires His servants to enjoy peace, tranquillity and security; in other words, the spiritual state that God desires for His followers is one where reason is foremost.

"Fanatical rage" does not permit such a desirable condition to exist, but pits one group against another, based solely on differences in language, colour, tribe or clan.

God described this "fanatical rage" already 1400 years ago in the Qu’ran, and today it is still possible to witness its effects in every part of the world. There are people in Africa who strangle others to death just because they belong to a different tribe. In Europe, a football match deteriorates into armed combat when "hooligans" beat fans of the opposing team almost to death, just because they belong to the opposing side. In the Western world, there are organisations whose sole purpose is to foster hatred against Africans, Jews, Turks and other minorities, even to the extent of making them targets of terrorist assaults.

The influence of "fanatical rage" pervades not only the lowest classes, but also the highest echelons of some societies. There are many countries that exploit the matter of a simple border dispute as an excuse to carry out open acts of aggression. To satisfy their belligerent tendencies, they throw their countries into a war, persisting stubbornly in their aggression for years, plunging not only the citizens of the enemy country, but even their own people into misery. Those authorities who make such decisions are afflicted with what we are referring to as "fanatical rage." As explained in the above quoted verse, he who "fills his heart with fanatical rage" lives in ignorance.

Among these ignoramuses are also they who instigated the two greatest calamities of the twentieth century: the First and Second World Wars. Moved by such false notions as "German heroism," "English pride" and "Russian courage," they subjected their own people, as well as the whole world, to great suffering, spilling the blood of 65 million people, and leaving tens of millions crippled, widowed and orphaned. The root cause of these calamities was "fanatical rage" which we are now referring to as "romantic nationalism."

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Nationalism as an idea spread throughout Europe in the 18th century. Prior to that, people lived under the power of many feudal lords. Then, they came together under a single nation-state governed by a central administration. European countries such as France and England were among the first to espouse the notion of nationalism and to become a nation-state. By the 19th century, most of the nations of Europe had achieved national unity.

Only two countries did not participate in this development: Germany and Italy. In both these countries, the power of principalities or of small city-states lasted much longer. Italy achieved nationhood only in 1870, and Germany only a year later, in 1871. In other words, both these countries were later than other European countries in adopting and implementing the ideas of nationalism.

However, this particular situation was the cause of the development of a more radical brand of nationalism in these two countries than in the other countries of Europe. According to the widespread opinion of social scientists, the reason for the birth and accession to power in these two countries of the extreme forms of nationalism, Nazism and fascism, was the spread of fanatic nationalistic sentiments linked with the late formation of national unity.

In these two countries, and especially in Germany, those who promoted the idea of fanatic nationalism were known as "romantic nationalists." The basic features that characterise romantic nationalists are their exaltation of feeling to the detriment of reason, their belief that their nation is endowed with a mystical and mysterious "spirit," and that this spirit makes their nation superior to others. Towards the end of the 19th century, romantic nationalism was influenced by racist theories that were then gaining wide acceptance, and which led to the claim that European races were superior to the other races of the world, and therefore, had the right to rule them.

Romantic nationalism spread quickly, again, especially in Germany, during the first two decades of the 19th century. Writers such as Paul Lagarde and Julius Langbehn supported the idea of a kind of hierarchical world-order which Germans were to administer. They claimed this could be achieved due to the natural superiority of the "German spirit" and "German blood," and that, to this end, Germans must turn their backs on monotheistic religions, such as Christianity, and return to their pagan past.

Indeed, romantic nationalism’s only contribution to humanity has been to have prepared the foundation for Nazism, one of history’s most brutal and bloody regimes.

Because romantic nationalists believed they were to find truth through "feeling and intuition," and not through reason, they came to adopt a most confused view of the world, one which reflected their poor spiritual condition. The foundation of romantic nationalism was based on "feeling." This fanciful ideology produced individuals who were cut off from reality, lost in the confusion of their own minds. Romanticism, by enslaving people to their feelings, leads them to lose touch with reality, and in this manner, can be compared to the psychological disease of schizophrenia. (Those who suffer from schizophrenia are completely cut off from reality and live in a world created by their own imaginations.)

The disease of schizophrenia provides a poignant analogy of the spiritual condition of romantic nationalism, which is based on a number of errant ideas, chief among them being the notion of "blood" and "fatherland," which it then idolizes and turns into obsessions to be pursued blindly. In Germany, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the idea of "Blut and Boden" (Blood and Fatherland) gained momentum. According to this notion, German blood and the German fatherland were holy, and those minorities within the country that did not belong to the German race, were seen as polluting German blood and sullying the German fatherland.

The type of attitude that regards blood and bloodshed as holy has been the cause of the bloodiest conflicts seen in human history. The first and second World Wars were but clashes between romantic nationalists. The current of romantic nationalism was most clearly seen in Germany, but it also had its influence at the same period in English, French and Russian societies, where it was also responsible for drawing those countries into war. It fanned into flames those problems that could otherwise have been solved through diplomacy, and ultimately inflicted the world with the massacre of millions of human lives.

To understand the outcomes of romantic nationalism, it is useful to study the developments of First World War. Although many countries participated in that war, only few of them played a pivotal part. On one side were England, France and Russia; on the other, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the outset of the war, all generals shared a common strategy: through a forceful attack, the enemy lines could be divided and routed and within a few weeks, victory would be attained. However, the war brought victory to no one.

In 1914, Germany suddenly invaded France and Belgium. After an initial advance, forces were engaged in battle, the front-lines of assault were drawn up, and for almost three and a half years, no further ground was gained. Each side attacked the other repeatedly in the hope of dividing the opposing front, but the situation remained unchanged. In the famous Battle of Verdun, initiated by a German attack, a total of 315,000 French and 280,000 German soldiers died, but the front was moved back only a few kilometres. Months later, the English and French launched a counter-attack at the Battle of the Somme and, as a result of the bloody engagement, 600,000 Germans, more than 400,000 English, and about 200,000 French soldiers died. Nevertheless, the German front was driven back only 11 kilometres. With their enthusiasm enflamed by romantic marching songs, and through moving poetry extolling the "German spirit," "English honour" and "French valour," military strategists and tacticians finally made unwise decisions, causing the slaughter of their own people. Most of those soldiers who survived the three and a half years in the muddy trenches, without being able to even raise their heads because of the continual bombardment, also suffered psychologically as a result of their experiences.

The same blood-lust mentality came to the fore again in World War II, but this time with even greater casualties. A total of 55 million people died as a result of the overweening ambition of psychopathic romantics such as Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.

It is not only in global conflicts that romanticism plays a role; it also lies at the root of war and aggression between various countries, tribes and organisations. Without a clear understanding of the factors involved in the situation in which they were living, millions, influenced by emotional slogans, tales of heroism, stirring marching songs and poems, have taken up arms and shed, not only their own blood, but also the blood of those they considered to be the enemy, plunging with them the world into confusion and strife.

Sentimentality is a weapon used by Satan to divert humanity from the way of God, and to lead them into misery. This trap that Satan has set for humanity is clearly evidenced in romantic nationalism. In the Qu’ran, God relates how Satan submits those under his influence to a state of terror, confusion and hostility:

He (God) said, "Go! And as for any who follow you, your repayment is Hell, repayment in full! Stir up any of them you can with your voice and rally against them your cavalry and your infantry and share with them in their children and their wealth and make them promises! The promise of Satan is nothing but delusion." (Quran, 17:63-64)

The above verse relates how Satan, using those individuals under his control, will "entice any of them whom he can with his voice" and "rally against them his cavalry and his infantry"-the means to provoke romantic nationalism.

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