Recently I’ve had the same experience twice. Both times, I was with a friend and other people I don’t know join. It gets to the introductions (we are talking in Polish) and, as always happens to me here in Poland, they ask me where I am from. I tell them, “I am from *name of district in Wrocław*”. They appear OK with that, but then, on both counts my friend said, “No, really he comes from Wales”.
It’s living in Poland that has made some issues a lot clearer for me. One of which, is that the nation state and our nationality is much more exclusive than religion.
Think about it. You can join any religion you wish. To be recognised as a member of various confessions of religions you may have to do a ritual or undergo some catechism, but religions are open to all. Of course, there may be somewhere some minor sect that only accepts people who believe in a very narrow faith, but generally you can join any religion you wish.
Our membership of a nation state is determined by the lottery of birth. Others, say, children of immigrants may identify themselves the country of their parents. That is deemed to be OK, due to pseudo-scientific theories involving “national blood” and the such, (here I turn to, of all people, Richard Dawkins. In the chapter “Genesmanship” of “The selfish gene” he writes of how only 50% of our genes get passed on to children, and that it therefore follows that genes get diluted with each generation. Even if “national genes” existed at some point, which they didn’t, they would have been diluted out centuries ago.)
To be a member of a nation state, if one hasn’t had luck through birth, one has to do things like pass tests. I have British citizenship. Twice, for fun, I’ve done the British citizenship test. Both times I failed. I’ve done the German one and passed. If one judges nationality according to knowledge, I am German.
Seriously, regarding Poland, I often feel more Polish than Polish people. I eat a lot of Polish dishes, listen to Chopiń, watch Polish animation, go to church more or less each Sunday and know plenty about Polish history. Why then, can’t I say I am Polish? Because I was born in the wrong place, to the wrong parents. Maybe I could be accepted as Polish after many years and passing the citizenship test (though I guess that people would always consider me to “really” come from Wales).
Religions get much more criticised than nation states. Of course, people have killed each other in the name of religion. But hey, they have also done the same in the name of nationality. Now, one could argue that the formation of modern nation states were massively influenced by religion, and, without going into every nation in the world, that does hold true for many countries; therefore this exclusiveness was maybe inherited from religion. Coming to the present day, yes, in various parts of the world people get discriminated due to their religion, but it is nationality which can determine life and death all over the world, including here in Europe.
Religion provides a useful enemy-figure. Certainly abuses take place in the name of religion. But people like Richard Dawkins don’t ask the question as to whether nation states are more or just as dangerous. I’m not saying that one is better than another, I’m just pointing out that one gets all the criticism and the other doesn’t. It is only some anarchists who are against both religion and the nation state. They are at least being consistent in their opposition to abuses of power. Not unlike those who rejoice in their nationality while actually advocating violence against religion.
What am I saying then, abolish the nation state? Well, I am undecided about that. One can support the notion of nationality while being against the nation state. As Amartya Sen has pointed out, the issue is not which part of the identity which is most important, rather, the freedom to prioritise our own identities. I can be socialist, a singer, a Liverpool fan, lower-working class, heavy metal fan, vegetarian, pro-LGBT and Christian, identities which influence who I mix with and get on with, but ultimately it is my nationality which determines where I can live, and this is largely the identity which people pigeonhole me into.
A noticeable fact about Dawkins and other New Atheists is that they purport to have concern for people. Note how immigrants are often members of religions. Note how millions and millions of poor, people with little power the world over belong to religions. I have seen many people who agitate against religion who are themselves people who are pretty well off, people who hold power in society (or relatively more power, in the case of the working-class), power which is partly a result of their nationality (as opposed to, say immigrants, or people from other countries who produce their food for little money).
Human rights abuses are carried out because of nationalities. New Atheists ignore that, as they are largely those who profit from the nation state system. Of course, there are some who are anti-religion because they live in countries where a religion is dominant and abusive, and/or where religion and the nation state are very closely linked. I repeat that all forms of abuse are to be stood against, including abuse done in the name of religion.
I’m just asking that those who criticise abuses of others look at themselves (one can cast “the first stone” at oneself), to see how they are culpable in abuses of others, such as by having a nationality. I have been told that I am culpable for gays being killed in whatever country because I am Christian, by people who are from a country that invaded other countries and killed them. It’s double standards. These same people will then call for religion to be abolished, or not legally recognised while not asking the same for the institution that they are a member of that does abuses.
Here in Poland people at political demos (say, at anti-ACTA protests, or on May the 1st) sing the Polish national anthem. This shows why the double standards can occur: The institutionalising of nationality is seen as natural, and therefore religion is fair game for criticism, but not nationality.
Perhaps someone should write a book “The Poland/Britain/*insert other country* delusion”.