[Buddha-l] buddha-l Digest, Vol 103, Issue 6

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Thu Sep 12 18:09:48 MDT 2013

Sally McAra wrote:

>rather than saying
> "religion is an aspect of nationalism", anthropologists or sociologists
> tend to argue that nationalists *appropriate* religious discourses for
> their own purposes, to attempt to defend and legitimize their own 
> position.

Arguing doesn't make it so. There are currently approximately 60 nations 
that consider themselves Islamic countries, whether or not they consider 
themselves more secular or more sharia-oriented, or somewhere in between. 
When Bangladesh dislodged itself from Pakistan (which had dislodged itself 
from India for religious, not nationalist reasons), Bangladesh did not 
renounce its Islamic identity -- that was intrinsic to whatever nascent 
nationalist sense was emerging.

The muslim resistance movements in China and the former Soviet Union are not 
grounded in nationalist identities, but religious ones. If nationhood is 
coterminal with territority, than many of these "movements" are active in 
territories into which they are relatively recent arrivals. It is only 
wishful thinking and conceptual blindness that allows certain types of 
reductionistic views to ignore what is happening in favor of the 
socio-politico-economic theories with which they are more comfortable.

For these sixty or so muslim countries, Islam is part of their national 
identity, and long predates the notion of nationalism. It is a European 
secularist idea that takes nationalism as baseline rather than religious 
identity, and that secular notion doesn't apply outside that framework, 
where identity -- glossed by anthro- and socio-logists as "ethnicity" -- is 
something other than secular "nationhood." Borders, which is what defines 
"nation" for secularists, are fluid and relatively recent intrusions in many 
parts of the world as fixers of identity. The borders of Iraq, Syria, 
Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, etc. are all VERY recent -- locals blame them on 
Western colonialism since the Europeans drew most of the borders during the 
20th c. Rent a copy of Lawrence of Arabia, and keep an atlas on hand so you 
can actually trace out the places into which Lawrence is trying to infuse 
(at that time unsuccessfully) the notion of nationalism (in order to 
dislodge the Turks, i.e., Ottomon Empire, from the middle east -- that part 
WAS successful).

The idea that Buddhists shouldn't be nationalists expresses more a western 
concern -- or embarrassment -- about identity-fixation re: nationalism, 
patriotism, etc., with the concomitant presumption that because we in the 
west may find these things embarrassing or problematic, Buddhists (and 
others) should abandon them. When westerners start burning their own 
passports, that sentiment may have more cogency.


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