I was watching the Glastonbury coverage on BBC recently, and yet again this year, I was struck by the array of flags facing the main stage when a band performed. I don’t like it. Actually, this year there were more of the comedy/parody/protest flags, and those are fine by me. It’s the national and state flags that annoy me slightly. All of them.
Most of the people at Glastonbury are young, and presumably music fans. You might expect them to be idealistic and full of full of love for humanity, but clearly, a few of them have a mental picture that separates “our people” from “their people”. I saw the Macedonian flag a few times — easily identified with its red and yellow sunburst — so let’s take that as an example. Someone at the festival was presumably “proud” enough of his country to bring the flag and wave it.
You might ask this individual exactly what he had done to achieve the impressive status of being a Macedonian. Well, he was born. I was born. You were born (as far as I know). We all pop out at some geographical ocation that happens to be, by law or historical convention, part of a country. You there: you’re a Macedonian. Aren’t you proud?
I hasten to point out that I have nothing particularly against Macedonia (and I do happen to have been there). It’s all nationalism that I oppose. All. I’m supposedly Irish, (or British, depending on the day of the week), but I totally reject such labels. It’s odd actually, that somehow British nationalism is perceived as xenophobic and fascistic, even by most British people; while Irish nationalism is thought of as a cute expression of a unique national identity. Really, they’re both the same. You can’t be a nationalist unless you think that in some way your group is different from others, probably better. And that is flat wrong. All nationalism is based on this lie.
I mean, pick, say a thousand of my neighbours from the surrounding area. Is there going to be a single one of them who is “like” me, with whom I have something fundamental in common? Not likely. I suspect that in my area there is a fairly small number of computer geeks with a liking for discordant, difficult music and fast cars. Any definition of nationalism based on culture or language is equally flawed. Come on, be honest, taking everything together — language, music, art, whatever — all of the British Isles is pretty much the same, and not that different from the rest of Western Europe. And if you were obsessive enough to split hairs, you’d find that my neighbours and I have more in common with people across the narrow strait in Argyll than we do with those in, say, Killarney. If you’re an Irish nationalist, that’s an awkward truth. So you just lie.
When I see a national flag being waved, I often think of the lyric from The Ruts’ classic punk single Staring at the Rude Boys: “another head bowed by propaganda”. I see the flag waver as a victim, someone whose natural good nature has been damaged by nationalistic ideas. Trace that propaganda back, and it’s always the same: people who want power, using fear and lies to get people behind them. Pick a scapegoat, anyone we can claim is “not like us”, Jews, Pakistanis, Brits, Uzbeks or Kyrgyz. And say they’re to blame for,well, anything I can think of.
They say that, on the Internet, mention of Hitler is a clear sign of an argument that has run into the sand. And my juxtaposition of “Jews” and “scapegoat” actually was a deliberate indirect reference to fascism. Because nationalism is always a tool of fascism. Don’t be fooled if the nationalists also call themselves “socialists”. You can’t really be a socialist without being an internationalist. Nationalist Socialism is a contradiction, but it has a handy compact form to remind you of that: “Nazi”.