Thursday, May 17, 2012

False patriotism

The simmering dispute in the South China Sea between the Philippines and China has unfortunately divided the expat Filipino community in the U.S. and in Canada. All because the organizers of the Toronto protest against China’s bullying tactics last May 11 were disappointed by the turnout, which was so paltry that the organizers have now questioned the patriotism of the Filipino community.

Heated exchanges swamped the Internet between the rabid supporters of the Philippines’ claim and those perceived as against or maybe fence-sitting because they are either ambivalent or just didn’t care. To the point that doubts have been raised as to the true motives of the organizers and those who begged to differ were outrightly discredited for their irrelevant shortcomings in the past, not for the substance of their opinions.
Fight for freedom poster. Courtesy of Charles Pictures.
What is really appalling in the attitude of the protest organizers and their supporters is their idea of patriotism, in how one should express love of one’s country. If you are not with them on the Scarborough Shoal or Spratly dispute, you’re declared a coward, a deserter, a traitor, or an apologist for China. A Toronto protest-organizer even denigrated members of the Order of the Knights of Rizal for not meeting the test of nationalism when it counted. Some members of this group are older folks who fought the Japanese in World War II. With one sweeping generalization, the protest organizers stripped our local heroes of the valour and courage they had shown as patriotic Filipinos during the war. Because they did not show up during the China protest, these war heroes have suddenly turned into traitors and cowards by the chest-thumping new patriots. The South China Sea dispute should not be used as a wedge to divide the Filipino community, or worse, as a litmus test for one’s patriotism.

Listen to the words of Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario as he called for patriotism and sacrifice among Filipinos when he spoke about the Scarborough Shoal dispute recently: ““We need to get our people to bond together. We need to unite. We need to take a position of patriotism that what is ours is ours and we will stand for it. And it is possible that we may be tested and if we are tested, it is possible that everyone will need to make a sacrifice.”

Mr. Del Rosario’s words smack of patriotism at all costs, no matter what. This is exactly the type of patriotism demanded by the Toronto protest organizers and their followers, which is not patriotism but collective narcissism. What the USP4GG and its organizers in Toronto are asking every expatriate Filipino is a type of narcissism where one has an inflated self-love of his or her own group.

Patriotism and the call for people to rally around a social or political cause are oftentimes abused during times of conflict. It is easier to divide people into two or more groups when faced by a conflict of choice. When the subject of loyalty, particularly to one’s country is invoked, the easier it is to manipulate people’s emotions and this often clouds their decisions. It doesn’t matter which side is right or wrong, what really matters is you show your love for your country. The most important thing is to be a patriot – one whose ruling passion is the love of his or her country no matter what.

It is the false kind of patriotism that is being engendered by the Scarborough Shoal issue. The 18th century English author Samuel Johnson has described this sort of patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel. This is of course a pretty dangerous slur to throw around. One needs to have evidence to accuse someone of being a scoundrel but how often is this statement applied today to political and social movements.

If you happen to espouse a different view like junking the Mutual Defence Treaty between the Philippines and the United States because you believe in self-determination, you’re likely to be branded as pro-communist. If you insist on sending the U.S. troops out of the Philippines because you believe the Visiting Forces Agreement between the two countries is unfair and one-sided, you’re likely be deemed a supporter of the local insurgents and the Moro separatists. If you happen to think that the best way to resolve the South China Sea dispute is by mutual and peaceful negotiations between the countries involved because you believe the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) does not apply, then you’re likely be labeled as pro-China, unpatriotic and a deserter.

If you happen to be an immigrant in Canada and you blame the Philippine government for its failure to provide you with a decent job and a good standard of living for your family as the principal reason for leaving, then you’re likely be considered disloyal and disrespectful to your country of birth. If you happen to be in Canada and criticize the Aquino government for its complicity with human rights violations, like forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings, you’re likely be identified as a supporter of the National Democratic Front or the New People’s Army.

But if you are an overseas worker or a live-in caregiver in Canada and you happen to support the Aquino government despite its shortcomings and double-talk, you’re likely be hailed a new hero. If you joined the China protest in Toronto last May 11, you are a patriot and you have every right to blame the rest of the Filipino community for not showing up, including the right to call them cowards for their willingness to give up their land without a fight. And if it happened that you could not leave your work that day to be in the protest, you’re still a bleeping coward and have no love or affection for your motherland.

This is what Samuel Johnson meant by his famous quotation, “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” It’s easy to become a demagogue and appeal to loyalty to one’s own country in order to gain public approval and political power. Those who disagree are cast as unpatriotic and hostile to the interests of their own country. Honest disagreement becomes character assassination. Love it or leave it becomes a powerful political argument. Johnson should have written instead that patriotism is the last refuge of an idiot, for it is more likely to bump into patriotic idiots than patriotic scoundrels.
A famous quote from Samuel Johnson, "Patriotism the last refuge of a
scoundrel." Click image to view "Ron Paul: Patriotism is the last refuge
of a scoundrel,"
Patriotism is not love of country right or wrong. Certainly, it is far different from saber-rattling or chest-thumping. It is not patriotism at all when leaders blame the rest of the community for not showing up, but taking out one’s personal frustrations on others. It is a way of absolving oneself of responsibility for the failure to inform and mobilize the community to your cause.

Patriotism accommodates differences of opinions. It allows dissenting voices to be heard. One of the many slogans during the anti-Vietnam war movement in the Sixties is “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” It is supporting the government when it is right and opposing it when wrong. It is not merely waving a flag, singing the national anthem or attending a rally.

Patriotism means loving your country, but not being blind to the truth.

No comments:

Post a Comment