Nationalism is both a blessing and a curse to modern nation-states. In one hand, nationalism has brought social cohesion by forming shared identities; on the other hand, it has ignited wars based on identities. Nationalism can lead to war in multiple situations. It can cause war if a nation is minority-oppressing. In such cases, either there is a clash between minorities and the majority, or the majority denies rights to minorities. Conflict is also likely to occur in a situation where nationalist movement arises among a stateless group of people. Most countries have waged wars primarily on the premise of the latter situation. Toxic nationalist sentiments have played an immense role in perpetuating war and hatred throughout history.

The idea of separate nations based on a common language, history, religion, and ethnicity is a modern phenomenon. Before the advent of nationalism, people mainly identified with their local community. However, as the idea of nation-states spread all around the world in the 18th century, it gave rise to identity consciousness resulting in separatist movements based on religion, language, and ethnicity. After World War II, when the British granted independence to most of its colonies, religious, and ethnic antagonism had already gripped the colonies. The rising separatist sentiments in the colonies mostly either resulted in wars or the formation of nations. The separation of Pakistan and India is a prime example of separation premised on religious sentiments. Even after years of independence, the tension between the two nations continues, and religious antagonism still thrives in both nations.

There is abundant academic literature available on the causes of nationalism, but only a hand full of it is on the negative effects of nationalism. While it is true that nationalism has been the means of strengthening social cohesion, it also has had been the cause of the most destructive wars in history. From its tendency to create dispute between majority and minorities to its likelihood to tempt people to commit genocide in the name of loyalty towards the state, nationalism has characteristics that can directly or indirectly fuel conflict between nations and individuals. The brutality on Muslims in India and the issue of Kashmir are epitomes of one of the defining characteristics of toxic nationalism.

One of the ways nationalism can create war is through the division of cultural and religious groups. In most instances, political parties adopt a popular agenda to appeal to the majority. In such cases, these political parties make minorities the scape-goat to reinforce their political agenda, thus creating friction between minorities and majorities. Bharataya Janta Party (BJP) under Narendra Modi took a similar approach to mobilize the majority against the minorities—high caste Hindus against lower-caste Hindus, and non-Hindus. BJP’s chauvinist agenda was evident when they first came into prominence by leading a national movement to demolish Babri Masjid because they believed the mosque was built on the site of a temple. Today, after two decades of mobilizing around Hindutva, BJP has engraved its Hindu-nationalist ideology in people’s mind so much so that the majority nationalist group is turning a blind eye to the atrocities on Muslim minorities in both Kashmir and India.

Other than the use of nationalist symbols, propaganda, and history to instill nationalist sentiments in its majority population, BJP’s most successful tactic has been to use media as an instrument to disseminate its toxic nationalist discourse to pit Hindus against Muslims and hence antagonizing India-Pakistan relations. The Indian media has been successful in painting Muslims as anti-nationalists, and Pakistan as an enemy. The media outlets mold news on events to feed into their Hindu-nationalist discourse. For example, when a convoy of vehicles was attacked in the district of Pulwama in February, the news channels took no time to blame Pakistan. This propagation on news channels echoed on social media platforms where hashtags such as #Pakfakeclaim and #NationFirst were trending.

Above is a case of how a minority-oppressing nationalism lead to both national and international conflict. Nationalism can also lead to war if a state-less group starts a nationalist movement. In the case of Kashmir, India stands as the nation, Kashmir wants to seek its independence from, which brings a greater risk of a both national and an international war because it demands a disruptive change. Besides, Kashmir’s power to assert their demand is nil because India’s government has been supremely hegemonic ever since BJP came into power. This shift in power dynamic has left more room for India to further oppress Kashmiris. Thus, by lifting Article 370 and Article 35A, which deny property rights to outsiders, India is taking full control of the people and the resources in Kashmir. The use of violence to achieve its aim has been the most dangerous strain of nationalism, which leads to one of the destructive wars in the 20th twenty century. The history is repeating itself yet again in the east and the world silent about it.

While it is true that nationalism brings people together, it can also drift them apart both physically and emotionally. The mass migration of 1947 coerced both Hindus and Muslims on both sides of the border to leave to their loved to head to a land unknown to them. The current propagandas against Indian Muslims have drifted Hindus and Muslims apart emotionally by painting Muslims as enemies. These nationalist wars are evitable for as long as nations exist.


About Author

Hatoon Gul is a Turbat based YES alumna studying Social Development and Policy at Habib University, Karachi.

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