Nationalism and the Multinational State

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Louay Safi



We live in a world of nation-states where national cohesiveness constitutes
the legitimizing ground for political unity. In such a world, multinational
political units are considered to be peculiar entities whose existence is either
taken as an exception to the rule or is considered to be transient and therefore
destined to collapse into its national units.
A product of Eutope’s historical experience, nationalism found its way
to the Muslim world and gained many adherents and advocates in its ethnic
(i.e., Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish) and religious (i.e., Pakistani, Iranian) forms.
The nationalistic mindset has become an intrinsic part of the political thinking
of many Muslim individuals and groups. As a result of the discontinuity in
historical political thinking and practice effected by the European cultural and
political domination of Muslim life for the last two centuries, many Muslims
are unaware of the much superior political structutes which existed-albeit
in rudimentary, distorted, or compromised forms-before Westem penetration.
In this paper, I will discuss the origin and development of the concept of
nationalism, underscore its defects, and point out some of its devastating
consequences, especially in regions rich in ethnic and religious minorities. I
argue that nationalism is a European phenomenon invented by German intellectuals
and employed by Prussia in order to bring about a united German
state. I contend that a national govemment tends to suppress minority groups
and is therefore inappropriate to societies with heterogenous and diverse
populations. I conclude by discussing, in general terms, the model of communal
pluralism that flourished under the khilafah system.
The Genesis of Nationalism
Nationalism is a relatively modem political doctrine. Writers on nationalism
trace it back to Rousseau, a European philosopher who insisted that a
good political community was characterized by a homogeneous population.
However, nationalism as we know it today began to take shape not in France,
but in Germanic Prussia. German writers interested in a united German state
began to advocate nationalism as the only legitimate basis for statehood ...

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