x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Life begins at 40 for the UAE

Life begins at 40. Qatar, Bahrain, Bangladesh and of course the United Arab Emirates will be reflecting on this four decades on from their independence in 1971.

Life begins at 40. Qatar, Bahrain, Bangladesh and of course the United Arab Emirates will be reflecting on this four decades on from their independence in 1971.

National fever is high. Just look at all the flags, malls stuffed with promotions, cars pasted with national emblems and newspapers filled with nostalgia and pride.

Patriotism is a necessary part of national culture to bring people together. But the machinery of state has a difficult path to tread - too little national pride means people won't care for the country, its improvement or long-term survival. Too much and there is a worry that patriotism turns into an unattractive, arrogant, jingoistic nationalism.

Newer nations tend to display higher levels of national pride, which is entirely expected.

In a 2006 survey by the University of Chicago, people were asked how proud they were of their countries in 10 areas - political influence, social security, the way their democracy works, economic success, science and technology, sports, arts and literature, military, history and fair treatment of all groups in society.

The US ranked highest overall. "Given that we're the one world superpower, it's not that surprising," said one of the researchers.

Venezuela, Ireland, South Africa and Australia ranked next.

Patriotism is mostly a New World concept, the researchers added. Former colonies and newer nations were more likely to rank high, while western European, East Asian and former socialist countries usually ranked near the middle or bottom.

There has been a resurgence of fierce national pride in the Middle Eastern countries currently in the throes of revolution.

Fighting to reclaim your nation from dictatorship is surely one of the most powerful ways to ignite a national pride that transcends class, age and politics. Egypt was the perfect example.

Western European nations struggle to find a middle ground between patriotic apathy and arrogance when it comes to national pride. This dichotomy should be a lesson for newer nations as something to avoid.

The UK's struggle is particularly acute. "Patriotism has become a dirty word to some and a nostalgic exercise for others," said a report this week by the UK think tank, Demos. It said it is necessary to reclaim national pride, its importance being it is a stronger motivator for social cohesion and improvement than altruism.

Politicians, it said, should stop meddling in trying to over-construct a sense of national pride.

Instead, "[Modern British] patriotism is founded in a profound, emotional connection to the everyday acts, manners and kindnesses that people see in themselves. Those who love their country most are shown to volunteer more and to trust their neighbours more than those who are either ambivalent or ashamed" of their country.

This truth extrapolates easily to other countries. Those looking to build national pride should encourage such gentle positive and constructive interactions between people.

This is especially so because national pride does not exclude the possibility of pride in oneself or one's community. In fact, one increases the other. For a country such as the UAE this is particularly significant.

Once this week's fervour comes to a close, the challenge of nation building - whether that be at the level of infrastructure, politics and governance or social cohesion - still needs to go on. This construction is still in its early stages because at 40, the UAE is very much in the formative years of its nationhood. If the saying is true, its life can now truly begin.

 

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and writes a blog at www.spirit21.co.uk