Monday, September 12, 2011

Fine Line Between Nationalism and Ethnocentrism

September 11th has obviously been on everyone’s mind over the last week. An issue that keeps coming to mind is ethnocentrism vs. nationalism. How do you differentiate between these two terms that can often be used very vaguely? In Dr. Gary Weaver’s address to the 2005 Ayoma Symposium on International Communication, he talks about the field of International Communications when he was in school for his PhD in International Relations. His major issue was the way domestic and foreign affairs were kept completely separate. They were treated as two separate entities with little or no overlap. Part of the reason for that was that we had not in modern times fought a war on our own soil. We had lost plenty of lives in war, but these men and women didn’t die on American land. That made it easier to keep up this illusion that war was completely a part of foreign domain and domestic issues were a whole different ball game.

Dr. Weaver also speaks about the birth of International Development and International Communications programs and how they were based on the ideals of ethnocentrism. These programs often took the stance that development meant becoming more Americanized. Obviously we have, for a large part, overcome ethnocentrism in these academic programs. But is ethnocentrism still a large part of our culture?

Though this is by no means academic, there was an unsourced quote going around facebook this weekend:

At this moment more than 100 times the amount of people who died on 9/11 are starving in Somalia. In Syria countless thousands are being tortured behind closed doors. In North Korea, Israel, Zimbabwe, and all across the world, people's freedom and dignity as human beings are constantly stomped upon by those with might. While today we should solemnly remember the 9/11 victims, tomorrow we should turn our attention to the multitudes who are still in need.

This quote implies that the U.S. is still ethnocentric as a country and as a culture. But it got me thinking… yes, there are more people dying worldwide from a huge and terrible array of tragedies. But 9/11, from an American viewpoint, was our tragedy. It happened in our backyard and it was mostly our fellow countrymen who were killed. Isn’t it natural that a country feels its own losses more than those happening halfway across the world? But in this increasingly global world, I’m not sure how these definitive borders stand up anymore. How does a country balance what happens within its own borders with what is happening in other places? It goes back to Weaver’s comments on the separatism between domestic and foreign affairs. What is nationalism and what is ethnocentrism? I’ve proposed a lot of questions, none of which I have the answers for.

But I have to believe there is a way that we can have national pride but also be more globally aware. I think other countries actually set some beautiful examples of this over the weekend. A CNN article reported on events worldwide that commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11. In Sydney, firefighters climbed 80 flights of stairs in Sydney Tower to remember the climb that 9/11’s first responders did. In Paris a remembrance ceremony was held and a French mother interviewed said “she felt the need to be there to support the United States.” She remembered a headline from Le Monde from ten years ago that read “We are all Americans.”

My favorite story is another one CNN reported. It’s of a young Kenyan warrior who was in New York ten years ago and felt like he needed to do something. In his tribe’s tradition, a cow is meant to provide comfort and is the most valuable thing one can have. So his tribe managed to give the U.S. a herd of cows. Because of all kinds of problems, the cows could not be brought to the U.S. so this tribe is now caring for a herd of “America’s cows.” They all have Twin Towers brands on their ears.

I feel like these stories show national pride, but they are about reaching out to another country and to the global community. I see them as good examples of taking nationalism to a place where you can’t even compare it to ethnocentrism.

1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to add a link to my friend's blog. He's in Kosovo and blogged about the 9/11 remembrance ceremony he got to attend there and I thought it was an amazing first person account of the type of stories the CNN article provided: