Tuesday, 24 January 2012

26 january

26th january is an important day for two large countries. for indians, it's republic day and for australians it's australia day. because of a status update on facebook, i had reason to think about these two very different events at the same time. and it struck me that the reason why they are different is that the former is a celebration about liberation from colonisation while the latter is a celebration of colonisation.

i've written before about indian republic day, and how i'm not a huge fan of the way it's currently celebrated. that mostly centres around the nationalism and patriotism that can be pretty destructive in three ways. first, it means people don't see themselves as part of a global village but rather as a nation competing with other nations. hence they are less likely to be in favour of measures that may not be directly of benefit to their particular country (and in fact may be detrimental) but would be beneficial either to the planet as a whole or to the more marginalised parts of the planet that really need some assistance.

second, it causes people to see those who are born in or looking like the majority in the nation state as outsiders. which means, of course, an othering of migrants even if those migrants happen to no longer be migrants but are in fact second and third generation offspring of migrants. it causes a huge division between those who are seen to belong, and those who don't belong.

third, it stifles criticism. any criticism of the culture, government, traditions, business practices or whatever can be written off as unpatriotic, and the person making the criticism can then be socially punished (kind of like what happened to the dixie chicks when they opposed the invasion of iraq).

it is the nature of a national day that it will be full of national pride and so these negative consequences are pretty much impossible to avoid. on the other hand, for a country that was colonised and has since achieved independence, this is a thing to celebrate. freedom, autonomy, self-determination. these are all worthwhile things to celebrate.

the cost of obtaining these things - the lives lost, the bitterness and division caused in the creation of a nation state should also be remembered. but they don't tend to be remembered quite so well. yes, we remember the freedom fighters who stood up to the colonisers. we remember those who fought the enemy. but we tend to forget the infighting, and those who died and suffered because we were, for whatever reason, divided.

to me, australia day has the worst aspects of a national day without any of the redeeming features. the nationalism is solely a celebration of the colonisers who took over the country, without any type of soul searching regarding the costs to the indigenous people. of course that's an opinion from an outsider looking in. i know there are protests held by the aboriginal people in canberra, and maybe there are official celebrations that take into account the history of the indigenous people and acknowledge the dispossession and damage they have suffered. if there are, i guess we don't tend to hear about them so much. i found this page on an australia day site, and the apologism is breathtaking (oh, but times were different then and everyone was doing it and ... just ugh).

to have those old ships coming into port, without feeling an incredible sense of sadness? i don't know how people do that. how they allow themselves to ignore or be intentionally unaware of how such an act could be hurtful. add to this the stories i've heard of young white men, draped in flags, and terrorising people of colour and it doesn't really sound like much of a celebration. and yes, i'm sure the latter behaviour is only carried out by a small number of people, but it's impossible for me to ignore. and i suspect that there are plenty of people of colour in australia who feel the same.

if we must have a national day in nz, i'm really glad that it's waitangi day. it's very, very far from perfect. but at least it's an attempt to recognise a partnership between two people. at least our indigenous population tend to be centred on that day (even though the media coverage is largely negative). at least we're not running around waving flags and feeling full of ourselves, as if there were no skeletons in our closet so to speak.

happy 26 january everyone.

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