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What do you understand by National Identity ?

Apart from the definitions, another important aspect in the study of nationalism is what constitutes national identity, i. e. how an individual is able to attach himself with a particular community and thinks himself different from others. Hayes attributes seven factors for the rise of this national consciousness and identity: linguistics and literacy, political, commercial, economic, eccelesiastical, religious and cultural. Historically, kinship represented the first sign of identification and loyalty. The middle Ages allowed the formation of a larger group attached to a concrete territory.

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Through the creation of markets, the intensification of trade, the waging of wars and the slow but progressive amplification of the state’s scope, there emerged the formation of a community conscious of itself as different from others. It is at this stage that one can start talking of the emergence of nations and different national identities. According to Guibernau, broadly speaking, there are three factors which helped in the creation of a national identity: i) development of printing and creation of vernacular languages, ii) relationship between nation and culture, and iii) common symbols and rituals.

The development of vernacular languages after the invention of the printing press in Europe played a decisive role in creating a sense of belonging to a community. National consciousness is derived from shared values, traditions and memories within a particular and which are thought of and spoken in a particular culture and which are thought of and spoken in a particular language. Though the vernacular is not an indispensable basis for the creation of national consciousness, yet it dose facilitate that creation. Where nation and state were co-extensive, education and the generalization of literacy not only reinforced the possibility of communication among the people, but also helped in the development of a strong sense of community.

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The development of English, French and German languages and education based upon the school system led to the creation of a strong national consciousness. When the state manages to impose a culture and language, it is ‘nationalism which engenders nations’. If the state is successful, it manages to develop, apart from the political, a combination of several relationships such as economic, territorial, religious, linguistic and cultural. It is this state which creates a nation.

Secondly, the key question with regard to national identity is –who am I? Identity is an interpretation of the self that establishes what and where a person is, both socially and psychological. Identity exists in societies which define and organize them. In the current era, the nation represents one of these communities. National identity is its product. The defining criteria of Identity are: continuity over time and differentiation. While continuity lies in historical roots, differentiation stems from the consciousness of forming a community with a shared culture, attached to a concrete territory which distinguishes between members and ‘strangers’. This Identity fulfills three functions:

i) it helps in making choices such as the right to decide about their common political Identity,

ii) it makes the relationship possible with others because nation is a common pool in which individuals with a common culture live and work together, and

iii) national Identity gives strength and resilience to individuals to Identify with an entity which transcends them.

Now this identity is created through the development of a common culture i.e. values, beliefs, customs, conventions, habits and practices that are transmitted to the new members who receive the culture of a particular community. The process of identification with the elements of a specific culture implies a strong emotional investment. From the point of view of nationalism, a common culture favors the creation of a bond of solidarity among the members of a given community and allows them to image the community they belong to as separate and distinct from others.

Thirdly, in the creation of national identity, a powerful role is also played by symbols and rituals. The consciousness of forming a community is created through the use of symbols and repetition of rituals that give strength to the individual members of the community. By favoring occasions in which they feel united and by displaying symbols that represent this unity, a nation establish its distinction from others. For example, a soldier does so for his flag because he identifies the flag with his country. Also, symbols like the flag have the power to evoke particular memories or feelings. This helps in the ability of nationalism to bind together people from different cultural levels and social background.

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Symbols mask differences and highlight commonality, creating a sense of group. And last but not the least, individuals who share the same culture, feel attached to a concrete land, have the experience of a common past and a project for future, need to create occasions in which all that unites them is emphasized. In these moments, the individual forgets about himself and the sentiment of belonging to a group occupies the prime position. Through rituals, individuals are able to feel an emotion of unusual intensity that springs from their identification with the entry – the nation – which is above them and of which they are a part.

Thus, the force of nationalism springs not only from rational thought alone, but also from irrational power of emotions that stems from the feeling of belonging to a particular group. This double face of nationalism result from the way in which these emotion are either transformed into a peaceful and democratic movement seeking the recognition and development of one’s nation or turned into xenophobia; i.e., the will to put one’s nation above others and eradicate the differences.

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