Nation-building, fascism and the hypocrisy of selectivity

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

WHEN you are a public official whose job is to help President Rodrigo Duterte build a nation, you do not focus only on those who support him. In fact, you should consolidate support for him, even as you listen with patience to those who misunderstand, if not totally and blindly hate him.

After all, the President is not just the leader of the 16 million who voted for him, and the many more who did not but now add their voice of support. He is the President of all Filipinos.

It is simply ridiculous for one to deploy the noble goal of nation-building, and then be totally clueless as to what the process entails.

The idea of a nation, and the social movements that endeavor to build it, are sustained by what is called in academic jargon as the theory of post-colonialism. Post-colonial theory considers as key to the building of a nation from the shadows of colonial rule the recognition that there is a high density of hybridity in the identity constructs of the colonized, where cultural symbols are now a cross-breed of the Western and the indigenous.


In addition, the theory also recognizes the presence of diasporic communities, where people who identify with a particular national identity are scattered in various locations by force of will, or by necessity, or even by forces beyond their control manifested in structural push factors that made them leave the homeland.

It is easy to fault those who leave the homeland, but one has to realize that many of them did so not as a matter of choice, but to enable loved ones. While others take up foreign citizenship, these are choices that are pushed by a complex array of reasons which, while we can question we simply cannot use to deny them their right to call themselves ethnic Filipinos.

There is no more compelling imagery about the way diasporic Filipinos attempt to reconnect to their homeland than the efforts made by second generation Filipinos whose parents chose to become citizens of their new host countries. I saw this in the Filipino-American students who are enrolled in Tagalog and Ilokano classes in the University of Hawaii where I taught for a semester. These are young people who are technically no longer Filipino citizens, but are still very much a part of the Filipino nation. Their hybridity, as shown by a dance group in the university that mixes hip-hop with ethnic moves such as that of the tinikling dance, is not a flaw. On the contrary, it is in fact a reality and a context within which we have to appreciate their sincerity to reach out to the place, the history and the culture to which they want to maintain connections.

A nation is defined as a people with common history and ethnic identity and is self-conscious of their identification with such ethnicity. Political consensus, unanimity and homogeneity are not part of the definition. Hence, a nation doesn’t have to speak with only one voice. President Duterte’s critics have every right to be part of the Filipino nation, as his avid supporters.

The fact that living in a contiguous territory is not a requirement for a nation to exist, nor is sovereignty, implies that formal citizenship or actual residence in the homeland are not prerequisites for someone to be included in that nation. Hence, Filipinos who are no longer citizens, yet continue to maintain links with the homeland, are part of the Filipino nation. These include not only those who send remittances to their relatives. They also include those who symbolically maintain their self-identification with the nation, by calling themselves Filipinos and by taking an extra effort to participate in the production, reproduction and transformation of political discourse, whether supportive of the President or in opposition to him.

It is easy to denounce critical voices, more so if these come from people who now comfortably live in foreign lands. But tolerance and recognition of rights are fundamental elements of an inclusive process of nation-building. The Filipino nation is not a monolith reserved only for people who agree with each other. The process of nation-building is in fact more challenging because it entails building a community even with those we strongly disagree with.

It is simply hypocritical for us to dismiss the critical voices of people who are no longer Filipino citizens, yet we nurture those coming from the same cohort when they are supportive. This is like respecting the rights of people to speak only when they are supportive of the President, but we move to silence them when they become critical.

This is not the kind of nation-building that we want so see. The kind of nation-building that history hasseen and which exhibited this patent desire to limit the process only to those who support a dominant political view are the ones that attended the rise of fascism. Adolf Hitler imagined Germany as a monolith of pure-bred Aryans, freed from what he saw as the impurity of the Jews, homosexuals, communists andgypsies.

We have fought so hard against those who accused the President of being a fascist, and we mobilized our social media voices against those who dared associate him with Hitler.

Thus, it is incumbent upon us, more so on those who occupy official positions in his communication infrastructure, to be more circumspect in what we say.

These public officials must practice prudence in restraining their social media personas. They should also make sure that they hone their communication skills by being humble enough to recognize their need to learn more about the nature of their jobs.

After all, the President is not the fascist here.

A government official who thinks that nation-building includes only those who agree with him or her, orthose who remain citizens and residents of this country and preferably also supporting the President, is the one who actually exhibits fascist tendencies.

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