History Rhymes: Nationalism and Xenophobia

by | Aug 12, 2021 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

The Ku Klux Klan was founded in the 1860s by former Confederate soldiers, shortly after the American Civil War. The name allegedly comes from a bastardization of the Greek Kuklos, meaning ‘ring’ or ‘circle’.

Another documented use of the word – Kuklos Adelphon – was a frat club in the University of North Carolina that slowly spread through most of the Southern US states. This club, according to KKK co-founder John Lester – was in many ways an early model for the Klan. The emblems, pins, and other memorabilia of this club had the following saying engraved upon them – ‘Nil ego contulerim sanus jucundo amico’ – which roughly (and ironically) translates to “Nothing can I prefer, when sane, to a companionable friend.”

This sense of camaraderie seems to run deeply in the veins of Klansmen – most initiation speeches calling for their ‘fellow brothers’ to rise alongside them. There seems to be a very clear, pronounced declaration at most Klan rallies – about collective responsibility – that they, as the chosen race – have to bear.

Most Confederates and Klan members also very strongly believed in the idea of an objective, genetic, biological supremacy. This is something that was very strongly promoted by the science of the time as well – going as far as to have different medical practices for people of color.

Slave-owners and proponents of the Confederacy were often heard saying that African-American men were “subservient by nature”.

There were also portrayals in films and media of African Americans as more animalistic, sometimes shown as overtly sexual towards white women as well, as in the supremely controversial 1915 film – Birth of a Nation – showing Klansmen as heroes for capturing an escaped slave, portrayed by a white actor in blackface.

The origins of white supremacy, of course – run deeper than the civil war. What we may find surprising, however, is how obediently they converge with the origins of Hindu nationalism.

German nationalists in the 1930s accepted the general theory that their ‘vastly superior’ Aryan race came from a common Sanskrit-speaking origin of Indo-Europeans.

Many went as far as to travel to India before the war, learning the ways of ‘their ancestors’ and understanding their ‘roots’ more closely – perhaps most famously Savitri Devi – born Maximiani Julia Portas – a fascist and pro-Nazi proponent who studied Hinduism to great extents and spent her time in India preaching the Nazi party’s regime – proposing Adolf Hitler was an avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu. Maximiani believed that the Fuhrer was a sacrifice for humanity to rid itself of the Jews, whom she likened to the evil-doers from the Hindu-mythology’s Kaliyuga.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS – a far-right Hindu-nationalist group that reveres Savitri Devi as Hitler’s mistress to India – in the 1940s published a manifesto of its then-leader, M.S Golwalkar, quaintly called ‘Bunch of Thoughts’.

In it, we find parallels to the camaraderie that the Klan operates with. Golwalkar says,

They [members] should be such as are imbued with unity of mind and thought, bound
together with a common code of morality and faith in each other, and filled with absolute
loyalty to the nation.”

The phrases “absolute loyalty” and “a common code of morality” seem to be deeply imbibed in the lexicon of the Klan and the RSS – they also both subscribe to the idea of genetic and/or ethnic superiority quite clearly in their initiations, prayers, ceremonies, and texts.

For example, this 364-page manifesto is littered with nationalist sentiment, calling India the chosen land of the Gods and Hindus the chosen people. The text asks Hindus not to denounce the ‘ideal way of Hindu living’ for Western culture which is ‘unfit for our consumption.

The text also denounces other faiths and claims Hindu supremacy with alarmingly similar rhetoric to the Klan – rhetoric that reiterates ‘brotherhood’ and ‘fraternity’ over and over – seemingly as an undercurrent to all nationalist thinking. The words “motherland” and “brotherhood” both occur over eighty times in this manifesto.

Herein lies a possible origin of this sentiment for us to examine – the ability to humanize and even glorify one’s own – and to convince oneself that it is one’s duty to dehumanize all else. The idea of creating a collective responsibility that you share with other members of a group or, Kuklos – the idea that you’re all in this together as brothers doing what you collectively have agreed is right – is powerful, and dangerous. It deters all forms of dissent and individualism. It makes way for more unreasonable arguments that look to change objective truth in favor of fulfilling the needs of your brotherhood.

In his paper, ‘The Significance of Dehumanization: Nazi Ideology and Its Psychological Consequences’, Austrian psychologist Johannes Steizinger tries to explain exactly this – looking closely at the Nazi mindset to treat the ability to be German as a privilege. He goes on to argue that for one to commit such hate crimes with ruthless violence and little regret – it becomes necessary to assume that the perpetrator has convinced himself that it is not a crime simply because the victim is not human.

This sentiment explains to some extent the need for fascist ideology to categorize their victims as things that are not human. To portray them differently – whether it be more animalistic as white men did with African Americans, or the constant propaganda of the RSS to portray Muslims as ‘dirty’, or ‘unclean’. They must convince themselves that their hate crimes come from a reasonable place.

Another facet of Hindu nationalism circles around the concept of ‘Hindutva’ – an oneness of sorts that Hindus must attain for their country – a common culture for one’s country and countrymen.

This sentiment also brings with it a strange sense of paranoia that is also mirrored in the west – a fear of extinction – of being wiped out. It is often the argument of many proponents of this culture of Hindutva that it comes from the fear that their culture will be washed out by the influx of Western ideologies and the Islamic nations. This argument seems to be rooted in their need to preserve their culture – they believe that they must fight to ensure that traditions are passed on from one generation of Hindus to another.

This tenet could further also be explored in Hinduism through the lens of the caste system. The caste system very rigidly prevented the unity of Hindus in the past – giving Hinduism a very fractured identity. Thus was born the idea of a ‘nation-state’ of Hindus – which tried to unify these castes, and preached that Hindus are the chosen people of God – and can rid the world of all evil.

To find parallels to this culture in the ideals of White supremacy, we looked for alt-right websites – and we didn’t have to look much further than the home page of The Daily Stormer – a pro-Nazi and anti-POC website that had its own ‘demographic countdown’:

 

The paranoia of having your race wiped out may seem unreasonable to us that don’t participate in it – but it has been explained by many psychologists as the next natural step in nationalist sentiment after dehumanization

For one, it’s an effective message to send as it communicates a fear of losing the things that you and your ‘brothers’ worked so hard to achieve

And secondly, it proves to further reinforce the notion that the others, the outsiders are the enemy that are here to take away your culture, your heritage and your identity

Now that we more clearly understand some facets of nationalism, it comes time to turn our gaze to the prevailing fight against it.

The ability to actually oppose nationalism is, unfortunately, a privilege in some countries. However, we still maintain the ability to say that there may yet be hope.

A look at the Berlin wall today tells us there may yet be hope.

A look at the declining membership of the RSS tells us there may yet be hope.

A look at the non-existence of the Klan in most US states tells us there may yet be hope.

The fact remains though all – individualism, dissent, and the ability to have well-informed opinions prove to overpower the fraternal and group-ist culture of nationalist societies.

Humanity thrives in individualism. It survives with dignity in the throes of the worst and most foul forms of treachery – it grows with vigor in the midst of violence and finds peace to bring to the tired, hungry, and poor. It has an identity that is recognized with songs of peace. Hatred simply fails to encompass the same needs that perseverance, protest, and righteousness so well embody.

We are a loving people. We are a people that look to humanize. We are a people that persevere through struggle. This is portrayed best by the likes of Langston Hughes – a black poet that worked prolifically through the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s – giving us a look at the struggle of African American people in a clear white society.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.


Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.


Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—


I, too, am America

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.


Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.


Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—


I, too, am America

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