“Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.” Rabindranath Tagore. 1908.
These words stopped me from reading further. I read them again. I could tell they were important, that they resonated with me, that they were revealing something about my values. I was confused.
I have always been patriotic. I love Australia. Its landscape is my aesthetic: its salted-vanilla beaches, its honeycombed cliffs, its red dirt and woody scrub, its life-filled ocean, its tiny Spring flowers, are all beautiful to me. I am grateful for the freedom I have in Australia, the feeling of safety, my ability to choose how and where to live. I believe patriotism is positive.
“I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.” The message reverberated through me like the sound of a didgeridoo and its meaning became clear incrementally, as water seeps into a sponge.
Patriotism is national pride, the feeling of love, devotion and sense of attachment to a homeland and alliance with other citizens who share the same sentiment. Patriotism inspires citizens to assist one another in a crisis, rise to a common goal, or celebrate a win.
But if patriots believe they are superior, and their country is superior, patriotism becomes nationalism and humanity is neglected. I believe nationalism is negative.
This is what is happening now in Australia with around 1500 refugees looking for shelter, asylum, or just a chance, held in detention centres.
These detainees are desperate, not inferior. If they arrived in Australia by boat, they saw no other way. People who cross deserts and snow-covered mountain ranges in other countries, are also desperate. They are breaking the rules because there is no other way. If I was subjected to torture, starvation, or utter deprivation, if I saw no possibility for change unless I risked my life for a chance, I would probably break the rules too.
It makes sense to protect ourselves and our environment from human, animal and plant threats; terrorists, rats and bugs should all be weeded out! Logical self-preservation and protection of each other should remain, but shunning the common, less fortunate man? I am not so sure there is any justification for that.
Imagine if all the money spent detaining refugees was spent educating and integrating them. Would that not be the humane option? What is it we are so afraid of that we need to subject our fellow man to such suffering? I object to making or letting animals suffer, so how can I support treating humans so harshly?
My good fortune landed me here. It was my birth. Pure luck. It was nothing I did, and I do not deserve more than a person who was not born here. I will look after Australia, appreciate its attributes and be grateful for what it offers, until the day I die. I will remain patriotic. But I will not choose patriotism over humanity. “I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds.”
Ref: Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was anti-nationalist. The meaning of patriotism and nationalism has changed since his writing (these words were interchangeable). It is appropriate to replace ‘patriotism’ with ‘nationalism’ in the quote.