By Jaimie Epstein, Official ZEE JLF@Boulder Blogger
Omar El Akkad’s dystopian novel, American War, is set in 2075. Florida is under water, the Eastern Seaboard has vanished. Finally addressing climate change, the president has banned fossil fuels even though they have long since been the energy source of choice, and civil war is raging like a wild fire. China and the Middle East are meddling in the affairs of the United States. Mexico has annexed most of the Southwest. Is this a lucid gaze into a crystal ball or a cautionary tale? If it is the former, how did we let this happen? If the latter, is there anything we can do to prevent it from playing out as written, to prevent life from imitating art?
The answer lies, perhaps, in being able to question “systems that do not benefit our societies and move them forward,” says Kayhan Irani, an artist whose work addresses immigration, citizenship, and belonging. “We still have not figured out that everything is oriented to maintain the status quo,” she says, adding: “How do we derail the way that we’ve been socialized to participate in systems that do not value us and value our futures? We each have to think about that and play a role.”
The answer also perhaps lies in identity politics and in understanding how identity politics plays out in nationalism and globalism. “I love it when people say identity politics have gone too far,” says Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a social advocate who is passionate about making diversity the norm. “We all have identities. All we’re doing is equalizing voices”—so we don’t just hear the white male voice.
The overarching narrative of nationalism, regardless of what country it has taken root in is of one voice (and let’s face it: it is mostly white and male): one unified us versus an amorphous them, everyone else, the other. Devash Kapur, director of the Center for Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that there is an outward-directed nationalism, which is exemplified by what he calls Asia’s hierarchy of humiliation, and an inward-directed nationalism, which is aimed at purging certain ethnicities. Ultimately, he says, “my nationalism will breed your nationalism,” and that’s why we’re seeing rampant nationalism all over the world.
While nationalism is really about disconnectedness, globalism is about interconnectedness. “Nationalism versus globalism is maybe a false binary,” says Mukund Padmanabhan, editor of The Hindu, one of India’s oldest and most respected newspapers. Globalism works for some. Padmanabhan points out that “China’s economic future depends on interconnectedness.” Who’s discontent with globalization—not China!
If globalization is defined as the crossborder movement of money, goods, services, and people, “there has been a great upliftment out of poverty because of this,” Kapur says. “Globalization causes vast amounts of stress in some parts of the world, but great improvement elsewhere—it is here to stay.”
“We will always want to belong to a group,” Abdel-Magied says. “The more important question is how we see our group in relation to others.” And whether we are ultimately able to see ourselves in relation to other people, to other groups, to be able to grok the interconnectedness, and thus, interdependence, of us all is probably what’s going to determine whether Omar El Akkad is a visionary or a fantasist.
Photo Credit – Abhijit Sur