The other argument against ‘aggressive nationalism’ derives from the theoretical aspects of the term nationalism. It is well documented how the rise of nationalism was facilitated by the simultaneous decline of key cultural conceptions of great antiquity, which had erstwhile had a profound effect on humankind. The first of these changes had to do with the role of language in the evolution of human civilization. For much of history, written language was interlinked with power and privilege. The religious elite especially had employed the medium of written language to control the thoughts and actions of the masses. This was true across various religions. Second was the dismantling of the belief that the ruling elite earned their right by divine decree. The liberalization of language use had encouraged rational discourse among the common people and the movement toward democratic governance owes its advance to this. The third development which made it conducive for nationalism to flourish is the conceptual separation of humans and their physical world. For much of pre-modern history, the view held by scholars and intellectuals were essentially anthropocentric, meaning that they interpreted natural phenomenon from the stand point of its significance to human existence. But this approach to studying the world around them changed not only the course of scientific progress, but had also ushered in changes of political organization – one such advance being ‘nationalism’. What we learn from the growth of nationalism is the triumph of reason over superstition and blind faith. Seen in the backdrop of these facts, the irrationality associated with so called ‘aggressive nationalism’ is obvious. In other words, the claim that ‘aggression is defence’ is incongruent in the context of the historical development of nationalism.
Relevant to the discussion of nationalism is Samuel Huntington’s hypothesis termed ‘The Clash of Civilizations’. The theory springs from the framework of ‘aggressive nationalism’, with its attendant justifications in the form of ‘aggression is defence’, ‘aggression is rational’, etc. But this theory found endorsers and critics in equal measure. The primary criticism is levelled against the fact that he cannot back up his assertions with comprehensive statistical proof. Further, the idea of a newly emergent era in human history that would be dominated by ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ might be convincing at the level of theory, but since the theory pertains to events in the future, one cannot ascertain its validity at this point in time. Also, social science and other related fields of scholarly inquiry are not conducive to theorizing. This is borne out by the fact that the last great idea in this field of inquiry was Francis Fukuyama’s concept termed the ‘End of History’, which is not proven to be true but can only considered a proposition. Huntington’s thesis too is subject to the same criticism. Admittedly, there are enough instances in history that substantiate Huntington’s theory. But as many instances, if not more, can be presented that contradict the thesis. For example, there is undue stress on the apparent incompatibility of Islamic and Western civilizations and the resultant conflict between the two entities. But a brief look at twentieth century political history would suggest several instances where these two seemingly incompatible entities do successfully cooperate. In other words, the seemingly strong ethno-nationalistic bond within the Islam dominated countries of the Middle East would overwhelm opportunistic commercial alliances between the two ethno-national groups. (Said, 2001)
The falsity of this supposition is illustrated by the classic example of collaboration between the Saudi Royal family and American political leadership. The elites of Saudi Arabia have strong business ties with American corporations – a relationship that goes back many decades. Even when the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001 attacks were identified to be predominantly of Saudi origin, the political leadership of both nations continued their business as usual. The authoritarian regime in Saudi Arabia is considered the most backward looking within the Islamic world. Yet, the leaders of so-called progressive West continue to maintain strong business and political relations with it. This is despite the fact that a large majority of Saudi citizens condemn American diplomatic and military intervention in the Middle East region. The theory of ‘Clash of Civilizations’ falls flat on its face when one recognizes how reactionary the Saudi regime is. Similarly, there are numerous instances of opportunistic commercial alliances in twentieth century history, especially in Latin America and South East Asia that significantly weaken conceptions such as ‘aggressive nationalism’. Contradictions such as these significantly weaken Huntington’s theory. Even the Al Qaeda and its leader Osama Bin Laden were in the payrolls of CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) as recently as the 1980s. In fact, a large share of the credit for the successful growth of Al Qaeda is to be attributed to the American government, which nurtured the fledgling terror outfit with funding and supplies of ammunition in order to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. To cite a more recent example, Saddam Hussein was Washington’s blue-eyed boy when it was in confrontation with Iran in the 1980s. Both Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein have proved at various times in their lives that they are willing to subjugate the well-being of their native ethnic community for personal interests and prospects (Said, 2001). Examples such as these further weaken theories of ethnic conflict, including constructivist and instrumentalist approaches to studying ethnic conflict. In a similar vein, they also mitigate the claims of ‘rationality’, ‘self-defence’, etc, that are usually associated with acts of aggression.