When Rohullah Nikpai of Afghanistan won his bronze medal in taekwondo, it was a truly historic moment. Why? Because it was the first Olympic medal ever won by his country. Some of the most poignant moments at the Olympics happen during the medal ceremonies. Seeing a country’s flag unfurl in celebration of its athletes’ achievements, is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
Of course, not everyone is happy about these patriotic celebrations.
Much has been made of the evils of nationalism. Erich Fromm, the humanist / social psychologist, once said, “Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. ‘Patriotism’ is its cult.” Likewise, many secularists and political liberals see nationalism as the driving force behind war, secession and genocide, the cause of many of the world’s ills. It’s why many believe we should move toward a “global community”, a one world government, where “citizens of the world” unite under one banner, not hundreds.
So in many ways, the Olympics themselves grate against some of our most sacred ideologies.
Perhaps the most obvious is multiculturalism. Multiculturalism celebrates racial, ethnic, cultural diversity. But to appreciate different cultures — food, religion, customs, history — requires the amplification of national distinctives; it implies nationalism. So multiculturalism, which is one of the planks of secular ideologists, creates a dilemma for the opponents of nationalism. Either we celebrate the fact that Afghanistan won its first bronze medal, or we don’t. If we respect this athlete’s achievements, and all it means for his country, then we concede to a certain degree of nationalistic pride.
Me? I have no problem seeing the Chinese, Brazilian, Argentinean, or American flag at the top rung. This diversity, competition and camaraderie is what makes the Olympics, and the human race, so special. However, it also means some nations will be better than others. And, in the end, this may be the real reason people oppose nationalism.