“Third World” Women & Politics (5 of 11)
In his book Imagined Communities, Anderson discusses the imagining and rise of nationalism. He lists several ideological changes that allowed the creation of this concept. First is the loss of the ‘sacred silent languages,’ which held together religious communities that spanned continents. These languages were believed to consist of meaningful symbols of essential truths, and thus transcended culture. As Anderson points out, it is the relatively new concept of languages as non-privileged collections of arbitrary symbols existing in comparative equality with all other languages, that enabled the concept of sacred languages to wither away, and with it the view of a connected religious community.
However, tempting though it may be to ascribe wholeheartedly to this assertion, there are some persistent themes in the readings which demand consideration. In Singapore, as Heng & Devan note, there is a push for Chinese Mandarin to be accepted as the spoken language of choice there, rather than one dialect amongst many, specifically in order to stem the tide of Western thought somewhat.
Furthermore, the Confucianism being taught in the stead of religious
classes in the schools seems to fulfill many of the theoretical
requirements of Anderson’s “religious communities;” it is
discursively presented as the symbol of a “hard core” of
Chineseness that unifies the four “Asian Tigers” in their
incipient economic (and possibly also cultural) domination of the
decadent West. Could the imposition of Mandarin as the state language be also considered the theoretical equivalent of a “sacred language” holding together a community that spans continents?
Rouse notes the pressures within Pakistan to discursively re-create the nation-state as a “country ‘for Muslims,'” via amendments to the Constitution, creating “‘Islamization’ policies designed to bring the country more in line with its historical ‘intent,'” while Shaheed writes of Pakistan,
Nevertheless, after independence, substate bonds of community have proved resistant to attempts by central elites to promote markers of identity that would justify their own leadership (Brass, 1979) and distinguish this ‘nation’ from others.
Could both these examples be said to demonstrate the continued
existence of connected religious communities? Basu mentions the belief of many within both Pakistan and the small Muslim communities of India that the Indian national government is attempting systematically to replace the Urdu language by teaching Hindi in the ‘secular’ public schools (rarely attended by Muslim children), so the Qur’an can no longer be read and obeyed. Is this not potentially an example of a unified religious community attempting to retain a “sacred tongue”?
It could be said, however, Anderson’s second “fundamental cultural conception” whose loss prefigured the modern concept of nations is still quite valid. This concept was that of the loss of the hierarchical nature of society since, like sacred script, the monarch was viewed as a privileged access to ontological truth. This view of the anonymous masses apart from and ruled over by the divinely-chosen monarch has been replaced by the perception of a culture as consisting of an egalitarian collection of citizens, regardless of the continuation of hierarchies and class differences easily visible within societies today. It is true the definition of ‘citizen,’ as demonstrated via the readings, may be exclusively or oppositionally defined, but within the nation’s hegemonic self-conception of citizenship the meme of a cultural collection of egalitarian citizenry can be said to still stand.
Other factors mentioned by Anderson as integral parts of nation creation are a new conception of time, and selective ‘historical’ memory and forgetting. Initially time was seen as somehow ‘simultaneous,’ with history and cosmology seen as one and the same. This concept was replaced by the view of time as linearly measurable; a ‘homogenous emptiness’ that is filled with temporal coincidence, as this very sentence structure demonstrates. The conception of the individual moving steadily through time analogued nicely with the concept of the nation, also moving steadily through history. This ‘history’ of the nation is created through the selection of appropriate ‘memories’ to assist in the creation of the nation-state, which of course necessitates ‘forgetting’ that which does not match the desired national ‘memory.’