Contemporary Conceptions of the Nation

05 December, 2017

The ACRPS has published the latest book by Lebanese scholar Nasif Nassar, The Contemporary Conceptions of the Nation: An Analytical Study of the Nation in Modern and Contemporary Arab Thought (528 pp). The book does not only explore the national vision that applies to the Arab Nation, but all theoretical conceptions of the nation, in order to better understand Arab nationalist ideological knowledge. The researcher analyzed texts that presented avrying definitions of the nation, explicitly or implicitly, or texts that could be used to construct a certain conception of the nation. It was clear to the author that modern Arab thought has mostly produced definitions of the nation based on either religious or linguistic perceptions to define the first basis of the nation.

The book is divided into four parts, the first dealing with religious conceptions of the nation, the second with linguistic conceptions, the third with regional conceptions, and the fourth with political conceptions. Of the religious conceptions, Nassar first looks at the more conciliatory religious conception of the nation, which aims to creative, or reinvigorate, a sense of unity among the heavily fractured groups of Muslims. This conception represents a compromise because it stems from the conviction that the original model of the unity of the Islamic Ummah cannot be achieved again, except in conflict with multi-sectarian and multi-national or national, and as a challenge to the modern Western civilization. Nassar also looks at the political religious conception of the nation. He believes that the idealistic radical conception of the nation is a result of a radical Salafist view determined to transcend reality to create a comprehensive Islamic unity. The most powerful expression of this radical view is the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the major modern Islamic movement. He also discusses the apolitical religious conception of the nation, which does not consider the unity of the state a necessary component of the nation based on the bond of religion.

Nassar goes on to describe the linguistic conceptions of the nation. Nassar finds that language appears in many writings as one of the factors of national identity, without being the decisive factor that determines the scope of national existence. He points out that between the time of the Arab uprising and the Second World War the idea of an Arab ethnicity spread, based on the Arabic language and other features characterized by the Arabs, which gave way to describing the features of the linguistic and ethnic conception of a nation. Nassar continues in this section to discuss a number of elements involved in creating the conception of a nation, including history and collective memory, and finally the scholar examines the role of the state in shaping a nation.

In the third section, the author considers regional perceptions, which perceive the nation as an entity and its characteristics based on the conceived national territory. The nation in the regional political scenario is determined by the national territory and by the one country that is almost identical with the borders of the territory of the country. Nassar goes on to mention that Antoun Saadeh's conception of the nation came with the need to defend Syrian patriotism against sectarianism, the linguistic ethnic trend, and the colonialist divisional policy of the French and British mandate. In the twelfth chapter, Nassar argues that the simple direct basis of the idea of regional character is geographical difference. Geography becomes a comprehensive structural science when the distinct geographical units of the earth are processed with their natural and human data.

In the fourth section, Nassar deals with the political conceptions of the Nation. The political conception of the nation appears to be simple on the surface: simply belonging to a state and submission to its government and laws constitutes belonging to a nation, even if the state does not enjoy a homogenous linguistic, ethnic, historical and religious composition. The concept of the homeland does not involve anything besides being a condition of the state. The love of the homeland and the love of the nation are a true feeling. Nassar goes on the following chapters to discuss a deeper political conception of the Nation, which involves the obligations upon the state. He discusses the constitutional conception, an association of existence and a bond of sovereignty. On this basis, the constitutional political conception of the nation is a special model within the general ideological conception of the nation.

In concluding remarks, Nassar points out that the Syrian nation as envisioned by the Syrian national ideology did not enjoy the factor of state unity as enjoyed by the Egyptian nation according to the Egyptian national ideology. "Hence, the debate between the regional conception of the nation and the opposing conceptions has diverged. It has produced divergent positions on the issue of the existing state, and the relationship between religion, nation and state as well. The Egyptian regional national ideology is better able than the Syrian regional national ideology to compromise with the political conception of the nation that is derived from the reality - the factor of the state."


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