Emergence of Nationalist Identity in Armed Insurrections: A Comparison of Iraq and Nicaragua

By Tatar, Bradley | Anthropological Quarterly, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview
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Emergence of Nationalist Identity in Armed Insurrections: A Comparison of Iraq and Nicaragua


Tatar, Bradley, Anthropological Quarterly


Introduction: A Comparison of Insurgencies

In this paper I will highlight similarities of the Nicaraguan insurrection of 19781979 and the Iraqi insurrection of 2004. I provide an examination of the Nicaraguan insurrection as an event that produced widespread nationalist sentiment and produced contradictory political effects on the Sandinista government that subsequently emerged in 1979. I will use the parallels between the historical insurrection in Nicaragua and the current insurrection in Iraq to suggest that nationalism is an important motivation for Iraq's Shiia and Sunni insurgencies against U.S. and coalition forces. I will also use the Nicaraguan precedent to draw some conclusions about the likely role of nationalism in Iraq if the Iraqis eventually manage to expel the Americans and the coalition. In this paper I will necessarily emphasize the similarities between Iraq in 2004 and Nicaragua in 1978, but I will also take account of important and obvious differences. The critical similarity is the widespread emergence of civilian militias that sustain coordinated attacks against an occupying army.

The civilian militia is a fighting force that has no loyalty to a state, in contrast to armies or police, which are controlled by a government. The civilian militia constitutes a "self-acting, armed organization of the population," according to V. I. Lenin (Lenin 1970:11). Lenin believed that class interest motivates the armed insurrection. However, an examination of the Nicaraguan insurrection and the Iraqi insurrection will illustrate how communities carry out insurrections by employing a complex mixture of discourses about citizenship and community membership. Discourses of identity are employed to sanction individuals, pressuring citizens to demonstrate their loyalty to the community in the face of occupation by an overwhelming military force. The powerful sanctions employed by insurrection leaders are taken from religious discourse, notions of kinship and/or tribal affiliation, discourses of ethnic group identity, gender identity, and class. In the course of an insurrection, variegated identity discourses are synthesized, producing a nationalist amalgam that represents "a people," a collective body that clamors for self-rule. Hence, insurrections are situations in which communities create and build their awareness of being part of a nation. Cobbled together from available traditions and discourses of community identity, nationalist discourse emerges in the course of popular uprisings.

In the case of Nicaragua, I will focus on the insurrection of Monimbo that took place in the city of Masaya in February of 1978. The Monimbo insurrection was a reaction to the murder of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, a political moderate and famous opponent of the Somoza dictatorship. Hence, the Monimbo insurrection was the most purely "nationalist" uprising in the Nicaraguan revolution, with relatively little influence from the Marxist ideology of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional [known as the FSLN or Frente Sandinista]. To say that the Monimbo insurrection was purely "nationalist" means that the participants were motivated by discourses about their collective identity, and they did not share any kind of common political program or design for a postrevolutionary state. Subsequent to the insurrection, the Monimbo leaders were recruited by the FSLN and were awarded the status of FSLN militants, with rank as military commanders in the guerrilla organization. As a result, civilian militias came under the influence of the Marxist-Leninist political program of the FSLN, an insurgent organization with intentions of becoming a state with a formally constituted government.

The case of Iraq is dissimilar in many ways, but there are also similarities to Nicaragua. In Iraq, the insurgencies are divided among Sunni and Shiia organizations, whereas Nicaragua's 1978 insurgency was uniformly Roman Catholic in religious outlook.

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