Islam in History: Ideas, People, and Events in the Middle East

By Bernard Lewis | Go to book overview

5
On Nationalism
and Revolution

In our permissive age we pride ourselves on a freedom of speech in which all the restrictions on discussion and criticism have disappeared. In fact, however, our freedom is not as great as we would like to believe. It is true that religion and sex are now deprived of the protection which they once enjoyed and have become so free that blasphemy and obscenity have lost their force, and those who seek outrage must find or invent new outlets. On the other hand the great political and social myths of our time still enjoy a surprising measure of protection. These are the beliefs which guide and inspire what may be called the liberal establishment. To deny them, even to question them, can involve risks to status, career, and even, in some academic circles, to personal safety. One of the most important myths of our time is the demiurgic struggle between imperialism and nationalism, ending in the triumph of the latter, a struggle which is never completed but always in need of ritual reenactment.

It is therefore with a sense of shock that one finds Professor Kedourie, in his long and brilliant introduction to his collection of texts on nationalism,* adopting an attitude of what might be called ideological agnosticism. Professor Kedourie does not believe in the primacy of economic causes; he is not convinced of the diabolic origin of imperialism; and he even harbors doubts about the virgin birth of Afro-Asian nationalist movements.

Professor Kedourie begins his discussion with an analysis of imperialism, the evil to which nationalism is said to have been a reaction. After briefly reviewing the earlier history and usage of the term he examines

*Nationalism in Asia and Africa, edited by Elie Kedourie (London, 1971).

-61-

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