Metamorphosed human beings
A criticism of religious and national identity

Interview with Hamid Taqvaee
November 2001

Ali Javadi: From a nationalist point of view, human beings are defined according to their national identity; it is this constructed identity that forms the foundation of nationalist philosophy. What is your criticism of this view?

Hamid Taqvaee: Regard for national identity is a relatively new outlook compared to religious and or ethnic-tribal identity, which existed in societies prior and during the Middle Ages. These have historically been marginalized and have today given their place to national identity. Today, belief in a superior religion or tribalism and ethnocentrism is officially and openly rejected. Although this culture still exists, but at least it is rejected by public opinion and no one openly defends it. Belief in national identity and nationalism, however, are not only not rejected, but all governments and public opinion officially and openly advocate and defend it. Patriotism is not only not rejected but is an honour. Those who declare not to be patriotic are rejected and isolated. This is while patriotism is nothing less than ethnocentrism / racism.

Ali Javadi: It is possible for patriotism not to translate into racism. If so, what are the differences; what is our criticism of patriotism vis-à-vis racism?

Hamid Taqvaee: I don't mean that they are both the same; rather I want to argue that they are both repulsive and anti-human to the same extent. If racism defines and divides people based on their race and colour of their skin, patriotism makes the exact same discrimination and division based on the concept of homeland and where one is born. A certain geography replaces race. For example, for the people of every country, the life of a compatriot is worth more than the life of hundreds of 'foreigners'. Allow me to give another example. Last year, on the anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing, a USA military analyst defended the dropping of the nuclear bomb by saying that if the USA had not done so, the war would have continued and hundreds of American soldiers would have lost their lives! Everyone hears this and is convinced. To save the lives of hundreds of compatriot soldiers, two cities can be turned into rubble and hundreds of thousands of old and young who did not even take part in the war can be massacred. Even according to the Geneva Convention, this is officially considered a war crime. According to nationalism, however, this is not a crime; it is patriotism! This is not only limited to the USA government. All governments do the same in any war. They do it every day. If human beings are defined by national identity, then non-compatriots are not human or are less human.

Ali Javadi: In defence of national identity it is argued that love of one's nation is not necessarily a negation of other nations but a love for one's own kind and a preference for a specific nation where one is born and raised and familiar with. How would you respond to this aspect of the issue?

Hamid Taqvaee: There is an objective and real aspect to this comment, which is the sense of belonging, habit and fondness that anyone develops towards their own place of habitat one's street, house, road, the school one attended as a child, street corner hangout of one's youth, local cafés and cinema, etc. All of these create a sense of fondness and belonging, habit and liking that is completely natural and real. This is part of the definition of life, part of a human being's social identity and has existed since the formation of human society. Accordingly, there is nothing nationalistic in it (as I pointed out nationalism is specific to the contemporary era and after the rise of the bourgeoisie). The problem is that nationalism takes advantage of this reality and uses it to get to the concept of nation, homeland and patriotism, which is entirely anti-human. There is a huge difference between a sense of fondness to the street, neighbour and the society that one lives in and patriotism. In fact and also historically, constructed national identity did not originate from people's natural tendency and fondness toward the society that they live in. Behind the concept of nation and homeland lie the interests of the ruling class, the capitalist class. The material basis of nationalism is capital's profit not the preferences of people to their place of habitat. In wars conducted in the name of defending the homeland, there is even the justification that the war is for saving the homeland and the lives of compatriots. In reality, the direct interests of the ruling class in every country necessitates raising the homeland banner and going to war under that banner against the competing bourgeoisie in another country and or to safeguard their political and economic hegemony over an ever larger part of the world. Accordingly, patriotism is the codeword for defending the interests of the ruling class in every country and has no relation to people's fondness to the society that they live in. When the capitalist class speaks about the nation, it is directly and clearly referring to itself. The American nation means the ruling class in America. Similarly, the Iranian, Iraqi, British, German and any other nation means the ruling classes of these countries. This is the only objective and real meaning of nation in economics, politics, war and peace.

Ali Javadi: Those people who pursue nationalism and consider themselves patriots do not have such an understanding and do not necessarily or fully see themselves representing the ruling classes of their societies. It is true that the ideologues of nationalism have such an understanding and evaluation at a political level, but how can this perspective replace people's understanding despite conflicting class interests in society?

Hamid Taqvaee: The question is not over how one perceives the problem. In reality and objectively, nationality corresponds to capitalist class interests. In reality, national identity is an identity that the ruling system of each country has constructed for people with the intention of mobilising them in defence of the interests of the ruling class. The issue is not that the bourgeois ideologues perceive it in this way. This is the fact of the matter. Historically, countries basically emerged because capital wanted a uniform and defined realm, a specific market for labour, commodity and capital with uniform rules and standards within a given geographical framework. This realm is called a country. Until before the rise of the bourgeoisie during the Middle Ages we were faced with tribal and nomadic societies. Even where the term country was used, it was only to differentiate areas under the control of lords and emirs. Nation and country in the contemporary sense of the word are concepts born with the capitalist class. Basically, a country is a common market of capital with a defined and uniform level of wages, labour law, rate of profit and interest. A country is a defined area of influence of local capital in contrast to the capital of a neighbouring country and it is for this reason that it is 'sacred'. To defend and expand this market for increased profitability, conflict between governments sometimes arises and war erupts. Clearly, people will not mobilise under the slogan that the interests of capital are at risk. No state says this but instead claims that the country, national borders and cultural heritage are threatened. They say that our history, traditions and nation are violated and such similar rubbish. They line up all these arguments in order not to state the truth that people must rise up and fight for capital. They cannot say this; it must be wrapped in national ideology and fed to the people. They must reduce people to compatriots and give them a national identity to send them to war. And they can do this because even during non-war periods, there is constant hype on the sanctity of nation and homeland. From school books to the radio, television, cinema, art, literature, poems and fiction, they constantly push the concept of nation. People fall in this trap since they are subject to daily propaganda. The nationalist element and national culture, which is advertised daily from various quarters, is a fundamental pillar for the survival and continuation of bourgeois rule in periods of peace and particularly in times of war. That is why we see that today country and patriotism are sacred in public opinion in all countries. This in fact is the culture of the dominant class in these countries that has been turned into the dominant culture in these societies. With all this, though, when war breaks out, the usefulness of this nationalist poison does not last for more than a few weeks. People quickly learn the true meaning of patriotism with war atrocities and casualties and ultimately governments are forced to compel soldiers to go to the fronts. No matter how much they love their place of habitat, people quickly understand that this does not justify the killing of human beings. The pilot who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima ended up in a psychiatric hospital. Because human beings are human, they cannot agree to kill their own kind for the love of country no matter how in love they are.

Ali Javadi: But nationalists and those who define human identity based on national culture occasionally assert that those who see humanity as the basis of human identity act less favourably to people living in their own country of residence. How do you explain this issue?

Hamid Taqvaee: When we begin from human beings and their social identity, our starting point is not any given nation. Our social identity first and foremost goes beyond people's nationality. Allow me to further explain the meaning of the social identity of human beings. Human beings are human beings because they are social beings. They are born in society and if there was no social life, human beings would not exist. This is not an ideological or philosophical deduction; it is what evolution and social science states. A social existence is the real existence of human beings. Humans are unable to survive outside of society. They can only develop, produce and survive in society. Nation, religion, ethnicity and tribe do not have this characteristic; it is only society that is the precondition for the existence and survival of human beings. Production requires social organisation of work. This means that human beings can only produce in society. Just as lions and wolves must hunt for their survival, human beings must engage in social production to survive. Accordingly, human beings have a natural social identity. It is this concept that gives human beings and humanity a universal character. All the beauty that you see in the culture of a given society, even if there is anything beautiful in the national culture of a given country, it is because it refers to the social identity of human beings. Wherever humans or their desire and needs independent of national, religious or ethnic affiliations are the subjects of poems, stories, songs, etc., we are faced with beautiful pieces of work. In native culture and folklore all over the world, one can see this human and universal element, which is why the folklore of many countries has so much in common. Humans have similar feelings, hopes and desires. They become happy or cry for similar reasons be they Iranian, American, European, Arab or Turk. This common social identity places them next to one another as human beings on earth. Ethnic, national and religious identity on the other hand does not originate from the social identity of humans, but rather from an interest of a certain class. It can only come about by distorting and metamorphosing the common identity of humans and acts as a divisive and conflicting force between human beings.

Ali Javadi: Finally, let's discuss religious identity. Those who believe in religious identity argue that without religious identity, one can not have any morality. What is your response to this issue?

Hamid Taqvaee: The morality that religious believers have in mind is essentially anti-human. Religious morality is a morality that takes away the humanity of human beings and defines them as slaves of an imaginary being called god. This god always has representatives and advocates on earth which humans must obey and submit to. This representative can be the church, Vatican and the pope or the mosque, ayatollah or a religious government. This is the essence of all the hypocrisy and deceit that is called religious morality. Religious morality means first that human beings must obey god, and then gives the key for heaven and hell to god's earthly representatives to justify any crime and atrocity in the name of fighting corruption, blasphemy, etc. All the governments of the Middle Ages, today's Islamic Republic in Iran, the pope, the Vatican, archbishops, priests, ayatollahs have played nothing but this role. Religion, any religion, is the very root of hypocrisy, deceit and the slavery of human beings. As such, religious morality is itself corrupt and anti-human. It is more than 20 years that the people of Iran are experiencing this; all of the societies in the Middle Ages confronted this. The deepest alienation, the most terrible psychological and mental slavery and submission belong to a religious human being. They are correct; without religion there can be no morality and we do not want this morality. For human beings to be liberated, they must dump their religion and morality in the dustbins of history. What we call human and human dignity is in total contrast to this morality, in the same way that it is in utter opposition to nationalist and ethnic morality.

The above is the translation of an interview in Persian by Ali Javadi on Radio International first published in Hambastegi number 96 in November 2001. Translators: Fariborz Pooya and Maryam Namazie.