July 9, 2024 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 621

Nationalism for Me And Not For Thee

July 9, 2024 | By Amb. Alberto M. Fernandez*
MEMRI Daily Brief No. 621

It is usually a good sign when a nation's leader praises a legislator for her devotion to the interests of the nation. But in this case, the country's leader was former Somali prime minister Ali Hassan Khaire, and the legislator he praised was Minnesota Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Khaire couldn't have been clearer: "Ilhan's interests aren't those of Minnesota or the American people but those of Somalia." He then called on Somali-Americans to support the Minneapolis incumbent in the 2024 Democratic primary. While Republican activists have launched an ethics complaint about the incident, an Omar spokesman pushed back at the "far-right" complaint, noting that Omar had had no role in arranging or soliciting the visit of the Somali politician.[1]

"Shut It Down for Palestine" Protest in Central London (May 2024)

The word "nationalism," especially with the qualifier "Christian nationalism," has become one of the trigger words of the Western leftist commentariat. There it exists with other threatening adjectives such as "far-right" and "populist." If not condemned outright, nationalism is contrasted in our age, of course, with patriotism. The supposed difference being that the latter is supposedly less toxic – a patriot loves his country – while a nationalist loves his country to the detriment of other countries. Yet it is the older word, "patriotism" that Dr. Johnson described as "the last refuge of a scoundrel."[2] Johnson's biographer clarified that "he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak of self-interest."

Just as the two words are sometimes contrasted, and at other times used interchangeably, so it seems that there are two types of nationalism in our age – the type that is considered alarming and the type that finds indifference and even acceptance in the West. The "bad" kind seems to be the love of country of the nations of the West, as individual states or as a wider collective, as in Western Civilization or Western Culture. This is the civilization that long flourished in Europe and its direct offspring (North and South America, Australia) worldwide, that draws on the ancient heritage of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome.

Reading the mainstream media, you would think that the danger is from those who are too much in favor of America or specific European countries. And some of those who raise the alarm about Christian Nationalism seem to be actually talking about any Christian presence in the public square that differs from elite liberal opinion.[3] The "good" kind of nationalism seems to be that which comes from non-Western countries, often bitterly opposed to the West, and transmitted through the rapid growth of diaspora immigrant, often Muslim, populations in the West. The West is awash in nationalism today, but the one that is coddled and treated with a collective shrug is the nationalism of the "anti-West."[4]

Not all nationalisms seem to be created equal. In Europe today, citizens or residents with ties to resolutely chauvinistic states in Turkey, Algeria, Pakistan, and Egypt can be seen to be proudly waving their national symbols at not only sporting events but political ones. Sometimes the two are combined. In early July 2024, Turkish soccer fans not only waved the Turkish flag and made the nationalist Grey Wolf sign at a game in Berlin, they also chanted against (mostly Syrian Arab Muslim) asylum seekers in... Turkey.[5] Leftist political rallies during the most recent French electoral period in June and July of 2024 were awash in foreign flags from Muslim states with a scattering of communist banners; the Tricolour of the French Republic was nowhere to be seen.

Palestinian activists (PFLP-linked Samidoun) promoting Yemeni Houthi Propaganda (July 2024)

But over most of the past year, one nationalism has reigned supreme on the streets of the West, from Los Angeles to Berlin. Its symbols are the Palestinian flag and the Arab keffiyeh headscarf, both symbols of Arab and Palestinian nationalism par excellence. The same symbols which once meant revolution and war in the streets of Amman and Beirut in the 1970s now have a wider appeal. Palestinian nationalism, what one writer has dubbed "the Global Empire of Palestine," is having its moment.[6] Activists in New York City and Philadelphia, carrying the Palestinian banner and with faces hidden by the keffiyeh or a KN95 mask, even burned the American flag on Independence Day. They were "flooding Manhattan," recalling the Hamas terror operation of October 7, the "Al-Aqsa Flood."[7] Wherever they are, pro-Palestine protests are awash in violent antisemitic rhetoric, often coupled with anti-host country (anti-U.S., anti-France, etc.) and anti-police narratives. The rallies have even featured activists for North Korea.[8] And the violence is not limited to words, but often spills over into deeds.[9] Palestine is only one constituent part of that promised Revolution.[10]

Palestinian activists burning the American flag (June 2024)

If manifestations of Palestinian nationalism are prominent, its rival in Jewish or Israeli nationalism, also known as Zionism, is under unprecedented assault in the West. The irony is rich. In the U.S., pro-Israel demonstrations often feature both the Israeli and American flags. The pro-Palestinian rallies only have American flags in order to burn them. In Britain, the ancient Cross of Saint George is derided as a provocative nationalist symbol regarded with suspicion, while an American flag created by Washington in 1775 receives similar opprobrium.[11] Flags from Hamas or Hezbollah get a pass.

Today it seems that actually everyone is a type of nationalist or ideologue – just not the usual suspect with a Western flag or a Christian or Jewish religious symbol. The fifth column nationalism and religious chauvinism of the anti-West, inside the West, has become routinized and protected. The questions for the rest of us are: Will we stand up for ourselves and our own symbols? And: Do we even know who "we" are?

*Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President of MEMRI.


[1], July 4, 2024.


[3], March 15, 2024.

[4], July 8, 2024.

[5], July 6, 2024.

[6], December 19, 2023.

[7], July 4, 2024.

[8] MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 11404, North Korean Rhetoric Gains Support Among Anti-Israel Protestors, June 18, 2024.

[9], June 24, 2024.

[10], July 8, 2024.

[11], May 22, 2024.

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