Identity and National Belonging


By Tareq Neman

Identity is a term used in social sciences to express a people’s understanding of their individualism or group affiliation, such as national or cultural identity. Psychologists use this term in order to describe a personal identity, while anthropologists study identity in terms of ethnicity and social movements. In psychology, the relation between the individualized perception of identity, known as ‘ego identity’, and the collection of social roles that a person might play, known as ‘social identity’, leads to a gradual emergence of an ego identity together with the integration with a society and culture, will lead to a stronger sense of identity in general. This process will enable the people to develop and negotiate with the society, meaning of their identity. Moreover, such a relation between the personal and the social perceptions of identity, combined with other common elements in people’s daily lives, will create an understanding of a national identity, which is defined as a sense of belonging to a country or to a nation. Several factors contribute to shaping the national identity: language, history, national consciousness, blood ties, music, culture, cuisine and many other emotional and realistic factors that bind people to each other. Traditions are crucial element of nation’s characteristics and an important component in creating a unified identity of that nation. According to some researchers, traditions can be classified into two paradigms. The first one is pure tradition, rooted in the past and preserved in time; the second one is invented tradition, which can serve political or other purposes, like unification. Therefore, national identity can provide a link between the past and the future, serving as a tie between the collective memory of the national foundation and the future aspiration that motivates the building process of the nation, its development and survival. Identity is a very important factor in the people’s self-identification and their interaction with the surrounding world. Thus, adolescence, as a preparation step for adulthood, plays a great role in developing identity. In order to shape their identity, adolescents start to question and think about values, roles, ideologies, religion, economic and political status, with which they are confronted every day. This explains why identity is a personal concept is hard to be efficiently defined. Family and school are the first institutions that play a role in shaping the person’s national identity because they are responsible for providing a rich source of national ideals, attitudes, values and emotions. In a country where there are different micro-ethnic identities, the concept of citizenship has a great effect on creating one national identity. The concept of citizenship implies that citizens are individuals, whose characteristics revolve around certain cultures and histories. Citizenship, however, is not an identity that is separate from other individual identities of the citizens, a matter that can be called “multicultural citizenship.” Therefore, new legal and political subjects can be created and a unified citizenship, but it does not abolish the identity of the constituent groups. At the same time, a unified national identity does not contradict a harmonious plurality, where each part can be at the same time part of the whole. Such a plurality can have various understandings of what a unified citizenship means, but at the end there is an agreement on the importance of a sustainable dialogue, in which different viewpoints can qualify each other, overlap, synthesize and to be modified in the light of the necessity to coexist; they can hybridize, permit new adjustments to be made, and new conversations to take place. This dialogue leads to a dynamic citizenship and a productive national identity. In this multiculturalism, it does not make any sense to strengthen minorities and ethnic identities, at the expense of the national identity. On the contrary, those diverse identities do not necessarily play a decisive role; instead, within an active national narrative, those identities can express their belonging to a unified national identity in healthy and constructive ways. Individual, minority and ethnic identities can have an emotional narrative, capable to attract individuals. Therefore, a national narrative should be just as attractive to the same individuals. Societies that have no unified harmonized national identities are fractured and torn with conflicts. However, even people who do not share the same race, religion, customs or values, might share parts of all these elements in different percentages and degrees, playing a great role in giving the concepts of solidarity, responsibility and belonging a broader and deeper meaning. National identity is an intangible influential tool that attaches people to the place and time; it is a feeling that connects people to the land. It is not a choice but a destined relation driving everyone to place that national identity above all other identities.


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