How can the concept of a national identity both unite and divide people?How can the concept of a national identity both unite and divide people?

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A strong sense of national identity can unite people by making a group of individuals feel like part of a cohesive whole. For example, after the terrorists attacks on 9/11, this country experienced the strongest sense of national identity I have personally ever witnessed. Every car had a flag attached to the antenna, every shop had a collection jar to help fellow Americans, and so on. A strong sense of national identity helped American heal from our wounds. We were all proud to be Americans.


However, all of this good feeling had a downside. People who were NOT Americans, especially Arabs, were immediately suspect, an "Us-versus-Them" mentality quickly set in. Mosques were vandalized, threats were made, and a sense of foreboding and prejudice against anyone who looks to be Middle Eastern continues to this day.


accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Clearly in our globalised world where pretty much every nation has a number of immigrants in it, national identity is going to be a hot potato that will simultaneously unite and divide those people that make up a nation. That is because any issue that unites Americans together, shall we say, is going to automatically make non-Americans feel left out. I always find it interesting whenever the Football World Cup (proper football, not American football) is on, as suddenly you have people supporting different nations as they play each other. Something that should unite nations, actually paradoxically divides them, as supporters of England are ranged against citizens of Britain who may have other loyalties.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
This is a great question! Patriotism is a complex process. Being part of a nationality involves giving up some of yourself. A country's self concept is constantly changing and evolving, and that process creates conflict. For example, for decades that United States has kept the moral high ground in human rights. But when we were founded we had slaves. Our concept changed again during the Bush Administration, when we passed the Patriot Act, refused the Geneva Convention and legalized torture. Not everyone agrees with these redefinitions of US national identity.
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Post #2 has it exactly right.  Whenever a people come to feel that they have something in common, they tend to exclude people who do not share that trait.  This tendency can have very bad consequences.  The most obvious historical instance of such consequences is the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust.  The German people were encouraged to feel a sense of national identity and that identity helped make them strong.  At the same time, though, it allowed the to see Jews as so completely "other" that they did not deserve to live.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would add, too, that even people who are American sometimes feel like outcasts in their own country.  They are embarrassed when their neighbors put out American flags or signs which have the Ten Commandments printed on them. They may be disgruntled if they belong to a minority group which does not "fit in" with the majority. 

It goes along with the saying, "One can feel very alone in a crowd."   

lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a country like the United States which is made up of such a diverse group of people finding a true national identity without offending some group of people is sometimes difficult. As mentioned above, we usually see that in times of crisis we are able to unite under one identity for a period of time.

sylviacroft | Student

I meant to draw attention to this point: In every country we Americans (including our military) travel to we are not welcomed with open arms to bring our culture also. We cannot openly carry Bibles or share our faith. Our women must be careful not to offend by the clothing we wear. We must watch them burn our flag and our Bible without complaint. Yet an accidental burning of a Koran merits killing our young men and women serving in the military as well as blowing up our buildings and kidnapping Americans.

sylviacroft | Student

The original idea of "e pluribus unum" - from many one, has now been perverted to the idea of taking one and breaking it into many pieces giving each to one group or another.  Rather than the melting pot we once were, where people came to America with the intent to become Americans and to give their loyalty to this country, people come here to demand a piece of America that can be changed to take on the characteristics of the culture they are fleeing. Does that make any sense? The very things that ruined the country of their origins that now make it unbearable for them to live there, they demand we not only tolerate, but fully embrace to the point that Americans who chose to live like Americans must always give up their rights to uphold those of the immigrant.

Multiculturalism has never worked without extreme problems or even civil war in any country it has been tried in.

"Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" Amos 3:3.  or how about this one?

"Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand." Matthew 12:25  Guess who said that? Jesus Christ.

Look around you. America is in the process of great upheaval. According to many, even civil war. The Department of Homeland Security is preparing for it. What will we be left with when it's all over?

shizza123 | Student

all nations have differents types of people.....

india for example has hindus and muslims.

they were pretty strong about India being their country which is why at the end they united and drove the britishers out of india....

but since they had religions (obviously) and customs, the muslims wanted different parts, where there would only be a majority of muslims. this is why they fought.... and this is wht the partition occured. this division is the reason as to why Pakistan came into existence.

the division of north and south america may have been similar.... :)