North Africa, West Asia

The thin line between pride and shame

Professing national pride or hiding in shame are two extremes like black and white and do not fit in a moderate and multihued world. عربي

Ahmed Zakaria
29 March 2016
John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images. All rights reserved.

John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images. All rights reserved.

The Tramp: a citizen of the world

When international actor Charlie Chaplin was asked about his “national pride”, he answered that he felt a sense of belonging to his homeland, Britain, and that he would sacrifice for Britain if it were to face danger. But he couldn’t be vocal about this pride, because if his country turned to Nazism, he would leave it without flinching.

When someone asked him why he did not acquire American citizenship, he answered that he believed he was a citizen of the world.

Charles Spencer Chaplin was a unique British man who offered the world cinematic masterpieces that remain spectacular, as their scenes mix smiles with tears to reflect the sincerest human emotions. They are silent works in which eyes take center stage.

Chaplin, aka the Tramp, garnered international fame, not only because of his multiple talents in producing films, composing music and using his body beautifully to get the message through, but also because he resembled us. Not once while watching his movies did I feel that he was a westerner. I always felt that Chaplin expressed our simple lives, filled with troubles and rare moments of happiness which we seize on with abandon.

Chaplin and Gandhi

Photo12/UIG via Getty Images. All rights reserved.

Photo12/UIG via Getty Images. All rights reserved. Perhaps, because Chaplin felt the tragedies of the world and did not believe that much set him apart from the Indians in their suffering under the British occupation, he was friends with Gandhi. Even though they only met briefly in London in 1931, their encounter united two international citizens fighting for a supreme cause — human dignity and freedom. Gandhi was not overcome by a feeling of shame upon meeting a man from the occupation country. And, Chaplin did not gloat over his country’s occupation of India for years.

Our shame and our pride

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images. All rights reserved.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images. All rights reserved.

I believe that this image depicts the extreme chaos in our Arab countries. We find ourselves torn between national pride amounting to chauvinism and shame stooping to self-destruction — a struggle of radical feelings and disturbed thoughts.

In 2011, I was proud to be Egyptian. I wore those popular shirts on which was written, “I am Egyptian.” Perhaps this stemmed from a feeling of void or from an underlying lack because I had never felt such national pride before. Today, I feel ashamed when asked about my homeland.

Growing up in Egypt, we thought it was the center of the universe. It was the sun around which planets orbited. Without it, the world would be lost.

For us, Egyptian cinema constituted the bedrock, and all other cinematic scenes were insignificant branches of it. The Egyptian accent was the authentic one, and all other Arab dialects were far from Fus’ha [Modern Standard Arabic]. Without Egypt, Arab nationalism would be crushed, and the world would not find a guiding light if Egypt was effaced in the wake of a cosmic incident, like a comet strike or a volcanic eruption.

Over recent years, I have tried to tame myself again; to shelter myself from excessive pride and constant shame. A country is not anyone’s property. When I was born, I did not carry my country with me from the other world.

I could have been born on the other side of the world, in Japan for instance, and it would have been home for me. Perhaps, then, I wouldn’t have known anything about Egypt.

Our geographic notion of a country is a delusory business. The same borders occur the wide world over, despite being divided over politics, religion, race and extremism.

Inferiority of other creatures

Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images. All rights reserved.

Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images. All rights reserved. It is obviously unfair to say that this is a humans’ world. In fact, other creatures are more “civilized” in dealing with the universe. Ever since human life began, humans have been shedding blood and occupying lands. When they decided to rebuild what was destroyed, they killed what they considered inferior. They cut trees and slaughtered animals. We have always used the term “animals” to describe inferiority, but animals are more dignified than we are. An animal has never preyed on another for racial, religious or power considerations. Even when such images were relayed in legends, the purpose was to project the humans’ world, as they are the ugliest creatures on earth.

The shame and pride of the Oscars

Jean Baptiste Lacroix/AFP/Getty Images. All rights reserved.

Jean Baptiste Lacroix/AFP/Getty Images. All rights reserved. A few days ago, an Egyptian correspondent covered the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles and asked the international actor Leonardo Di Caprio how it felt to win an Oscar. Di Caprio said it was an overwhelming feeling. But, he was clearly surprised by the pointless question. The video of the correspondent went viral on social media. Reactions varied: some were proud of the first Egyptian correspondent to cover the Oscars — which I honestly do not understand — and others were ashamed at her question, which they saw as the worst representation of Egypt and its people! Why do we represent one country or another? Why don’t we represent ourselves only? Why do we think we own our country when in fact we only have some words, memories and mental images of it?

Black and white

Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images. All rights reserved.

Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images. All rights reserved.

Gandhi died, leaving behind a clear impression that he wanted to free humans from the shackles of others who believed themselves more powerful and superior. As we all know, Gandhi was an Indian man, but he wanted to elevate humans’ value above all. Here lies power in the balance. If pride and dignity are in one arm and shame is in the other, then it is humanity that sets the balance between both.

The Egyptian correspondent thought her Egyptian citizenship would make her superior to the other attendees, but she did not realize that it was a delusion in her head that had no effect on reality. Her national pride was a fake.

Chaplin understood the game from the start. Professing national pride or hiding in shame are two extremes, like black and white, and do not fit into a moderate and multihued world.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData