Some Americans are getting hot and bothered over people using the term “Israel firster”. According to them it was invented and popularised by a load of Nazis. Fair enough. I’m cool with it being dumped into the trashcan of linguistic history.
Nonetheless, and while I have no desire to be involved in any arguments where accusations of mixed loyalties are being hurled about because they sound as edifying as iced spam, I feel compelled to note that they’re neither inherently disgraceful or, well – wrong. People are just as or more devoted to other nations or people than the nation and people they live in and with. I’ve no doubt that’s true of some Jewish Americans. I’ve no doubt that’s true of some Arabic Americans. Hell, I’ve no doubt that’s true of some American Americans. Is that arguable? The irony is that people seem most dubious about the mention of this fact at a time when the idea of holding no particular loyalty to the nation of one’s residence or birth is at its least controversial. Lots of people think nationalism is a dirty word. If we accept the notion that some of our fellow citizens aren’t too invested in the wellbeing of our country it’s absurd to say it’s inconceivable that they’d care as or more deeply for another.
I’m not dense. I know that there’s a grim history of citizens facing horrendous treatment for supposed or suspected disloyalty: the Japanese in the United States, for example, or, yes, a lot of Jews at the hands of neo-Nazis. Yet in a world where different people are commingling and different nations are butting into eachother’s interests the notion of mixed loyalties is actually relevant. (A small example: according to leaked cables the government took up the cause of the beleagured Tamils as a lot of refugees were living in marginals.) To assume that somebody is more invested in the wellbeing of the people of their fathers than the people they reside among is unpleasant; reducing them to no more than the bare fact of their ethnicity and cultural heritage. To argue that they’re more invested in that people, or some part of that people, and to support that argument with substantive reasoning, however, can illustrate the simple fact that one’s heritage can, in fact, hold a powerful sway over one’s emotions. Or, indeed, that one’s idiosyncratic prejudices lead one to favour the cause of a nation that’s not one’s own. I’m sure there are Americans and Brits, born and bred, who nonetheless have somehow come to invest their feeling in, say, Chad.