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The Disruptive Power of Ethnic Nationalism

The backlash against globalization has brought a resurgence of the old-fashioned politics of blood and belonging. Unless countries devise a new way to balance liberal democratic values and people’s craving for a sense of belonging, they will end up paving a path to disaster.

TEL AVIV – This summer, Israel passed a controversial new “nation-state law” that asserted that “the right [to exercise] national self-determination” is “unique to the Jewish people” and established Hebrew as Israel’s official language, downgrading Arabic to a “special status.” But the drive to impose a homogeneous identity on a diverse society is hardly unique to Israel. On the contrary, it can be seen across the Western world – and it does not bode well for peace.

In the last few decades of rapid globalization, nationalism never really left, but it did take a backseat to hopes of greater economic prosperity. Yet the recent backlash against globalization – triggered not only by economic insecurity and inequality, but also by fears of social and demographic change – has brought a resurgence of old-fashioned ethnic nationalism.

This trend is reflected in and reinforced by what some experts call a “memory boom” or “commemorative fever”: the proliferation of museums, memorials, heritage sites, and other features of public space emphasizing links with local identities and history. Rather than celebrating diversity, people are increasingly eager to embrace a particular and exclusive identity.

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