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The Post-National Mirage

MADRID – The German philosopher Jürgen Habermas once defined our times as “the age of post-national identity.” Try convincing Russian President Vladimir Putin of that.

Indeed, the great paradox of the current era of globalization is that the quest for homogeneity has been accompanied by a longing for ethnic and religious roots. What Albert Einstein considered a “malignant fantasy” remains a potent force even in united Europe, where regional nationalism and xenophobic nativism have not come close to disappearing.

In the Balkan wars of the 1990’s, communities that had shared the same landscapes for centuries, and individuals who grew up together and went to the same schools, fought one another ferociously. Identity, to use a Freudian expression, was reduced to the narcissism of minor differences.

Nationalism is essentially a modern political creation wrapped in the mantle of a common history and shared memories. But a nation has frequently been a group of people who lie collectively about their distant past, a past that is often – too often – rewritten to suit the needs of the present. If Samson was a Hebrew hero, his nemesis Delilah must have been a Palestinian.