How important is it for us to continue building a strong sense of national identity in today’s globalized world?
This 500-word essay was a submission piece for the author’s social science module in university. It explores the role of national identity and globalization in the local context of Singapore.
The advent of globalization has undoubtedly proliferated connectivity among people, but it has also deepened many rifts within nations of diverse ethnicities. This divide remains evident as secessionist movements continue to plague many regions across the world. As a country that prides itself on stability and diversity, it is paramount for Singapore to continue its emphasis on national identity today.
Some critics have argued that since state hegemony can never be fully achieved, a strong sense of national identity can lead to the disjuncture of different demographic groups. This sentiment is founded in the fear of extremism, where too strong of a national identity can ultimately give rise to fascism. In the 1930s, the fervent identification of Germans with the Nazi ideology brought chaos and despair to most of Europe. The remnants of this dark past still exist today as a stark reminder of how national identity can be a double-edged sword.
While extremism is always a cause of concern, a moderate approach to building national identity can do wonders for a nation. A strong national identity prevents the exploitation of differences among racial and religious groups. When citizens align themselves to a common identity, it reduces the likelihood of indoctrination or espionage by foreign adversaries. Singapore’s focus on multiculturalism is an instance of how such shared experiences can act as a bulwark against the allure of “home-grown” terrorism (Vasu 2008). Perhaps the most damning evidence stems from the lack thereof, as Singapore continues to enjoy safety and security despite Southeast Asia’s status as a “Second Front” in the fight against terrorism. Therefore, the continued emphasis on national identity deters nefarious entities while ensuring the physical security of a nation.
Aside from maintaining the integrity of a state, a strong national identity also facilitates economic development. As “an imagined political community” (Anderson 1983), the nation acts as an extended family unit of every citizen. Hence, a strong national identity would translate into loyalty towards the nation and improved social capital. This allows rapid economic growth as members of the community can cooperate regardless of differences. One common identity in Singapore lies in how nationalism and cosmopolitanism exist symbiotically. In many cases, the idea of cosmopolitan openness is embedded within the national identity of what it means to be a Singaporean (Thian 2019). This unique relationship may seem oxymoronic at first, but its successful implementation has made Singapore one of the best places to practice business and finance. Thus, building a strong national identity remains crucial for the progress of the nation.
The role of national identity if not properly monitored in today’s globalized world may very well be a double-barrelled shotgun with one barrel bent backward. While it is important to build a strong sense of national identity, the same emphasis should be applied to prevent over-glorification as it creates a bigoted environment. In brief, a prudent approach will allow Singapore to continue leveraging national identity to create shared experiences among diverse communities to foster stability and progress.