Nowruz and Patriotism

By: Younus Negah

Now that Nawroz is here, I am reflecting on the significance of this ancient festival in our national identity and how it can be used to cultivate patriotism among the people of Afghanistan. Patriotism is one of our most beloved and frequently used words. Although it is unclear when and how it entered our language, it does not appear to be ancient. It is fresh yet mature, like Ahmad Zahir and Awalmir’s songs, Hashim’s tabla, Bahawudeen’s tanbur, Ulfat or Ashqari’s poems, Maimanagi’s paintings, and Katib’s book. It has a Persian composition, but is not used in Mashhad, Shiraz, and Samarkand. In Kunduz, Maimana, Nimroz, Nuristan, and Nangarhar, it is echoed in Pashto, Uzbeki, Nuristani, Balochi, and Turkmen languages. The word is likely connected to the long struggle of the inhabitants of this land to protect their homeland. A patriot is more passionate than a citizen and more resonant than a compatriot. Patriotism does not involve the presence of the government, taxes, or mutual relations, but does maintain ownership and equality. If only words could act as a mirror, so that all these patriotic words could influence our behavior.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Despite all the systematic efforts to shape the homeland and contemporary patriotism since the era of Shir Ali Khan, there are still profound differences between us. These differences mainly concern the elements of the shared national identity. As a result, we experience terrible political ups and downs due to a lack of understanding. It is important to note that the lack of agreement does not mean the absence of homeland and national symbols. The course of history and geopolitical pressures over the centuries have separated us, mixed us up, brought us together, and finally placed us in a land with a specific border, name, passport, and political reputation. This land is called Afghanistan, and, as in other contemporary countries, politicians, urban elites, scholars, and nationalists have tried to introduce a common political, cultural, and social identity. However, it is impossible to create a common identity without relying on existing political, historical, cultural, and natural materials. Therefore, by referring to the assets of the people of this land, the politicians and elites of Afghanistan have chosen elements and tools such as the media, government, and pulpit to promote themselves.

The people did not have a direct influence on the major political decisions, but they provided the decision-makers and missionaries with the necessary resources to carry out their work. This is how the people’s capacity and resources have been reflected in the formation of our official and political identity. The number of people knowledgeable in political concepts and trends increased at the start of the 20th century, and by the time of independence in 1919, there was a notable presence of such politicians and cultural figures in government institutions in terms of both quantity and quality. When they reached Afghanistan’s culture, history, and society to use symbols to shape the national identity, they found values that had been established over hundreds or even thousands of years through the country’s contact with Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. Religion was a key factor that connected the majority of the inhabitants of this land, and so Islam and Hanafi religion were incorporated into the laws, system, and administration as part of Afghan identity.

Language was another essential factor in authentication. In the past, Farsi was the language of business and administration, while Pashto was the language of a powerful political and economic groups. As a result, Pashto and Farsi were seen as components of the national identity of Afghans. Furthermore, they were connected to nature and the land, as evidenced by symbols, poems, songs, and political declarations that highlighted mountains, Marco Polo sheep, camels, horses, Karakul sheep, and wheat. Cultural transformations, including music, also occurred. Old instruments, compositions, and songs were blended with modern melodies, poems, politics, and skills in a way that was distinctly Afghan. Artists drew from the shared heritage of Central Asia, Iran, and India, combined it with western tools and skills, and created works that were not Indian, western, Iranian, Uzbek, or Tajik.

Nainawaz, Zaland, Awalmir, Ahmad Zahir, Mahwash, Sarahang, Parvin, and a multitude of singers and musicians of their caliber illuminated the same environment and left a lasting artistic legacy for the nation. As the evolution that gradually changed the West and the world over the centuries necessitated nations to have national ceremonies and rituals, the statesmen and politicians of our land, in addition to religious holidays, standardized certain traditions, festivities, and cultural symbols that were preserved among the people at the national level and presented them as components of national identity. Buzkashi, Attan, and Nawroz became three essential elements of our national identity. Like music, all three have traditional origins and have become a shared heritage. Buzkashi was once a combination of entertainment and exercise in riding and fighting abilities. Just like modern-day races, warriors, hunters, and horse riders tested and demonstrated their skills.

Despite Buzkashi being the shared heritage of our region, it has distinct features such as native music that set it apart from its counterparts. Attan also links us to other cultures and nations around the world, yet Afghan Attan has unique characteristics that make it stand out. Similarly, Nowruz connects us to the cultures and nations of the region, but also reflects our national characteristics distinctly. The way we celebrate Nawroz has Persian roots, but Afghan fame, and includes activities such as preparing Haft Mewa, celebrating the Guli Surkh festival, performing Attan, playing tanbur, dohol, and ghichak, wearing traditional clothes, and playing Buzkashi, all of which come together to create a combination that is only possible in Afghanistan.

Our patriotism is being questioned and doubted more than ever before these days. We often hear the term “Afghan” and ask ourselves if we are a nation or if we share any values. We have the right to ask these questions because the states have failed to expand beyond a few cities, leaving us in our medieval, tribal, and rural shells when we encountered forty years of war. We can see this in our music, which has been left behind and lost its fame. This is even more evident in other fields, such as poetry, literature, festivals, politics, economy, and governance. Those who look at the current situation and fail to have a clear picture of patriotism often discuss the collapse of the country. When Nawroz is excommunicated, Attan is seen as a tribal value, Persian is seen as foreign, and Buzkashi, Marco polo, Tanbur, and other cultural elements are forgotten, how can one be patriotic? Is it possible to become a patriot with a beard, turban, traditional cloth, wooden toothbrush, mandatory hijab, suicide vests, and yellow barrels? We should ignore the current rulers who promote these values, as they are pests that should be removed from society.

Those who believe that the preservation of this land with a democratic government is the best way to overcome the current crisis must stand and defend the shared values (the raw materials for the creation of such a system and disciplines). Nawroz is one of the most important connections between Afghans. Pashtun politicians and activists who are committed to building a prosperous and democratic Afghanistan should work together in opportunities such as Nawroz to restore national ties. The celebration of Nawroz by those who consider Afghanistan the home of all its inhabitants (with all tendencies and cultures), should focus on the tangible elements of our shared identity rather than chanting empty slogans related to Afghans. Therefore, take part in forming an Afghan democratic identity by honoring and supporting free tribal prejudices. Part of the non-Pashtuns’ criticism of the Afghan identity is their reaction to the skepticism of the Afghan missionaries toward the non-Pashtun elements of national values. To contribute to the modern definition of the Afghan nation, pro-democracy writers, politicians, and progressive Pashtun nationalists must pay attention to this subtlety. If Nawroz, Guli Surkh festival, Haft Mewa, and Buzkashi are not welcomed among Pashtun tribes, the response of non-Pashtuns will be a rejection of government terminologies, Attan, and other standards that have come to the national arena from the Pashtun community. Thus, we must take advantage of Nawroz to strengthen our patriotism.