If the 19th and 20th centuries were dominated by the power of the nation state, the 21st looks set to become a century dominated by inter-governmental, inter-continental and global agreements and alliances. A nations head of state is no longer answerable simply to his domestic electorate, but increasingly to international pressures and opinions.
As borders between countries, especially in Europe, become little more than lines drawn on maps, and as it becomes increasingly difficult to define individual nationality after mass post-war immigration and emigration, the idea of global citizenship should be looking more and more desirable. After all, if you are sharing a language, a currency, a Parliament and possibly in the future a Constitution, is it really relevant that on your passport you are identified as French or Belgian? We are all citizens of the world now. Previous centuries have been marred by wars or national division. It should follow then that without nation state domination, the new century should be one of peace.
Except that already that utopia is looking threatened and even unattainable. Less than 18 months in to the new dawn, we have witnessed violence, war, terror and mass murder across the globe: India, Afghanistan, Africa, the USA, the Balkan States, the Middle East. Few areas of the world have emerged unscathed. Why is it still happening if according to popular belief the world has shrunk and we are part of a global community?
No doubt philosophers and political commentators could offer up a hundred explanations. My own opinion is that these atrocities are due to the continued dominance of religion in all societies. I should underline perhaps that my thoughts are not the consequence of any dislike or mistrust of any particular religion; more the observations of someone without traditional religious beliefs who stands outside the packed religious arena, seeing and noting the consequences of those beliefs.
Religion existed long before the creation of nation states and, as we are now realising, has a staying power that far outlasts national divisions. Our politicians have been at pains to point out recently we are all British; Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist. And yet, we are still divided as a country. If it is not our nationality that divides us, it can only be our religion and her close relatives class and colour.
Elsewhere, how many French Jews felt as French as their Catholic neighbours during the Vichy regime? Today, how many young men and women of Algerian descent living along the Mediterranean coast feel truly French when they see that support for the Front National has increased once again?
The history of mankind has always been dominated by division and conflict conflict that aimed to protect those same divisions. It seems to be in our nature to identity and highlight difference instead of embracing diversity. The nation state was an artificial division created by power hungry politicians in previous years. The consequences of creating another line of division have been extreme. You only have to look at the continuous and unabated problems in Africa to understand the extent of the danger of adding to natural divisions with artificial ones. Current conflict in the Middle East stems, in simplistic terms (the complexities are not for this article), from political division. The Balkan nightmare is yet another example.
All these consequences of national division have one thing in common; in political terms divisions can be of the highest authority but for the people concerned that ancient divide of religion will always hold more sway.
If I were asked to label myself I would say first British (being of Scottish, English and Welsh descent) and secondly European. I have no strong religious convictions. A young male British Asian, however, might be more likely to label himself Muslim above all else. Current news events have highlighted the problems this can lead to. As international alliances become more common and thus the power of individual nation states diminishes, the loyalties of individual people seem to be increasingly tied to religious groups.
Our world leaders seem to believe, or hope, that todays crises can be overcome by ever closer integration between countries and international treaties and agreements. Perhaps they, and we who consider ourselves to be citizens of the world, should admit that the loss of nation states will not automatically create global identity It will simply reveal the full force of the power of religious divide that we have attempted to subdue through political divisions but that has, in reality and out of view of most, grown in stature and influence while we were all busy concerning ourselves with yet more political summits.
Global identity seems as far off as ever. Perhaps it is actually a goal too far and we should look back at history to remind ourselves that, far from forging bonds with others, mankind thrives on creating micro-communities with which to connect itself. The dominance of religious communities today is simply an example of human natures traditional tendencies.