28 Aug Yehudi Menuhin: On Nationalism
By Anjum Altaf
I am reading Yehudi Menuhin’s autobiography (Unfinished Journey) and sharing with readers what appeals to me. These thoughts on nationalism I feel are particularly meaningful for South Asians.
As a musician, well aware that art must have local roots if it is to convey universal meaning, I view evidences of cultural difference, even the perhaps insignificant ones I have cited, with approval as well as interest. The yearning to preserve a distinctive culture which sets the Basque against Madrid, the Scot against Westminster, the American Indian against Washington (however vastly these examples differ in degree), wins my sympathy. Undeniably the aspiration is legitimate and worthy. But is it possible, given human nature, to separate good from bad, the wish for cultural autonomy from the wish to impose one’s way of life on one’s neighbours? For me – the product of an upbringing not exclusively Jewish, not exclusively American, nor exclusively any other thing; one who has lived in many parts of the world and established ties with Asians, Africans and Europeans, as well as his beloved Americans; one who has spent his life bridging gaps – exclusivity as expressed in nationalism is not enough. I find it stifling. I also find it dangerous, for it carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. The first premise of existence is interdependence – not at the level of human organization alone, but throughout the cycle of activity embracing man and microbe, the worm and the swallow, in a complex of interlocking functions, all moving to the complementary rhythms of life and death. My ideal world would express its interdependence in a burning desire for understanding, a true sympathy, a readiness to pardon, which would sacrifice no strength, spare neither itself nor its enemies, but through its even-handed honesty would win universal trust – like a good doctor who is rigorous with his patients while healing all alike, saint or sinner, enemy or friend.
I understand the appeal of exclusivity, even the need for it. But it is not my way.