National identity is the pillar of individual affiliation with a state or nation. It is the catalyst that drives us to do our best for the sake of the homeland, including sacrificing our lives in support of a country and protecting its achievements.
Therefore, national identity plays a vital role in guaranteeing the progress, prosperity, security and stability of any country. In the UAE, all people, tribes and clans, whether from the East, West, North or South, integrated following the establishment of the Union. This led to the emergence of a single identity; the UAE identity.
First: The Concept of National Identity
In principle, national identity can be defined as the common characteristics or features that distinguish a group of people. These features are typically derived from the prevailing values, customs and norms that govern society.
National identity can also evolve from a common history or struggle that cultivates belief in a shared destiny.
Although national identity takes shape within the context of the various internal and external developments that any society experiences, its core is fixed, and remains a force that inspires all citizens, ensuring their progress, stability and continuity.
It is a homeland that, in its truest sense, safeguards human dignity, ensures happiness and a decent livelihood for its citizens, who, wherever they go, have pride in belonging to that homeland, which, in turn, is proud of its people
Second: Features of Identity
The identity of any nation encompasses inherent features that interact with one another, culminating in what we can describe as a harmonious entity.
Although the features of identity may differ from one society to another, as a result of the different historical experiences and developments each society or nation witnesses, in general, there are common elements that all communities, nations and peoples share. Some of these elements are:
1. The geographical location where a group naturally exists. This applies whether people inhabit a specific area for a long period of time, or as a result of immigration, for various reasons, that results in a group congregating in a particular area. Geography dictates that people cooperate and work together, developing a shared awareness of belonging to one community. An identity begins to form, distinguishing that group from other communities and nations.
2. The shared history a group of people experiences, such as the common challenges and struggles they face, reinforces the belief that maintaining their interests and existence requires sacrifice for the common good.
3. Shared rights see those of the same national identity enjoy equal rights within laws enacted to serve them all; as opposed to laws that only apply to specific parts of society, which could destroy national identity or at least render it devoid of all content or essence. The same applies to obligations, not just those dictated by law, but those derived from shared customs, traditions and values.
4. Language is one of the most important elements of national identity. Its importance is not limited to simply being a form of communication or interaction between people of the same nation, but also serves as the embodiment of a shared culture. Language produces culture.
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To say that language and culture are two sides of the same coin would not be an overstatement. Accordingly, language and culture are not independent, they are part of the environment in which they coexist and interact. Language constitutes an essential element of national identity.
Therefore, it is not surprising that every country strives to adopt an official language and works to nurture and promote it. Some countries restrict the use of other languages within their boundaries so that the national identity of their people remains intact, preserving its characteristics, and perhaps, uniqueness.
5. A flag that espouses unity is another important element of national identity in any society or country. It becomes a symbol and unique source of identification for all citizens, representing an axis that unifies them in real terms.
It drives them to offer priceless sacrifices to keep the flag flying high, not only in the physical sense of raising it over high buildings or saluting it. They keep the flag flying high in their hearts, honouring the flag wherever they go, prepared to sacrifice their lives so that it continues flying high.
This affirms that a flag is not a mere symbol that can be manipulated to serve narrow interests and false ambitions.
Third: National Identity as the Inspiration to Serve the Homeland
Identity is also an intangible expression of individual existence, origin and belonging. Its true manifestations and credibility are demonstrated through the act of giving. People do not only feel and articulate their love and belonging to their homeland, they also translate it into actions.
Whatever responsibility they assume, they devote all their energy toward serving their homeland and fellow citizens. They prove their devotion to the homeland by making sacrifices, even sacrificing their lives for its sake; their deeds forever remembered in their homeland, with their names eternally engraved in history.
Fourth: The UAE National Identity
Although the UAE was officially established in 1971 by the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in practical terms, UAE identity dates back further.
Over centuries, people of the region forged a collective identity, given their shared geography, religion, customs, traditions and history.
These common features took on a distinct form, following the establishment of the Federation, giving rise to a homeland that embraces all of these features, creating a new national identity embraced by all Emiratis, through which they believe they are one nation sharing the same destiny.
This was conveyed by the Shaikh Zayed when he said: “There is a common destiny. There is not a destiny for one emirate and another destiny for another emirate. There is not a destiny for one individual and a different destiny for others. There is a common destiny, a common concern and a common interest.”
This identity has become a guiding light in confronting challenges and fulfilling the dreams of our forefathers, to achieve the development and progress that would allow people to live in dignity.
It also reinforces loyalty to the homeland and wise leadership, which spares no effort to ensure the happiness of the UAE people, safeguarding their present and future, as well as the future of their children.
Hence, it is natural that loyalty to the homeland is directly linked to allegiance to the leadership.
Fifth: National Identity in Light of Modern Developments
Historically, the concept of national identity was closely related to the geographical borders of a country, or sometimes a group of countries, populated by a group of people that share fundamental characteristics, which predominantly encompass ethnicity or religion.
However, the notion of identity has gradually expanded, due to successive global developments, particularly following the advent of globalisation in the early 1990s and the emergence of new concepts such as ‘global citizenship’.
A so-called global identity has been gradually forged, as people around the world feel they belong to the planet, rather than to a specific geographical area.
Like other national identities in the region and world, the UAE national identity faces many challenges, some of which are unprecedented, especially amid accelerating developments in information technology and the resulting new means of communication that have transformed the world into a small village.
Globalisation has contributed to a change in both the notion and nature of national identity. There is a growing sense that individuals (citizens) who belong to their homeland have ties to people of different identities.
We cannot ignore that globalisation has created what can be called a global society; it has brought openness, allowed for the dissemination of ideas and thought regardless of borders, and developed information technology that resulted in new means of communication and unconventional media.
Yet, globalisation has not managed to shape an alternative identity to national identity.
Despite the enormous changes and shifts that have taken place worldwide, impacting all aspects of life and allowing for unprecedented rapprochement between individuals and peoples; and despite myriad influencing factors associated with major change in the world, the national identity of Emiratis has preserved its original significance connected to the land where we were born and raised, which has been very generous to the UAE people.
It is the basis on which UAE citizens identify themselves and reinforce their loyalty and belonging to their homeland, eventually making choices that serve the ultimate interests of a country that has given them what no other country can offer.
It is a homeland that, in its truest sense, safeguards human dignity, ensures happiness and a decent livelihood for its citizens, who, wherever they go, have pride in belonging to that homeland, which, in turn, is proud of its people.
Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi is a UAE author