Patriot games

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2008, 12:00am

Only two types of people would say a passport is proof of patriotism: politicians and those they fool. The difference between the two is clear. Those who are fooled actually believe in what they say. The politicians say it to fool them into believing it. It is easy to fool people by beating the patriotic drum. Who doesn't want to feel like a patriot, to show off one's love of one's country? Most of the time, there's not even a high price to pay. Waving a HK$10 flag at a national event will suffice.

You can then ride the MTR home with your flag and proudly interpret the stolen glances of fellow passengers as proof that they think you are patriotic.

But the true patriots know there's more to patriotism than what is expediently defined by the public mood or political agendas. Regardless of what American President George W. Bush says, Americans are not unpatriotic just because they don't support his Iraq invasion or policy of locking up terror suspects indefinitely. But he fooled enough of them to get re-elected.

And, regardless of what Hitler said, the Jew-slaughtering mobs on Kristallnacht were not patriots. Whatever you may have been led to believe in the past few weeks, giving up a foreign passport does not rocket someone into the ranks of the superpatriots.

Is the mud-soaked volunteer who pulls out an earthquake survivor from the Sichuan rubble less of a patriot if he holds a foreign passport acquired from an early childhood abroad? Would surrendering the passport improve his credentials to save lives? What about the thousands of Chinese-Americans who faced down those who jeered the Olympic torch relay? Was their patriotism second class just because many may have dual nationality?

We are now hearing the argument, more an excuse, that those who hold senior government jobs have a duty to prove they are more patriotic than ordinary people, as if you could go to a store and buy a sliding scale to measure patriotism.

Who is more patriotic - the senior official who gives up his foreign passport or the ordinary soldier who gives his life for his country? Maybe the scale will tell us.

In any case, where is the credible proof that these officials are more prone to double loyalty, that they would misuse sensitive information, that they would perform better with one passport rather than two or that, by giving up their foreign passports, they would suddenly become role models for patriotism? If they are disloyal to, or inclined to betray, Hong Kong, they can just as easily do it with one passport.

A passport is proof of nationality, not a measure of the holder's nationalism. It facilitates ease of travel; it does not provide an easy path to patriotism. We in Hong Kong should know this better than most, given our 1997 experience. Hongkongers originally acquired foreign passports as a convenient escape route but now use them for convenient travel. Allegiance to their adopted countries was never an intention. They enter the mainland with home-return permits, not as foreign nationals. Hongkongers are a practical lot.

Those who fuelled the populist pressure that forced our new political appointees to surrender their foreign passports were driven by politics, not patriotism. We are getting very good at this patriotism game. But we are paying a heavy price.

We in Hong Kong were the ones who used to condemn Beijing for playing the patriotism game. Remember the rabid attacks on people such as Martin Lee Chu-ming, who were called traitors for urging the west to pressure China on human rights and democracy?

Now, some want to prove they are more patriotic than what China demands of Hong Kong. We don't want political appointees with foreign passports even when Beijing doesn't mind. It's a dangerous game because it legitimises the central government's own tactics. We have given Beijing cover to raise the patriotism bar to more easily brand its enemies as traitors. So who has really won in this game? Think about it.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and broadcaster