"I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers? … or our national anthem." So said Mike Pence, the US vice-president, after walking out of a football match last month — when some players had "taken a knee" during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. The Trump administration’s row with high-profile athletes might seem like an "only in America" moment. But similar arguments about national anthems are taking place in China, India and Europe. These anthem rows are a symptom of a global ideological struggle between nationalists and internationalists. In the US, China and India, the militant defence of national hymns is justified by the new nationalists as simple, healthy patriotism. But a shrill focus on national anthems also has a disturbing side — since it often goes hand in hand with illiberalism at home, and aggression overseas. Earlier this month, China’s National People’s Congress passed a law, making "insulting" the country’s national anthem an offence, punishable...

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