False Dichotomies

The latest New York Review of Books includes a thoughtful review by Pankaj Mishra of Martha Nussbaum’s new book, The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future. Here’s a snippet:

Describing the BJP’s quest for a culturally homogeneous Hindu nation-state, Nussbaum wishes to introduce her Western readers to “a complex and chilling case of religious violence that does not fit some common stereotypes about the sources of religious violence in today’s world.” Nussbaum claims that “most Americans are still inclined to believe that religious extremism in the developing world is entirely a Muslim matter.” She hints that at least part of this myopia must be blamed on Samuel Huntington’s hugely influential “clash of civilizations” argument, which led many to believe that the world is “currently polarized between a Muslim monolith, bent on violence, and the democratic cultures of Europe and North America.”

Nussbaum points out that India, a democracy with the third-largest Muslim population in the world, doesn’t fit Huntington’s theory of a clash between civilizations. The real clash exists

within virtually all modern nations —between people who are prepared to live with others who are different, on terms of equal respect, and those who seek the… domination of a single religious and ethnic tradition.

She describes how Indian voters angered by the BJP’s pro-rich economic policies and anti-Muslim violence voted it out of power in general elections in 2004. Detailing the general Indian revulsion against the violence in Gujarat [during which Hindu mobs lynched 2,000 Muslims] and the search for justice by its victims, she highlights the “ability of well-informed citizens to turn against religious nationalism and to rally behind the values of pluralism and equality.”

I’m going to have to get a copy of Nussbaum’s book when I return to the U.S. in the summer. You can read Mishra’s review in full here.