The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence and India’s Future – by Martha C. Nussbaum

The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence and India’s Future
Martha C. Nussbaum
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
29.95 euros

Martha C. Nussbaum is Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago. She worked for eight years (1985-93) with the Research Project of the UN World Institute for Development in Helsinki, focusing on the economic and cultural problems of India. She chose India when she wanted to write on human rights norms for women’s development worldwide. She was a consultant with the UN Development Programme’s New Delhi Office and in 2004 was a visiting Professor at the Centre for Political Science at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. She lectured in various parts of India and wrote extensively on India’s legal and constitutional traditions. She travelled so many times to India that it now feels like her second home.

Her relationship with India is intensely political, focussed on issues of social justice, and she has had close contacts with Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1988. Three personalities in particular feature, namely, Nehru, Tagore and Gandhi. In her Preface she states: “This is a book about India for an American and European audience”. But it is not only about India but also about the present clash between Islam and the West.

She writes: “… that the real clash is not a civilisational one between ‘Islam and the West’, but instead a clash 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 protection of homogeneity, achieved through the domination of a single religious and ethnic tradition”.

At a deeper level the thesis of this book is the Gandhian claim that the real struggle that democracy must wage is a struggle within the individual between the urge to dominate and defile the other, and to live respectfully on terms of compassion and equality, with all the vulnerability that such a life entails.

Nussbaum deals extensively with the ethnic/religious pogrom in Gujarat in February-March 2002 when approximately 2,000 Muslims were killed by Hindus. She analyses the Hindu nationalistic personality and finds sufficient hatred within to explain the Gujarat events. Her conclusion – based to a great extent on Gandhi’s thinking – is worth quoting:

“The ability to accept differences – differences of religion, of ethnicity, of race, of sexuality – requires first, the ability to accept something about oneself: that one is not lord of the world, that one is both adult and child, that no all-embracing collectivity will keep one safe from the vicissitudes of life, that others outside oneself have reality. This ability requires, in turn, the cultivation of a moral imagination that sees reality in other human beings, that does not see other human beings as mere instruments of one’s own power or threats to that power.”

She argues, in this highly passionate study, that ultimately the greatest threat comes not from a clash between civilisations, but from a clash within each of us.

Piet Dijkstra

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Categories: Reviews & Arts


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One Comment on “The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence and India’s Future – by Martha C. Nussbaum”

  1. gandhifriends
    December 15, 2008 at 5:13 pm #

    Mark Bennett wrote:

    The review shares many of the flaws of the original work.

    – Martha C. Nussbaum is no expert on India. The reviewers attempt to overstate her credentials as an expert on India are almost comical. Having influential friends, serving on UN committees and doing a short-term visiting professor position in India does NOT make one an expert ON india. How India could ever be considered her “second home” is beyond me. The book itself, which the reviewer has little interest in, shows a person with little or no expertise on India.

    – Martha C. Nussbaum is many things but she is certainly NOT Gandhi nor should anyone claim that she speaks for Gandhi. Her conclusions have nothing whatsoever to do with that person. The centerpiece of the book itself is worship of Tagore and Nussbaum’s strange ideas with regard to Bengal. Plus of course Nehru-bashing out of touch with history and often with reality.

    – “She analyses the Hindu nationalistic personality and finds sufficient hatred within to explain the Gujarat events”. By what method and academic qualifications has Nussbaum acquired this strange ability to analyse personalities. Let alone to find hatred within them? This material was embarrassing enough in the book itself, but to call it out in a review as noteworthy of praise is beyond explanation. What qualifies a professor of Law and Ethics to make amateur psychological evaluations of personalities? How does one take such nonsense and claim that it explains a tragedy like Gujarat?

    The relations between communities in India have evolved over a very long time and they cannot be explained by one event nor can they be used as a model to deal with the problems of the United States. However trendy it is in New York to name-drop Gandhi or Tagore, there is much more to India than that.

    Mark Bennett


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