Saturday, June 23, 2007

Amartya Sen's "Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny"

When Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington released the book “The Clash of Civilization,” I was wondering whether or not he was correct. I was hoping he was wrong because if he was right, then the world’s "civilizations"—Western, Islamic, Hindu, Chinese, etc.—are destined to clash. When terrorists slammed those planes into the World Trade Center in 9/11, my fears about his thesis grew.

Well, Huntington is wrong says Amartya Sen in his latest book “Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny.” Released in 2006, Sen argues that possession of a unique identity is an illusion because in the real world, people define themselves in a variety of ways through class, gender, profession, language, literature, science, music, morals, politics, among many others. Defining people based on a single identity anchored on religion or “civilization” is not only conceptually flawed but dangerous as it sustains violence and ethnic strife, more so when this concept is elevated into high theory (Just like what Huntington did). Anchoring one’s identity on an overarching culture or civilization denies us the possibility of reasoned choices as to how we define ourselves.

Written in deeply philosophical fashion and beautiful prose, Sen overturns the usual stereotypes as the ‘monolithic Middle East” or “the Western Mind” or “Asian values” and provide us a way of attaining peace through the respect of humanity and diversity of others.

No comments: