This has been getting some attention, which is good because Martha Nussbaum kicks ass. She’s one of my favorites. Perhaps a wee bit of a crush, even.
It’s important to keep in mind that the clash between religion and democracy is unique wherever it happens; there is no single globalized conflict with multiple local instances. What’s happening in Turkey is a different kind of conflict from the conflict in India which is different from what we have going on here in the U.S. which is… and so on. Huntington’s thesis of a “Clash of Civilizations” between our way and their way of doing things is a great framework to use to explore these issues, with only the minor flaw of being falsified by the facts.
But there’s another important point lurking in Nussbaum’s piece:
The real “clash of civilizations” is not between “Islam” and “the West,” but instead within virtually all modern nations — between people who are prepared to live on terms of equal respect with others who are different, and those who seek the protection of homogeneity and the domination of a single “pure” religious and ethnic tradition.
I think this is exactly right. In fact, this single quote says just about everything I could ever want to say, and that redundancy should certainly count as a point in the “Why I Shouldn’t Start a Blog” column.
If there is anything left for me to add, it would just be this: there is no way to simply map this “real ‘clash of civilizations’” onto any of the traditional divides you find here on the net: between Right or Left, between Democrat or Republican, between Christian or Secular, between Hindu or Muslim, between Darwinian or Creationist, between… Despite what my liberal friends say, the forces who are “prepared to live on terms of equal respect with others” are not limited to those who consistently vote Democrat, and likewise, and contrary to what you read on HumanEvents.com, those who “those who seek the protection of homogeneity and the domination of a single … tradition” are not limited to secularists, humanists and Richard Dawkins. Some of the good guys, some of those who work for pluralism and respect, play for the other team; and some of the bad guys, who work towards the absolute exclusion of alternate views, are in our own dugout.
A related point:
At a deeper level, as Gandhi claimed, it is a clash within the individual self, between the urge to dominate and defile the other and a willingness to live respectfully on terms of compassion and equality, with all the vulnerability that such a life entails.
The real clash is on the level of individual psychology, between those who can accept, can feel comfortable working and living with people unlike themselves, and people who — on some level — need cultural, social or ideological uniformity. And people of both kinds can be found in any and every affiliation — perhaps not distributed equally (I think the Unitarian Universalists are probably overwhelmingly accepting, although some might be extra dogmatic about it), but still, examples of each type can be collected everywhere.
But this is good, because we know how to overcome at least some of this psychological inertia, some of this reticence to accept others: education, strong democratic institutions and a strong sphere of public discourse. Of course, there are times when I think these are the vary things we are watching evaporate in front of our eyes under the relentless pressure of American Idol and the corrosive effect of the Internet. So maybe we should worry after all.
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