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The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future [Hardcover]

Martha C. Nussbaum

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Book Description

June 14 2007

While America is focused on religious militancy and terrorism in the Middle East, democracy has been under siege from religious extremism in another critical part of the world. As Martha Nussbaum reveals in this penetrating look at India today, the forces of the Hindu right pose a disturbing threat to its democratic traditions and secular state.

Since long before the 2002 Gujarat riots--in which nearly two thousand Muslims were killed by Hindu extremists--the power of the Hindu right has been growing, threatening India's hard-won constitutional practices of democracy, tolerance, and religious pluralism. Led politically by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu right has sought the subordination of other religious groups and has directed particular vitriol against Muslims, who are cast as devils in need of purging. The Hindu right seeks to return to a "pure" India, unsullied by alien polluters of other faiths, yet the BJP's defeat in recent elections demonstrates the power that India's pluralism continues to wield. The future, however, is far from secure, and Hindu extremism and exclusivity remain a troubling obstacle to harmony in South Asia.

Nussbaum's long-standing professional relationship with India makes her an excellent guide to its recent history. Ultimately she argues that the greatest threat comes not from a clash between civilizations, as some believe, but from a clash within each of us, as we oscillate between self-protective aggression and the ability to live in the world with others. India's story is a cautionary political tale for all democratic states striving to act responsibly in an increasingly dangerous world.

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This is an extraordinarily interesting book on a very difficult subject. Martha Nussbaum's commanding familiarity with culturally related political issues across the world, past and present, combines immensely fruitfully here with her involvement and understanding of India. (Amartya Sen, Harvard University)

This impressive and important book grapples with the problems and consequences of religious extremism. Nussbaum's brilliant analysis of the controversy over religion and democracy in India effortlessly moves between political history, philosophy, and law, to give us a powerful and compelling narrative of the political world of the Hindu Right. It is a must-read for all those interested in understanding the dangers of religious extremism and of what preserves democracy and pluralism in the face of tensions and conflicts within. (Zoya Hasan, Jawaharlal Nehru University)

Preoccupation with the purported clash between civilizations has masked the clash within democracies. This passionate, engaged book has much to teach an American audience about the vulnerability and resilience of Indian democracy. Perhaps it will also stimulate reflections about similar clashes within American democracy. (Amrita Basu, Amherst College)

Once more, Martha Nussbaum has applied her profound philosophical intelligence to a challenging question in the practical world. In thinking through the dangers raised by the Hindu right, she teaches us a great deal about the dangers of dogmatism everywhere. (K. Anthony Appiah, Princeton University)

Few contemporary philosophers in the West have reckoned with India's complex experience of democracy; and even fewer have engaged with it as vigorously as [Nussbaum] does in The Clash Within...[A] strongly felt and stimulating book. (Pankaj Mishra New York Review of Books 2007-06-28)

Martha Nussbaum's The Clash Within presents a powerful analysis of the Hindu Right in contemporary India that is insightful and penetrating...She weaves a rich tapestry of how Hindu thought has been reshaped and distorted...She is correct to say "the clash within" that we find in India lies everywhere...The Clash Within is another remarkable achievement from the most exciting political philosopher of our age. I cannot recommend it highly enough. (Thom Brooks Times Higher Education Supplement 2007-06-29)

Nussbaum is an informed outsider looking in...Nussbaum takes one incident--the 2002 Gujarat riots that followed the burning of a train carrying Hindu activists in Godhra--and builds a grand narrative of Hindu nationalism...Nussbaum sees lessons in India's democratic achievements for the rest of the world, particularly America. Her thesis supports Ghandi's claim that "the real struggle that democracy must wage is the struggle 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." (Salil Tripathi New Statesman 2007-08-06)

Nussbaum sounds a wake-up call to those who may have been unaware of the ugly nature of events in India in recent times, and the hate-filled ideology that informs them...As further evidence of the undemocratic danger that India now faces, Nussbaum turns to the attempt of the Hindu Right to hijack history and rewrite the Indian past to demonize Muslims and glorify Hindus. (David Arnold Times Literary Supplement 2007-08-24)

At a time when India is claiming more of the world's attention, the philosopher Nussbaum offers an informatively rich and sophisticated analysis of democracy and religious extremism there. (Lucian W. Pye Foreign Affairs 2007-09-01)

The Clash Within has a salutary message for crusading secularists as well as for lovers of India. (David Goodall The Tablet 2007-08-25)

In The Clash Within, a passionate look at the crisis of democracy and religious violence in India, Martha Nussbaum provides a detailed reconstruction of the genocide she says occurred in Gujarat. She shows that the violence had been planned well in advance, and she chronicles the failures of the state to prosecute the accused Hindu-right activists or their mentors in the Bharatiya Janata Party...Nussbaum says the main purpose of her book is to inform European and American readers about 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." She does that well. (Basharat Peer The Nation 2007-11-19)

This is a humanistic and psychological study that traces the [Hindu] Right's rage to reaction against both the Muslim and British conquests of India, which humiliated and shamed Hindus...Instead of the "clash of civilizations," Nussbaum sees a clash within each culture, but her book could serve as a Huntington case study of the roots and rise of Hindutva (Hinduness). (M. G. Roskin Choice 2007-10-01)

Martha Nussbaum is a distinguished American philosopher, whose formidable corpus of academic work is the more remarkable for her enlisting of philosophy in the service of her commitment to a more just and rights-respecting world. Nussbaum is also a passionate Indophile who has collaborated, with Amartya Sen, on the capabilities approach to human, and especially women’s, development. This book—written chiefly for an American audience—is an expression of her deep personal engagement with the challenges of pluralism in Indian democracy. (Niraja Gopal Jayal Outlook India 2007-07-16)

The Clash Within is a book of and for our time. It will profoundly change the way we think about religio-national violence and about pluralism and democracy. Nussbaum’s persuasive tour de force makes clear that cultural diversity is a source of innovation and creativity and that a national identity that is layered and multiple, rather than exclusive or exclusionary, leads to cosmopolitan thinking and cultural innovation. Her command of the ethical, legal and sociopolitical problems that a political reading of religion poses for a multicultural plural democracy makes this work essential reading for anyone interested in the role of religion and the future of the nation-state. , (Tulasi Srinivas Harvard Divinity Bulletin 2008-01-01)

In an age of academic specialization, [Nussbaum] is one of the few modern renaissance scholars...The Clash Within should be read not only by those interested in India's present and future, but by anyone seeking to understand the processes by which even the most complex and sophisticated societies can navigate their way into a morass of violent intolerance. (Irfan Yusuf Weekend Australian 2008-08-16)

About the Author

Martha C. Nussbaum is Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago.

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Amazon.com: 2.8 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A bit surprised Dec 2 2008
By Paul Scott - Published on Amazon.com
I am a bit surprised by all of the misplaced animosity towards this book. I think Nussbaum is a very intelligent human being and I agree whole heartedly with most of her positions. I don't think she is portraying Hindus in any particular way. She clearly points out an intellectual trend that is on the rise (actually being revived) in India. I'm giving the book two stars only because I think the book is poorly written and seems to be a rehash of stuff other people have written before and written better. You can tell that her opinions are all second hand and I was truly convinced of this when she commented on the 600 hour Television series Ramayana which I am pretty sure she never watched (It seems unlikely to me that she would). Not to mention the series didn't seem at all full of any sort of propaganda (I unfortunately saw all of it). She could have done so much more such as looked more carefully at the rise of the movement, looked at it in a historical context, or many other ways. But then again I don't think she is exactly an expert on India and is perhaps poorly qualified to do so. The section on the constitution (her expertise) is very good however but certainly not worth the price of this book. I suggest one go elsewhere for infirmation on this subject.
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An unpleasant read Oct. 25 2010
By Wayne A. - Published on Amazon.com
Given the credentials of the author I expected something a bit more professional, objective, and informative--scholarly, if you will--especially since there is not much material on the subject of disturbing social and political reactionary trends in the Indian/Hindu world. I also expected much better writing.

Instead, this is an extremely subjective and overly personalized account characterized by inadequately worked out ideas and unconvincing psychological and anthropological speculations. This leads me to believe the author was frequently working outside of her areas of expertise. In an earlier attempt at a review of this book (it's hard to review something that has too many problems)I expressed the belief that she was viewing the non-Western world through the fog of the American Culture War, which is a peculiar and modern form of Eurocentrism. Her repeated attempts to suggest links between what is happening in India and what is happening in the United States are forced and, incredibly, even naive. They are also one-sided.

My sense is that the author is trapped in the cognitively dissonant political/intellectual world where the Progressive agenda is constantly battling with Multiculturalist program. She doesn't seem to understand that the Progressive agenda is often seen as the true Western Cultural Imperialism in socially conservative developing nations. She tries to resolve this by replacing the idea of Clash of Civilizations with, effectively internal Culture Wars. However, if the internal Culture War--the Clash Within--is between Progressives working largely with Western ideas of rights, and traditionalists of various extremes, then we're right back to a Clash of Civilizations. This is so obvious it's amazing the author didn't catch it. But the author's thinking is probably so compartmentalized and, again, Eurocentric, she probably has a very large blind spot.

All in all an extremely unsatisfying book. I learned more about the current problems with American academia than I did about modern India.
55 of 86 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable book June 21 2007
By Aaron P. Rester - Published on Amazon.com
Having studied Indian history and the Hindutva movement for many years, I must disagree entirely with the first reviewer. Nussbaum's descriptions of the violence in Gujarat, and the state and national government's complicity in it, are well backed-up by official sources, interviews with prominent Indian public figures, and the Sangh Parivar's own texts. Moreover, the point of the book is not to provide a history of this dark incident in India's recent past -- though it does so ably -- but to understand what motivates people to inflict such violence on their own neighbors and countrymen. In doing so, Nussbaum displays a remarkable empathy for Hindutva activists and sympathizers without condoning actions and beliefs that she sees as deplorable. Believing (as did her heroes Tagore and Gandhi) that understanding and caring about one's fellow human beings is essential to a nations's political and ethical well-being, she argues that Gujarat represents "a failure of the moral imagination" that allows humans beings to recognize the humanity of others, and that the furious pace of economic development in India should be matched by the development of humanist ideals that have been abandoned in the last two decades.
29 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very biased book July 26 2007
By Seth J. Frantzman - Published on Amazon.com
This extremely biased book has one message: THe Hindu BJP party of India is a threat to democracy, to women, to history, to Islam and to everything and it alone is responsible for all the ills of India today, for all the communal violence and even for causing Muslim terrorism.

It is interesting that the author does not include Pakistan in this study in a comparison, given the fact that Pakistan have historically so much in common and their partition was artificial in some ways. If Pakistan had been included the authors claim that Hindutva wishes to 'erase' the Muslim history of India would have an interesting parrellel in Pakistan where all history of its pre-Islamic past, its Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist past, have disappeared.

The 'Hindu nationalists' are blamed for causing many more deaths in communal violence than ever took place and in every case where Hindus have been murdered en masse in India, such as a train carrying Hindus to Ayodha that was burned by Muslim mobs, these crimes are ignored by the author and the book claims that these are 'Hindu propoganda' and that the 'fire was most likely caused by accident'. It is interesting this extreme bias, that when thousands of people die in riots, the Hindus die by 'accident' and the Muslims are killed by 'Hindu fascists'.

The claim that democracy is under 'threat' in India does not hold water at all. It was a Congress party leader, Indira Gandhi, who suspended democracy in the 1980s and slaughtered Sikhs, the Hindu party, when it was in power in the 1990s, always relinquished power democratically.

The truth is that this book is based on a western perception of India that has no understanding of Indian history of the 1000 year Mughal-Islamic colonialism that suppressed and enslaved Hinduism in India, and by ignoring this past it is easy to claim the BJP has 'erased' the Muslim history of India, simply because it refuses to glorify the enslavement and colonialism visited on India by outsiders. Oddly Pakistan is simply ignored.

Seth J. Frantzman
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars this highly passionate study Feb. 29 2012
By The Gandhi Foundation - Published on Amazon.com
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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