Nussbaum's 'The New Religious Intolerance' Reviewed in The Hindu

The plank in one’s own eye
Shaikh Mujibur Rehman
The Hindu
July 8, 2013

Martha Nussbaum seeks to explain how politics in Western countries, especially in America and Europe, is increasingly shaped by Islamophobia. Not long ago, Nussbaum, who teaches at the University of Chicago Law School, published a book titled The Clash Within in which she showed how internal religious differences could be sources of great disruption as opposed to the so-called “fault lines of civilization.” As a renowned legal theorist and feminist scholar, she uses intellectual resources from Western philosophy to build up an explanation. She shows deep concern over the growing decline of religious tolerance, undue haste to promulgate laws that perpetuate stereotypes about culture and religious practices, and unwarranted political campaigns and referendum generating enormous anxieties and mistrust about Muslims all over the world.

These issues, according to the author, are a little less problematic in the United States as opposed to Europe, nonetheless with identical adverse consequences. She attributes this difference to the varied notions of nationality that America and Europe practice. Considering that the European notion of nationality is so rooted in the traditional idea of “blood, soil, ethno-linguistic peoplehood, and religion”, people with different looks, culture, and other attributes have found it hard to be part of the elusive homogenous population often seen as a natural pre-requisite for a nation-state.

Politics is widely believed to be a dirty word, yet it is politics that drives the world. But this book is not about the indispensable nature of politics. It is also not about the politics of fear per se, because the politics of hope and emancipation has to be founded on the politics of fear and despair. This book is more specifically about the politics of unfounded fear, where rumours substitute facts, and propaganda determines the value of truth than truth itself. This is more about how Islam has a new face in the Western political imagination, and how the popular perceptions are shaped by mindless propaganda where every aspect of Islamic culture is seen as demonic, and anti- modern. With select cases, Nussbaum examines some of the worst fears constructed by Western elites about Islam in the post- 9/11 world without ever looking around themselves and examining the root cause of the violence and sources of hatred in their own culture and faith.

Martha C. Nussbaum