Times Higher Education Reviews Nussbaum's New Book
A young girl with a serene expression, her hair covered by a pale yellow scarf, her small hands folded together, turns her face towards us. This could so easily be an image from a Vermeer painting. Except that this "girl with a yellow veil" is a Muslim. She is part of a group of veiled women who seem to have their heads lowered in prayer.
The girl with a yellow veil graces the cover of Martha Nussbaum's latest book. Not long ago, images of veiled Muslim women raised questions because they were a central part of orientalist discourse on Islam and the West. Now, because European and American Muslims are equal citizens, it is important to develop alternative ways to think about Islam in the West. Nussbaum, a professor of law and ethics who has also made important scholarly contributions to the study of Greek and Roman philosophy, draws on the ancients and the moderns to develop one alternative paradigm. The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age is an excellent book that deserves a wide readership. Nussbaum has provided liberal societies with a road map out of fear into a more inclusive society, and she has put us all - Muslims and non-Muslims - in her debt.
Although her road map is complex, it is presented in a coherent structure set out in seven chapters: an analysis of the politics of fear that includes readings of Aristotle and John Stuart Mill (chapter two); a pluralist account of religious freedom (chapter three); the distortions caused by racism and majoritarian exceptionalism (chapter four); and the need for empathy in politics and ethics (chapter five). The final chapter tests these ideas by applying them to the recent Park51 "Ground Zero" mosque controversy.