In a year when an anti-Islam video sparked deadly protests across the Arab world and a spate of violent incidents targeted minority groups in the United States, Martha Nussbaum's new book offered a thoughtful, timely corrective to the divisive dangers of religious intolerance, particularly Islamophobia. Charting its rise and evolution in Europe and the United States since the 9/11 attacks -- from European laws prohibiting burqas in public to the uproar over a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York -- Nussbaum's The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age forcefully defends those whose religious freedoms have recently been circumscribed or attacked.
An author and editor of dozens of books ranging over the big ideas of everything from the Greek classics to feminism, Nussbaum brings a philosopher's mind to an explosive political topic, pinpointing the roots of religious fear as a fundamentally "narcissistic" emotion that dovetails with a "visceral reaction against strangeness." Nussbaum, who converted to Judaism in the 1960s and is the daughter of a Southern Protestant she admits was anti-Semitic and racist, knows religious hatred firsthand. "When it's a minority that dresses differently, that has different customs, people are afraid of that," she explained in an interview this year. "It's easy for them to swallow some paranoid fantasy."
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