Amartya Sen

Identity and Violence Publication date : May 25, 2007

Rejecting the idea that the Middle East and the West are monolithic, breaking with the notion that there is a “clash” opposing the different blocs, and asserting his Indian intellectual roots as well as his debt to the culture of the West, where he has lived and worked, Amartya Sen examines the illusions surrounding the much-misunderstood concept of identity.
Having witnessed, as a boy, the terrible violence between Muslims and Hindus following Partition, he argues that it is the illusion that we each possess a unique, closed identity that leads to the tensions and violence of today, and, indeed, has done so in the past. Isn’t the world in the process of becoming a federation of religions, cultures and civilisations — categories into which we are all enjoined to fit? Haven’t attempts to put an end to violence remained locked inside this rigid notion of identity? If relations between human beings can be reduced to a “clash between civilizations”, what happens to choice and individual freedom?
Faced with multiculturalism, post-colonialism, fundamentalism, terrorism and globalisation, Sen argues that human freedom — the freedom of individuals to choose their own identity affiliations, beyond camps and blocs, thanks to the diversity of their roots, influences and affinities — may be the only way to combat violence and war.
This is a radical rebuttal of narrow-minded, rigid identities, as well as a serious reflection on how we can go about building a more peaceful world.

“Amartya Sen provides a lucid and convincing critique of current trends in communitarian and culturalist thinking.” Francis Fukuyama

“The rare synthesis of great intellect and total personal involvement combine in Amartya Sen…. One of the few world intellectuals on whom we may rely to make sense of our existential confusion.” Nadine Gordimer

Amartya Sen is the winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics and the inspiration behind the United Nations Development Programme. The author of the influential Development as Freedom, he is one of India’s most eminent and internationally respected intellectuals. For many years the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge University, he is now a professor at Harvard University.