Samuel Huntington is being threatened. Amartya Sen's heartfelt work Identity And Violence:The Illusion of Destiny mocks at the preposterous onslaugt on human dignity and freedom of the strange vigour of racial and religious identity in many parts of the world. Sen may have tried hard to delegitimise singular identity's debilitating repercussions by overemphasis on the scurrilous resurgence of religious fundamentalism in general, because in a post 9/11 world violence has become synonymous with Islamic terrorism. If the ardent admirer of Gandhi-Nehru secularism had put his energies to demystify the causes behind the sudden aggressive self-assertionon of religious identity undermining rationalism and modernism in the process, the book would have been a more promising and logical account.
The economist must have done a favour by enlightening the readers of the unique role material prosperity plays in combating any kind of violence, but his habitual engagement in debunking the divisiveness of extreme religio-political nationalism that has degenerated into tribalism, robs that extra beauty which otherwise the work would have carried if the intellectual thought of drawing a parlance between poverty and violence, and not just between identity and violence.
The most significant recommendation which the Indian economist-author makes in the book - that of maintaining multiple identities simultaneously - defies sense of objectivenes in ways more than one. Though no one can debase the rationality behind the hedonistic view of identifying oneself in a global world, Sen seems to have overlooked the fact that no religious community on this planet sees any problem in maintaining multiple identities - like Muslim, Iraqi, engineer - but the disease lies in one's inability to reconcile one's view of life (especially religio-philosophic) with other's, no matter the other one in question lives in any part of the world. So the Sen code is not spiritual, or normative at large, only because it only teaches one to maintain multiple identities without pontifying as to how one may learn to cultivate that broadmindedness.
There is enough scope for violence even if one maintains multiple identities, because one still has goals, and there exists movements and groups as long as one has ideals and goals- discussed in a rationalistic approach by Sen under the term 'Destiny'. A naxalite or a communist is the best instance. A spiritualist or a Gandhian is the best exception. Multiplicity, no doubt, reduces the chances of violence, but it is no better than its ignorant cousin (singularity) in some debilitating historical situations. A religious minority may be a linguistic majority, like say a Malayali Jew in Kerala, yet he may be stubborn in defending his Jewish identity when it is disrespected by any quarter of the society. He will not take refuge in his national or any personal identity. Even as an economist Sen may have a vision of the best suited economic policy and he would prioritise the desire to see it realised, no matter however well his other identities are gratified. Though the assortation is not irrational, it lacks a clear solution to identity-based militancy. It is in this respect the brilliant work is yet found wanting.
The work would have been a thorough guide to the reader if the author tok pains to dwell on the wise sermon of Krishna in 'Gita' regarding the role played by identities in an individual's day-to-day life without the samecoming in the way of showing compassion towards other creatures. All in all, Sen doesn't detail on the nature of identity, that makes the reader ask for more from the Nobel Laureate's overrated work.