The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future

The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future

The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future

The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future


While America is focused on religious militancy and terrorism in the Middle East, democracy has been under siege from religious extremism in another critical part of the world. As Martha Nussbaum reveals in this penetrating look at India today, the forces of the Hindu right pose a disturbing threat to its democratic traditions and secular state.

Since long before the 2002 Gujarat riots--in which nearly two thousand Muslims were killed by Hindu extremists--the power of the Hindu right has been growing, threatening India's hard-won constitutional practices of democracy, tolerance, and religious pluralism. Led politically by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu right has sought the subordination of other religious groups and has directed particular vitriol against Muslims, who are cast as devils in need of purging. The Hindu right seeks to return to a "pure" India, unsullied by alien polluters of other faiths, yet the BJP's defeat in recent elections demonstrates the power that India's pluralism continues to wield. The future, however, is far from secure, and Hindu extremism and exclusivity remain a troubling obstacle to harmony in South Asia.

Nussbaum's long-standing professional relationship with India makes her an excellent guide to its recent history. Ultimately she argues that the greatest threat comes not from a clash between civilizations, as some believe, but from a clash within each of us, as we oscillate between self-protective aggression and the ability to live in the world with others. India's story is a cautionary political tale for all democratic states striving to act responsibly in an increasingly dangerous world.


This is a book about India for an American and European audience. One of its central purposes is to bring to the attention of Americans and Europeans a complex and chilling case of religious violence that does not fit some common stereotypes about the sources of religious violence in today's world. Its second and larger aim is to use this case to study the phenomenon of religious violence and, more specifically, to challenge the popular "clash of civilizations" thesis, notably articulated by Samuel P. Huntington, according to which the world is currently polarized between a Muslim monolith, bent on violence, and the democratic cultures of Europe and North America. India, the third largest Muslim nation in the world (after Indonesia and Pakistan), is far from fitting this pattern. Instead, in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, we find the use of European fascist ideologies by Hindu extremists to justify the murder of innocent Muslim citizens. Through a study of this case, its historical background, and the ideological debates surrounding it, I argue that the real clash is not a civilizational one between "Islam" and "the West," but instead a clash within virtually all modern nations— between people who are prepared to live with others who are different, on terms of equal respect, and those who seek the protection of homogeneity, achieved through the domination of a single religious and ethnic tradition. At a deeper level, the thesis of this book is the Gandhian claim that the real struggle that democracy must wage is a struggle within the individual self, between the urge to dominate and defile the other and a willingness to live respectfully on terms of compassion and equality, with all the vulnerability that such a life entails.

This book about India also suggests a way to see America—both America as it faces outward, relating to a world in which cultures are complex, not simple; and America in relation to itself. Facing outward, it is imperative to see the complexities and internal divisions that . . .

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