Identity and Violence

date Sep 29, 2007
authors Amartya Sen
reading time 2 mins
  • Book Title: Identity and Violence - The Illusion of Destiny
  • Author: Amartya Sen
  • About the Author: 1998 Economics Nobel Laureate
  • Year written/published: 2006
  • My Comments: Great insight!
  • Contents page:
  1.  The Violence of Illusion
  2. Making Sense of Identity
  3. Civilisational Confinement
  4. Religious Affiliations and Muslim History
  5. West and Anti-West
  6. Culture and Captivity
  7. Globalisation and Voice
  8. Multiculturism and Freedom
  9. Freedom to Think

Some extracts: How similar are we all…

Oscar Wilde made the enigmatic claim, “Most people are other people”… … defended his view with considerable cogency: “Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” We are indeed influenced to an amazing extent by people with whom we identify. Actively promoted sectarian hatreds can spread like wildfire… … … With suitable instigation, a fostered sense of identity with one group of people can be made into powerful weapon to brutalise another.


Increasing reliance of religion-based classification of the people opf the world also tends to made the Western response to global terrorism and conflict peculiarly ham-handed. Respect for “other people” is shown by praising their religious books, rather than by taking note of the many-sided involvements and achievements, in nonreligious as well as religious fields, of different people in a globally interactive world.


The conflict between the priorities and demands of different identities can be significant both for contrasting and more non-contrasting categories. It is not so much that a person has to deny one identity to give priority to another, but rather that a person with plural identities has to decide, in case of conflict, on a relative importance of the different identities for the particular decision in question. Reasoning and scrutiny can thus play a major role both in the specification of identities and in thinking through the relative strengths of their respective claims.

Global roots of democracy

Similarly, democracy is often seen as a quintessentially Western idea which is alien to the non-western world. That civilisational simplification has received some encouragement by the US led coalition in establishing a democratic system of government in Iraq.

Schools, reasoning and faith

Rather than reducing existing state0financed faith based schools, actually adding other to them - Muslims schools, Hindu schools, the Sikh schools to pre-existing Christian ones 0 can have the effect of reducing the role of reasoning which the children may have the opportunity to cultivate and use. And this is happening at a time when there is a great need for broadening the horizon of understanding of other people and other groups, and when the ability to undertake reason decision making is of particular importance.