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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A noble idea, articulated in a truly scholarly fashion
An outstanding contribution to contemporary discourses on the politics of identity, `Identity and Violence - The Illusion of Destiny' is reminiscent of the intellect and wisdom only a scholar of Amartya Sen's stature could offer in the face of this prime challenge of our time.

Recognising the complex and multifaceted nature of our modern identities, Sen argues...
Published on 12 Sep 2008 by Hamaad Djamshidi

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I expected more
I have to admit i expected more of this book. It felt as if Sen had just two points to make which is that (1) people have multiple identities and (2) we should not define people solely in terms of one of those identities, namely religious affiliation.

While both points are true i felt he never really got to the heart of why people prioritise particular...
Published on 12 Jun 2010 by BlueSkiesForever


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I expected more, 12 Jun 2010
I have to admit i expected more of this book. It felt as if Sen had just two points to make which is that (1) people have multiple identities and (2) we should not define people solely in terms of one of those identities, namely religious affiliation.

While both points are true i felt he never really got to the heart of why people prioritise particular identities in certain contexts (place, time, circumstances).

Nor did he seem to understand that an identity constructed in terms of multiple identities is an identity in itself. This is significant because it is this "meta-identity" that Sen himself prioritises. The book seemed to me to be about a perceived threat to Sen's identity rather than about identity, the concept.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A noble idea, articulated in a truly scholarly fashion, 12 Sep 2008
By 
Hamaad Djamshidi "Hamaadonline" (Nottingham, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Hardcover)
An outstanding contribution to contemporary discourses on the politics of identity, `Identity and Violence - The Illusion of Destiny' is reminiscent of the intellect and wisdom only a scholar of Amartya Sen's stature could offer in the face of this prime challenge of our time.

Recognising the complex and multifaceted nature of our modern identities, Sen argues that communitarian and cultural thinking that is the bedrock of conventional communal and collective identities results in a divisive reductionism that is bound to evoke conflict. He then articulates an alternative approach founded on the view that individuals form their identities through their diversely different set of attributes, associations and affiliations. These pluralities of human identity, he believes, cut across each other and work against a sharp separation along one single hardened line of impenetrable division.

In other words, in a strategic alteration of the relation between the core concepts, he challenges our currently dominant paradigm of thinking and offers a richer, more flexible and more comprehensive framework of perceptions. This new approach, he convincingly argues, enables individuals and societies to rise above their divisions; transcend superficial boundaries and barriers; and reach a new understanding that unites mankind, not in spite of, but precisely because of her rich diversity.

Luckily in this work he has used accessible everyday examples throughout the book, making the argument easy to understand for average but enthusiastic readers, in spite of the abstract and complex nature of the subject matter. This very quality also goes a long way in illumination of his thinking process and his trace of thought, clarifying the way for those who welcome the opportunity for a more thorough engagement with scholarly essays.

I am sure such an engagement with this book, provokes a whole set of challenging questions in a well informed, enquiring mind, as well as many sparkles of new ideas in an alert fresh mind.

-----
P. S. I strongly recommend this book to all those who have faced/visited Norman Tebbit's famous cricket test in their personal, professional or intellectual life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Anyone interested in the future of Humanity - needs to read this book!, 5 Nov 2011
Sen brings a refreshingly lucid voice to the ongoing debates centred around the inter-faith and multi-cultural conflicts that threaten all our futures; and in particular their role in fuelling global terrorism through feeding the roots to ever more divisive fundamentalism. Sen takes an altogether more rational and reasoned approach to comprehending the nature of this multi-faceted conundrum, by highlighting the plurality of our identities as the source of hope for increased understanding and empathy between hostile groups. Key to his thesis is the misguided framing of the various conflicts that seems to drive the discourse to date - pointing out where the fault lines lie - in terms of the attempt by hegemonic powers to engender simplistic thinking (be it racial, religious, ethnic or cultural polarization) that focuses on imposing singular overarching identities on our fellow man, (to brainwash the uneducated into seeing a mass of one dimensional stereotypes, that threaten their way of life!) enabling the fundamentalists in the process to de-humanise their imagined enemies in order to incite violence to protect, preserve and uphold what are ultimately spurious conceptual realities, and in so doing diminish all hope of identifying with "supposed enemies" as fellow human beings. His suggestions as to how we can get on a more constructive path to resolving many of the fundamental issues at the heart of all identity based violence, come down to a number of critical distinctions in the way we think about freedom. Ultimately in our increasingly global reality, multiculturalism needs to be distinguished from plural mono-culturalism, in that the latter is only based on tolerance which at best produces only a federation of ethnic communities and is ultimately part of the problem - in contrast true multiculturalism is founded on cultural freedom, which itself is based on reasoned choice for all individuals as to which priorities matter most to them when making life choices associated with their plural identities. We are all after all driven by a multiplicity of motivations (be they economic, cultural, religious, etc..) when making choices, either implicitly or explicitly - and it is the context within which we make those decisions that determines our actions - and as such our freedoms are defined both by the identities we chose and by those imposed upon us - making it all the more critical that we all work toward a world where the plurality of our identities are both respected and understood, not delimited and dismissed.
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4.0 out of 5 stars a great book, 10 Oct 2011
By 
Hugh van der Mandele (Harlingen, Netherlands) - See all my reviews
a really great book by a great man. The answer to Wilders, lePen and their freinds and that little racist/sexist/simplifying corner in everybodys mind.
The one thing it lacked was a strict editor, because at the end it becomes tedious. That cost it a fifth star;
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5.0 out of 5 stars A must read to understand the roots of much of human conflict, and how to avoid it!, 5 Oct 2011
This book makes one supremely important argument very well: to identify ourselves with an identity, no matter which, is both incorrect and dangerous. Most of us don't have ONE identity, but many. If one of them takes excessive precedence over the others, and we therefore identify ourselves mainly with it, we start down a slippery slope of exclusion of those who do not belong to it, even though we may share several of our other identities with them. The step from this process of exclusion to conflict and war is a short one to take.

I am a man who is or has been during his life an Italian citizen, a secular agnostic, a European, has lived many years in the United States, philosphically sceptical and politically cynical, a political scientist, an economics amateur, an international civil servant, a military analyst, a diver, a photographer, a consultant, heterosexual, a defender of civil liberties, an opponent of capital punishment, a believer in universal values, an existentialist, someone who is strongly attracted to Buddhism, a lover of classical music and cool jazz, someone who can't stand heavy metal and sports programs on TV (except the soccer world cup!), pro choice, in favor of birth control, someone who never watches TV, a hater of cigarettes who likes his pipes and a cigar once in a while, gastronomically and enologically curious, and many other things it would be too long to list.

Therefore, I can identify with many categories of mankind indeed. These categories are all like overlapping circles. Together, all of them make my identity, so I find it easy to be tolerant because I can share one or more of the above with most people alive on this planet.

However, if one chooses, or manipulated to choose, a single identity as the only one, or the paramount one, to define oneself, it becomes more difficult to understand those who do not share that particular aspect of our being, even though we may share many others. At a personal level, conflict results, and on a broader scale this all too often means war.

People kill each other because of religion, football, abortion legislation, language, ethnic background and other single issues when one of these becomes their one and only defining identity.

I came away from reading this book thinking perhaps I don't have any defining identity, or perhaps have a sort of "meta identity", the result of my personal blend of disparate identities. This makes me unique yet compatible with all other equally open meta identities of the world... I can be at home anywhere in the world because "me" is made of ideas, practices and backgrounds that come from all over the world. Perhaps I have no roots, but I don't mind, I have wings!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Reasonable and Well-Reasoned Plea for Greater Public Reasoning, 14 Sep 2009
By 
Jonathan Webber (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is an excellent book. It presents a deeply important critique of contemporary global politics clearly, succinctly, and with good humour. Everyone should read it.

Drawing on his impressively broad and detailed knowledge of the cultural history of various parts of the world, as well as the economic and political theory that has made his name (and earned him a Nobel Prize), Sen argues carefully against the current trend for wholly classifying individuals, communities, and regions of the world by one aspect of their culture, usually religion.

Over-emphasising a single identity, he argues, constrains the public reasoning and informed individual decision-making that is at the heart of human well-being. It also creates artificial and seemingly irreconcilable oppositions that degenerate into violence.

It's a shame Sen doesn't attempt to understand just why it is usually religious affiliation, rather than any other, that has this tendency to crowd out other aspects of identity in the worldviews of social theorists, political pundits, policy-makers, and self-styled cultural leaders, or why this identity has proved so potent a crowd-stirrer. I suspect the answer is an inherent tendency of at least some of the major religions to claim such dominance, and would like to know what difference it would make to Sen's view if this is the case.

Relatedly, it would be interesting to hear a lot more about an issue the book only touches upon: what are the pressures that lead us to foreground certain aspects of identity (religion, gender, sexuality) rather than any of the many other categorisations available to us?

But a good book is the start of a discussion, not the end of it. And the world would do well think long and hard about this one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars ... approach to find out the causes of violence with great erudite., 27 Aug 2014
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New approach to find out the causes of violence with great erudite.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Illusion of Great Intellect?, 19 Sep 2007
Mr. Sen's great contribution to the ongoing debate about our response to terrorism is to add to the confusion.

This book makes a simple point: a cat is not a cat because it is also a mother/ father, a baby, a hunter, a prey, a mammal, a quadruped, and various other things. If we consider it only as a cat, we tend to oversimplify things, which is a great tragedy from an intellectual point of view.

Mr. Sen makes this point across many pages, using facts and information selectively, performing marvelous feats of intellectual contortion, and using his argumentative powers with terrific verbosity. Gradually you start getting tired of trying to understand the argument, and take refuge in his intellectual reputation. If Mr. Sen says so, then it must be so.

Unfortunately, it is not so. Mr. Sen himself has used categories and grouped identities repeatedly in his works. An identity is of course a construct, a definition, which helps us work with an idea. If we abandon these, it will become very difficult to handle complex ideas - we will be reduced to monkeys who are great at dealing with percepts, but not with concepts.

What is the point of this book, one may ask? The book may merely be an attempt to deflect attention from radical forms of Islam, which often lead to terrorism. In this apologist work, Mr. Sen does not bother to ask the Muslims as to how do they see themselves, what do they see as their defining identity.

However, Mr. Sen has no love lost for traditional forms of Islam, if practiced in the West, as he carefully spears the multi-culturalists to death with his eyes carefully trained on the Western audience. For instance, according to him, cultural diversity can be enhanced if individuals are 'encouraged' to live as they value living. It is clear to him, however, that young Muslim women are unlikely to value living behind a veil freely, as that would merely constitute 'an automatic endorsement of past traditions'. Mr. Sen fails to see that following traditions may itself be an implicit and integral value in a particular culture.

It is also difficult for Mr. Sen to see that what is considered 'sexual freedom' by a particular society, may be considered as 'sexual perversity' in another society. Indeed in the same society, people would have differing views. In such a situation, who are we to arbiter what is right for a group of people in their personal lives?

He also makes various vacuous arguments. For instance, both Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh were Muslims. Aurangzeb was 'rather intolerant', whereas Dara Shikoh was interested in Hindu Upanishads. Aurangzeb killed Dara Shikoh (in a fight over the throne). Aurangzeb's great-grandfather was also a tolerant Muslim. Therefore, there is great diversity among Muslims. Therefore, it is wrong to treat all Muslims as belonging to the same mindset.

No one would argue against that. However, after making this kind of obvious arguments endlessly, Mr. Sen slyly insinuates that we should not link hundreds of terrorist incidents (where Muslims were directly involved) with radical Muslims, as Muslims have multiple identities, which he has already proved!

It is really quite a pity. One would wish that Mr. Sen could put his great intellect to more worthwhile use, such as helping us understand why people group together in monolithic blocks or get radicalized enough to want to kill others who do not subscribe to their views.

A hardcover edition of this book has also been published by Penguin India under the banner 'Allen Lane'. While the binding of the Penguin edition is good, the typeface is a little difficult to read. Also the paper is almost like newsprint, and tends to absorb ink (if you like making notes in the margins). The book is a slim volume, easy to carry.

Buy this book if you would like to argue it out with Mr. Sen. Or if you want to appear to be politically correct, never mind the cost to your intellect.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it, 21 Dec 2010
Ought to be a must read for everyone. Having said that, there were certain points that seemed to be repeated, maybe to drive the message home.
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6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The dangers of 'plural monoculturalism', 3 Jan 2007
By 
Mr Ulster (Belfast, Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Hardcover)
Sen argues that British policy on multiculturalism is undermining individual freedom (that it represents 'plural monoculturalism'). It represents a classic debate on whether identity is (a) monolithic and (b) ascribed or chosen.

For Sen, it's not the specific identity that matters but its context. Meanwhile, others highlight those individuals who accept their identity as given (not chosen).

Of course, this always gets complicated when a national identity is involved. I agree with Sen's argument, though, that defering community cohesion to the community spokespersons lessens the wider campaign of civil society.
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Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny
Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny by Amartya K. Sen (Hardcover - 3 Aug 2006)
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