Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Clash Within

A very nice interview with Martha Nussbaum: The Clash within - Islam and Hinduism in India, on Australian national radio.

Martha Nussbaum: Yes, I think Gandhi was a tremendous genius of human perception. He understood that often when violence breaks out it's all about men, in particular, being eager to show their manliness by showing that they can bash others, and what he tried to convey--and did successfully convey as long as he lived--to his followers, was that being a real man doesn't mean learning how to bash others, it means learning to stand up with nothing but your naked human dignity around you and endure, if you have to, the blows of others.

Stephen Crittenden: The British novelist Martin Amis has described contemporary Islam as "quivering with male sexual insecurity." You in a way, show that exactly the same process has been operating in Hindu India.

Martha Nussbaum: Yes, and I think it was compounded in this case by the fact that the British really despised the male sexual self-image of Hinduism. They thought that this idea of gods as sensuous, as playful, Krishna lounging around playing his flute, longing for Radha, that all this was contemptible, and that real men ought to be much more tough and aggressive. And, in fact, I talk about a novel of Rabindranath Tagore in which he imagined his Hindu nationalist hero wishing that he was able to rape the woman that he loves and finds he can't do it, and he blames this on his Hindu heritage. He says that he can hear this Hindu flute music in his head and wishes that he could hear instead the music of a British military band. So it's that kind of longing to replace the traditional kind of sensuousness and playfulness with something much more aggressive that proves so dangerous in this case.

On the same program, two interviews about Christianity in the Muslim world. In particular, the insights of an Egyptian Catholic priest, Kahil Samir, S.J., who makes some of the most intelligent observations I have yet heard.

Stephen Crittenden: Well you say in fact that if the Qur'an comes into conflict with human rights, we have no choice, we cannot remain silent, we have to criticise the Qur'an.

Kahil Samir: Right. And I say the same for the Bible. If starting from the Bible, especially from the Old Testament... well you find a lot of things in contradiction with human rights. I must say human rights are the basics. Now I'm not in contradiction with myself. How, I say, I have to interpret the Qur'an for instance, or the Holy Bible, is according to the human rights, starting from equality of persons, man, woman, rich and poor, and so on, Muslims and Christians and atheists, and everybody, putting common ground to humanity. This is the only way to live together. Now Muslims, activists, radical activists, they feel this is totally unacceptable, because [they say] the best document for a society is the Qur'an, because the best religion, as they read in the Qur'an, but they misinterpret it, the best community says the Qur'an, you are the best community.

Both these discussions touch on that same point of religious maturity. The former is overall optimistic despite the somewhat bleak phenomenon of Hindu nationalism in India, the latter, pessimistic.

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