The right to difference

Amartya Sen, Economics Nobel Prize winner of 1998 and professsor of Trinity College in Cambridge, once complained in a New York Times article about the abuse contained  in American professor Samuel Huntington’s expression “clash of civilizations.”

For Amartya Sen, born in India, it is absurd to label communities that way because it entails denying the plurality of identity signs at the heart of each society. Any civilization can contain different societies and even various cultures. Different communities interact in a civilization with different languages and plural religions and even with antagonistic political and economic systems.

Without building a civilization but rather an Empire that did not last more than two years, the British one did not even have territorial unity because it extended itself through four continents; no language unity either since several dozens were spoken; no religious unity, they went from Protestantism to Buddhism, Islamism or Hinduism; a lack of monetary unity, not even gold; not even an only political form, there were monarchies, republics, principalities, military dictatorships and theocracies; no racial unity because within its borders you could find Eurasians, black, Chinese, Mongolian, Malayan or Polynesian people. The subjection to the British political authority as a link for sovereignty to be effective stuck these people together.

That is why the Society of Nations and the UN have been able to be sovereign, due to their incapacity to “make others comply with what was ordered.”

Amartya Sen departs from a world that he knows well and before which we Westerners manifest an arrogant and dangerous ignorance. To say that India is a Hindi civilization means to forget there are more Muslims in that sub-continent than in any other country in the world, with the exception.

It is impossible to comprehend India’s cultural richness without taking into consideration the profound interactions in terms of art, music, literature and cuisine through the Buddhist, Jainist, Sikh, Parse, Christian, Muslim, Hindi, Jewish, atheist and agnostic religious concepts.

The same abusive simplification is found in the categorization of the “Islamic world.” The Hindi Nobel prize sets as examples the two Muslim emperors in the Mongolian dynasty: Aurangzeb and Akbar, who reigned India. The former was so intransigent a Muslim that he pretended to convert every Hindi to Islam and to charge taxes to non-Muslim people. On the contrary, Akbar was a model of understanding and of pluralism. His court was multi-ethnic and he had proclaimed that “nobody can be persecuted for religious reasons” because the Empire’s vitality and richness lied on its cultural and religious variety.

We could say the same things about “Western Civilization” with its pretended spirit of tolerance and of individual freedom. During Emperor Akbars reign, when he defended religious freedom in Agra, towards 1590, the European Inquisition played havoc in the name of Catholic religion against the prisoners of Protestant, Jewish or humanist thinking.

In 1600, Giordano Bruno was burned alive in the Campo dei Fiori, in the Popes’ Rome for having dared to sustain ideas close to Copernicus that questioned the Biblical version of Creation. Miguel Servet was ordered burned by Calvin in Geneva for his ideas. In 1591, a Scottish woman was burned alive for using a painkiller during birth, contradicting the Biblical mandate: “you shall give birth with pain.” In 1847, when James Young Simpson recommended painkillers for birth pains, the clerics condemned him. Pope Pío XII did not admit until 1956 that the Church didn’t oppose to painless birth anymore.

Harmony’s main hope does not rest on uniformity, but rather on mutual understanding. It is an aggression against plurality in order to perpetuate power to pretend to impose our civilization to other communities.

The saddest and most ignorant thing is that some people invoke divinity in an imaginary decision of “chosen people” (Israel) or the “chosen daughter of the Church” (Castilla, France, England or Portugal) to bless aggressions, conquests, crusades and all sorts of violations to communities’ right to live according their beliefs, their norms and their varied concepts of life.

Justice and a dignified life worth living cannot bloom where there is no freedom.



José Carlos Gª Fajardo
Translated by Carlos Miguélez