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
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
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
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
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.
Carlos Gª Fajardo
Translated by Carlos Miguélez