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Martha Nussbaum and the new religious intolerance

5 July 2012 General 20 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

 (The Guardian)

Her latest book, The New Religious Intolerance, is a vigorous defence of the religious freedom of minorities in the face of post-9/11 Islamophobia. And by minorities she mostly means Muslims. “We see unreasoning fear driving a certain amount of public policy, perhaps more in Europe than in the US,” she explains. And Europe has historical form on all this. “The laws that made it illegal to speak Latin in a church but left it legal to speak Latin in universities were covert forms of persecution – and not very covert at all. And you get that all over Europe. You get that in the Swiss minaret case, where a building that expresses the wish of a religious minority is suddenly illegal; you get it in Germany in those cases where nuns can teach in full habit but a teacher can’t wear a headscarf.”

The reason why the US is better-placed than Europe to deal with its own tendency towards religious intolerance is that “the US has always understood itself to be united around political principles and not around culture, whereas the nations of Europe have a much more traditional conception of nationhood that is connected to romanticism, which thinks of religion and culture as ingredients of nationhood.”

There are, she suggests in the book, three basic principles to hold on to: equal respect for conscience, the importance of self-critical vigilance, and the importance of a sympathetic imagination. The first of these, powerfully understood in the US constitution, enshrines legal protection of views that differ from those of the established majority. The state is obliged to adopt a position of neutrality with respect to matters of individual conscience. All human beings are to be afforded equal dignity – a dignity that extends to the ways in which individuals come to understand life’s ultimate purpose. Conscience and human dignity are inextricably conjoined.

The role of practical philosophy, as Nussbaum understands it, is to bring these basic principles to bear, and thus to flush out the inconsistency that is a characteristic marker of hidden prejudice. The city of Hialeah, Florida may have passed a law making it illegal to kill an animal in a “public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption” ostensibly on the grounds that it was cruel to animals. But the Supreme Court invalidated this law in 1993, arguing that the same sort of killing, often worse, is permitted in using animals for food. Thus cruelty to animals could not be the real reason for the law: instead, it was clearly drafted in such a way as to target religious practices, something about which the state is obliged to be neutral.

Nussbaum adopts the same sort of strategy when it comes to the burqa. Those who associate the burqa with violence against women are often inconsistent, for instance, in not also wanting to ban alcohol, which is strongly associated with violence against women. Even during prohibition, she points out, alcohol was allowed for religious purposes, such as the eucharist. Many argue that the burqa is something forced on women and that the issue is one of choice. Certainly, if physical coercion is involved or threatened, the law must step in. But what of non-physical forms of cultural or community pressure? Yes, says Nussbaum – such as forcing your child to play the piano or dress smartly or to go into accountancy. The strategy of the book is to reveal the inconsistencies and double standards that we apply to minority religious positions and from there to plead for a more sympathetic hearing of those whose worldviews we do not share.

Her personal motivation for this book is hinted at in the preface, where she describes her conversion to Judaism in 1969, following her marriage to Alan Nussbaum, and her 2008 batmitzvah in the KAM Isaiah Israel congregation, in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Hyde Park, just around the corner from the grand mansions of Barack Obama and Louis Farrakhan. Nussbaum’s father refused to come to the wedding. He was, she readily admits, a southern wasp racist, who could not countenance her marrying a Jew. And it is her experience of antisemitism that is at the emotional core of her argument.

“I use the example of antisemitism because I think it is useful to look back to a historical example with some detachment, and we can all admit that mistakes were made. And we can see that the treatment of the Jews was inspired by a kind of concocted fear – so The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is my example – and it has many ingredients in common with fear of Muslims today. What is similar is the demand for a kind of assimilation that extends to dress and ways of life as the condition for full civic equality.”

Growing up in a wasp family, “I knew antisemitism very well from the inside”. Her father, who came from Georgia, “was a southern racist, and these were very deeply ingrained attitudes. He wouldn’t eat a meal with an African American – that sense of physical shrinking, contamination was all over the south.”

The more she talks, the more I begin to think that a great deal of her work is a wrestling with the Christian religion of her father – not least with Christianity’s nervousness about the body in general and sexuality in particular. A more this-worldly religion such as Judaism is perfectly suited to a philosopher who made her name in The Fragility of Goodness by defending the practical ethics of Aristotle over the metaphysical supernaturalism of Plato. There she argued that Plato, in locating the ultimate source of value outside the human realm, was running away from the inherent riskiness of being human by seeking some extra-human anchor for the permanence of the good life. It’s a denial of the intrinsic fragility of goodness, a denial of risk. She agrees with this assessment. “Putting the problems of justice into another world” is the problem she has with Christianity. More recently, however, she has come to a more positive assessment of it. She is full of praise for the Episcopal Church, for the gay bishop Gene Robinson, and its former presiding bishop, Frank Griswold, whom she knew as a teenager in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. “Our Episcopal Church has come a very long way as a force for social progress.” But it was while working with the poor in India that she came to see the way in which the Christian teaching that all are made in the image and likeness of God can become a powerful political force for good.

I remind her of an intriguing footnote in “Love’s Knowledge” in which she wonders whether Christianity is right that to describe a God who is perfect is also to describe a God that is subject to risk and mortality. Isn’t the Incarnation the supreme expression of God’s needing to be mortal in order to manifest a fuller ranger of virtues? “It’s always been intriguing to me,” she admits, “the loveability of mortality.” “I just saw Wagner’s Ring at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and that’s a huge theme there too. Brünnhilde is playful and powerful, but she isn’t really lovable in a deep sense until she becomes human and assumes that vulnerability.”

Read the complete article…

Original post: Martha Nussbaum and the new religious intolerance


  1. Perhaps, if she had analysed the situation of religious minorities in muslim countries, it would have occured to her that muslims (compared to christians in muslim countries) live like in religious paradises.I am tired of hearing all those tales of muslims being discriminated in european countries, while nobody shows any interest in the situation of christians, jews, hindus and buddhists in predominantly muslim countries and areas, where the issue is all too often not discrimination but survival!

  2. She is one of those philosophical types that could talk herself into anything. Wouldn’t be surprised if she moves on to another religion eventually. People like her used to dither about the nazis until they were shipped off to concentration camps wondering what happened.

  3. Muslims can complain all they want, but the fact is that they have MORE rights in Europe than in the Muslim world. They also have more rights in non-Muslim countries than Christians have in the Muslim world.

  4. This type of lefty person usually has their head tilted in their photos. Can’t hold their head straight.

    Name of the game to gripe and sue the kuffar. Just another technique of annoying the unbeliever. Where’s my footbath, my prayer break. They never demanded these things in the past, it is part of the new culture wars.

    Wah! They look at me funny…

  5. It’s the new boogie man to support the empires thirst for wealth and war.

  6. Name of the game to gripe and sue the kuffar. Just another technique of annoying the unbeliever. Where’s my footbath, my prayer break. They never demanded these things in the past, it is part of the new culture wars.

    Wah! They look at me funny…

    Yup so give me my prayer break & foot bath. America love or leave it 🙂

    Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of l964 (“Title VII”) prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment. Title VII also requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee, unless to do so would create an undue hardship upon the employer. This means that:

    ■Employers may not treat employees more or less favorably because of their religion.
    ■Employees cannot be required to participate—or refrain from participating—in a religious activity as a condition of employment.
    ■Employers must reasonably accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.
    ■Employers must take steps to prevent religious harassment of their employees.
    ■Employers may not retaliate against employees for asserting rights under Title VII
    So give me my

  7. Reasonable accommodation… unless to do so would create an undue hardship on the employer… now that is an open statement.

  8. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of l964 ….. terrible law. wait is this in the koran. for someone who hates western culture and it’s violent and intolerant nature, how is it now you quote western law? oh i know, “there is no compulsion in religion”….lol. so in turkey give me my cross, or saudi arabia give me my rosery, or in afghanistan give me my buddha.

    from the religion of peace. from your GOD


    in honor of the remastering of “pretty hate machine”:

    “Terrible Lie”

    hey God
    why are you doing this to me?
    am i not living up to what i’m supposed to be?
    why am i seething with this animosity?
    hey God
    i think you owe me a great big apology.

    terrible lie
    terrible lie
    terrible lie
    terrible lie

    hey God
    i really don’t know what you mean.
    seems like salvation come only in our dreams.
    i feel my hatred grow all the more extreme.
    hey God
    can this world really be as sad as it seems?

    terrible lie
    terrible lie
    terrible lie
    terrible lie

    don’t take it away from me.
    i need someone to hold on to.
    don’t take it away from me.
    i need someone to hold on to.

    hey God
    there’s nothing left for me to hide.
    i lost my ignorance, security and pride.
    i’m all alone in a world you must despise.
    hey God
    i believed your promises, your promises and lies.

    terrible lie
    terrible lie
    terrible lie
    terrible lie

    you made me throw it all away.
    my morals left to decay.
    how many you betray.
    you’ve taken everything.

    terrible lie.
    my head is filled with disease.
    my skin is begging you please.
    i’m on my hands and knees.
    i want so much to believe.

    i need someone to hold on to.
    i need someone to hold on to.
    i need someone i need someone.
    i need someone to hold on to.
    i give you everything.
    my sweet everything.
    hey God
    i really don’t know who i am.
    in this world of piss

    it is much better with the music. that’s nine inch nails, for you unfamiliar. one of the great albums of the 80s….

  9. You know how flaky our laws are. we might decide to do away with any or all.

  10. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of l964 ….. terrible law. wait is this in the koran. for someone who hates western culture and it’s violent and intolerant nature, how is it now you quote western law? oh i know, “there is no compulsion in religion”….lol. so in turkey give me my cross, or saudi arabia give me my rosery, or in afghanistan give me my buddha.

    from the religion of peace. from your GOD

    If you have a law in your country that says I have the right to practice the one and only religion of Allah then guess what I’ll use to my advantage. dont like change the law.

  11. There is no compulsion in religion”
    [al-Baqarah 2:256]

    Praise be to Allaah.

    The scholars explained that these verses, and other similar verses, have to do with those from whom the jizyah may be taken, such as Jews, Christians and Magians (Zoroastrians). They are not to be forced, rather they are to be given the choice between becoming Muslim or paying the jizyah.

    Other scholars said that this applied in the beginning, but was subsequently abrogated by Allaah’s command to fight and wage jihad. So whoever refuses to enter Islam should be fought when the Muslims are able to fight, until they either enter Islam or pay the jizyah if they are among the people who may pay jizyah. The kuffaar should be compelled to enter Islam if they are not people from whom the jizyah may be taken, because that will lead to their happiness and salvation in this world and in the Hereafter. Obliging a person to adhere to the truth in which is guidance and happiness is better for him than falsehood. Just as a person may be forced to do the duty that he owes to other people even if that is by means of imprisonment or beating, so forcing the kaafirs to believe in Allaah alone and enter into the religion of Islam is more important and more essential, because this will lead to their happiness in this world and in the Hereafter. This applies unless they are People of the Book, i.e., Jews and Christians, or Magians, because Islam says that these three groups may be given the choice: they may enter Islam or they may pay the jizyah and feel themselves subdued.

  12. Some of the scholars are of the view that others may also be given the choice between Islam and jizyah, but the most correct view is that no others should be given this choice, rather these three groups are the only ones who may be given the choice, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) fought the kuffaar in the Arabian Peninsula and he only accepted their becoming Muslim. And Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

    “But if they repent [by rejecting Shirk (polytheism) and accept Islamic Monotheism] and perform As-Salaah (Iqaamat-as-Salaah), and give Zakaah, then leave their way free. Verily, Allaah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful”

    [al-Tawbah 9:5]

    He did not say, “if they pay the jizyah”. The Jews, Christians and Magians are to be asked to enter Islam; if they refuse then they should be asked to pay the jizyah. If they refuse to pay the jizyah then the Muslims must fight them if they are able to do so. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

    “Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allaah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allaah and His Messenger (Muhammad), (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued”

  13. [al-Tawbah 9:29]

    And it was proven that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) accepted the jizyah from the Magians, but it was not proven that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) or his companions (may Allaah be pleased with them) accepted the jizyah from anyone except the three groups mentioned above.

    The basic principle concerning that is the words of Allaah (interpretation of the meaning):

    “And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism, i.e. worshipping others besides Allaah), and the religion (worship) will all be for Allaah Alone [in the whole of the world]”

    [al-Anfaal 8:39]

    “Then when the Sacred Months (the 1st, 7th, 11th, and 12th months of the Islamic calendar) have passed, then kill the Mushrikoon (see V.2:105) wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in each and every ambush. But if they repent [by rejecting Shirk (polytheism) and accept Islamic Monotheism] and perform As-Salaah (Iqaamat-as-Salaah), and give Zakaah, then leave their way free. Verily, Allaah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful”

    [al-Tawbah 9:5]

    This verse is known as Ayat al-Sayf (the verse of the sword).

    These and similar verses abrogate the verses which say that there is no compulsion to become Muslim.

    And Allaah is the Source of strength.

  14. Mike you need some help. This song or poem you posted you Will be accountable for on your judgment day. I invite you the recognize that thier is nothing worthy of worship except the one and only God Allah and to recognize his last and final messenger Muhammad peace be upon him. Go get a Quran go find person of knowledgeand become Muslim

  15. So, S3, you’re telling us that it is compulsory to become a muslim. Without compulsion there is no islam.

    “Lead to their happiness in this world and the hereafter?”

    Let the muslims first demonstrate their happiness in this world. It is absurd to keep claiming perfection of system without proof.

    Is there going to be a huge sunni-shia blowup? A grand demo of happiness and perfection.

    Meanwhile just keep beating up women who aren’t dressed properly and murdering minorities who have the temerity to believe something different.

    I think your only sacrament is violence.

  16. Back in the oldie days violence and harrasment may have inspired mass conversion, but not today.

  17. s3,

    you are a good muslim. thanks for making my point for me. pray for me. your god will surely throw me into the lake of fire for all eternity.

    “Go get a Quran go find person of knowledgeand become Muslim” i got a koran. but mine, muhammad asad’s translation and explaination claims there is no such thing as arbogation. go figure?

    actually don’t worry about me. i got a plan. tell me what you think. i’m going to grab up like 200 slaves. then i’ll free one ever 3 months. should be able to get all my great sins forgiven, don’t you think?

    here’s a guy you will like.


  18. [8.12] When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.

    but s3, i worship john the baptist. shouldn’t i be alright. well maybe not. i won’t pay your tax.

    Sabians rule. lol.

    you didn’tlike my nine inch nails? how about some ministry. speaking of fire. i think muhammad wuold have liked the 90s, and a good mosh pit.


    Will these dreams still follow me,
    Out of dark obscurity?
    Cant you see it up in the sky
    As it kicks you in the face and says you die
    You never have the answers
    And now you tell me the facts of life
    I really couldn’t be bothered with you
    Get out of my face and watch me die
    Burning inside!Burning inside!

    Absolution and a frozen room
    Are dreams of men below
    I try to grab it but the touch is hot
    The mirrors collapses, but the image may not
    I’m scared of darkness in a light
    I scare myself cause I know I’m right
    I see the evil in you’re savage eye
    As it cuts right through the sky
    Burning inside!Burning inside!Burning inside!Burning inside!Burning
    Inside!Burning inside!Burning inside!Burning inside!

    Calling a mantra with a blade in the skin
    For the demons within
    I feel the pain is the death and decay
    But the lesson never fades away
    Too little shadows, turning away
    Another man through the window pane
    Another slave and a victim of fate
    Another lesson in hate
    Burning inside! burning inside!burning inside!burning inside!burning
    Inside!burning inside!burning inside!burning inside!

  19. Burning inside? Take a Tums.

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