I’m reading Martha Nussbaum’s new book The New Religious Intolerance, and finding it as exasperating as I expected.
For one thing, there’s what (or who) is not in the index. She puts much of the focus on Islam and what she uncritically calls “Islamophobia,” but who is missing from the index? Maryam. Irshad Manji. Kenan Malik. Taslima. Tarek Fatah. Deeyah.
She argues that “European nations tend to conceive of nationhood and national belonging in ethno-religious and cultural-linguistic terms” [p 94] and that that makes it hard for immigrants to be seen as belonging.
As we’ve seen, there is another option, realized in a wide range of nations around the world: to define national belonging in terms of political ideals, in which immigrants can fully share, despite not sharing the ethnicity, religion, or customs of the majority. [p 95]
That seems to me to be bordering on self-contradictory, unless you add further stipulations about religion and customs (which she does not do).
Look: some tenets of most religions are the opposite of the kinds of political ideals she has in mind (she didn’t suggest Nazi Germany as one example of that kind of nation, nor apartheid South Africa – she did suggest post-apartheid South Africa as one). She means political ideals like equality and universal rights. Well most religions include tenets that rule out equality and universal rights. So do many “customs.” How can it, then, be true that [all] immigrants can [without further ado] fully share in those ideals despite not sharing the customs of the majority?
It’s not that easy. She makes it sound easy, and it’s not easy. It’s not easy and it doesn’t always happen. The demographics of US immigration are handing the Catholic church ever more power; I’m not comfortable saying that, but it’s true. The “good” news is that home-grown religion is reactionary and sexist too, so what the hell, but that doesn’t mean Nussbaum should skate over the tensions quite so fast.