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In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong Paperback – March 25, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

In the Name of Identity is as close to summer reading as philosophy gets. It is a personal, sometimes even intimate, account of identity-in-the-world, not a treatise on the thorny metaphysics of identity. A novelist by trade, Amin Maalouf is a fluid writer, and he is aided by Barbara Bray's award-winning translation. His aim is to illuminate the roots of violence and hatred, which he sees in tribalistic forms of identity. He argues that our convictions and notions of identity--whether cultural, religious, national, or ethnic--are socially habituated and frequently dangerous. We'd give them up, he argues, if we thought more closely about them.

Though the book has been heralded as radical and surprising, Maalouf essentially espouses an Enlightenment sensibility, a faith in the brotherhood of man. He is a believer in progress, arguing that "the wind of globalisation, while it could lead us to disaster, could also lead us to success." In fact, he envisions a globalized world in which our local identities are subordinated to a broader "allegiance to the human community itself." Maalouf wants us to retain our distinctiveness, but he wants it subsumed under the nave of common understanding. --Eric de Place --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"A life spent writing has taught me to be wary of words. Those that seem clearest are often the most treacherous. `Identity' is one of those false friends," begins this compelling, provocative and persuasive study of the dangers of personal, religious, ethnic and national identities. Arguing that these identities allow and often encourage people to engage in horrific acts of violence upon those with different identities, Maalouf offers a philosophical exploration of what a culture without entrenched identities would be like. Lebanese by birth, Maalouf is a journalist and award-winning novelist (Rock of Tanious) who has lived in France for 25 years. Writing from a position of multiple identities ("I am posed between two countries, two or three languages, and several cultural traditions"), he asserts that many people are in similar situations. With intelligence, wit and moral fortitude, Maalouf accessibly and eloquently addresses such complicated issues as how we judge religious traditions that have embraced violence and brutality; modern manifestations of "otherness"; how language facilitates nationalism; and the contradiction between stark identity-based political conflicts and how the same identity-based cultures can be shared by different groups. Maalouf does not na‹vely demand that personal identities be dismissed, but suggests a number of ways in which identities can remain intact and might form not a "meaningless sham equality" but "rather the acceptance of a multiplicity of allegiances as all equally legitimate." Utopian realism at its finest, Maalouf's thesis has a slim but vital potential to be realized. This is an important addition to contemporary literature on diversity, nationalism, race and international politics.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142002577
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142002575
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #104,296 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Robert Rouillard on February 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Amin Maalouf begins this series of essays tautologically. At first, Maalouf is telling me that I am special and so is everyone else. I almost put away "The Nature of Identity." His theme, then, took on complexity and subtlety. So do wade through the preliminaries, you will be repaid for your patience.
Of course, we are all singular. Of course, we all have shifting identities, depending on our context; answering the question, "Who needs an education about what I represent today?"
We are introduced to the fact that Mr. Maalouf is a Lebanese Christian who speaks Arabic, and now lives in France. Then Mr. Maalouf begins bringing things home.
In this age we are very concerned about the nature of Islam, and how we should regard its prospects in the world. Maalouf establishes that Islam is not, by nature, a religion for radicals. Islam tolerated alternative views of the world in a way unknown to medieval and renaissance Christianity (which butchered its dissidents). Islam was the midwife of modernism for chrissakes. Through Islam we of Western European Christian descent received the cannon of greek philosophy, the foundation of our philosophical world view.
What then is the force radicalizing Islam, Maalouf asks. What is the force leading to radicalization in almost every other form of identity, environmentalism, Christianity, Maalouf asks. Globalization, he answers.
Consistently Maalouf reminds us that people are changed by and change their religion, their identity, their allegiances. We are constantly interacting with our social context. Radicalism is on the rise because all groups, from Timothy McVeigh to Osama bin Laden, feel overwhelmed by the rising tide of what appears an unstoppable globalization. We all, in some sense, feel helpless before this tide.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By "ask500" on April 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
When I first moved to study in Canada I was fascinated by its diversity and multiculturalism. Being a culture enthusiast, I loved asking people about their identity and experience living in Canada. One common question I used to ask was: "Do you feel more Canadian or Indian/Arab/Latino/Russian/or whatever their ethnicity was)?" The length and depth of their answers would vary. But they all had one thing in common and that was some sort of an identity dilemma. I rarely got any definite answers, I heard a lot of "umm's" and it seemed to me that many people either did not know the answer or were unable to articulate it. Or, as I found out from reading the book, my question was possibly fundamentally flawed. Amin Maalouf begins his book by expressing his concern over the political correctness or rather incorrectness of the question that I have been asking many people. He says: "How many times, since I left Lebanon in 1967 to live in France, have people asked me, with the best intentions in the world, whether I felt "more French" or "more Lebanese." Questions like that bothered him because they require a choice to be made while he firmly believes that identity CANNOT be compartmentalized. "You can't divide it up into halves or thirds or any other separate segments. I haven't got several identities: I've got just one, made up of many components in a mixture that is unique just to me, just as other people's identity is unique to them as individuals." Amin Maalouf is Arab, French, Lebanese, Catholic, and a mixture of other "components" and he rejects to slice and dice himself up into multiple identities or to be put in situations that would require him to choose an either/or. Why do people always feel obliged to project one component of their identity over the other(s)?Read more ›
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jannie M. Dresser on May 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Maalouf's message is that as long as individuals identify with only one element of a more complex and various ethnic and national heritage, we are going to face "gang-wars" on a national and international scale.
How many of us are truly "pure bred"? In America, I don't think many are. To identify with only one part of one's cultural background is dishonest and keeps many people hooked in to an identity of victimization; according to Maalouf, people tend to align themselves with the heritage that has been oppressed rather than the heritage that was built by the conqueror and oppressor.
I praise Maalouf for taking the hard task of accepting himself as "mixed." When we see we are all "mixed" to one degree or another, we are more likely to find commonality. Beginning with what we have in common, whether bloodlines or interests, languages or personal experiences, we are far more likely to move past the narrow wall of singular racial or ethnic identities.
Mr. Maalouf spends much of the second half of the book in explication of the current crisis in Arab identity that resulted with the rise of European dominance in the 19th and 20th centuries. It's fascinating when you realize how much Arabic cultures contributed to the cultures and accomplishments of the West. While the West fails to acknowledge and extol its Middle Eastern teachers, those in Arabic and Near Eastern cultures all too often fail to see what it is they might learn from the Western world. There is a lot more mixing between the two worlds than we will fess up to.
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