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Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy Paperback – June 1, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sharansky compellingly argues that distinct group identities within a culture are an essential part of a successful democracy and that attempts to bleach out or deny identity can have catastrophic results. Much of his argument is shaped and funneled through his experience as a political prisoner in the Soviet gulags and later as a citizen and activist in Israel. Though one is inclined to ask if Sharansky means anything more with his usage of identity than religion, he still makes clear points about contemporary Jewish and Muslim identity. His most intriguing discussions center on the postidentity crisis that many of the developed nations find themselves facing. Stefan Rudnicki's deep voice enables a stronger foreboding tone for Sharansky's words. His light use of accents for quotes provides context without exaggeration. Most important, Rudnicki patiently works through the text with shifting emphasis and pauses to allow for listener understanding during the more cerebral elements of Sharansky's writings. A Perseus hardcover. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; Reprint edition (June 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586487035
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586487034
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,039,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Allen Roth on June 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Natan Sharansky's latest book, Defending Identity, is a compelling defense of the national and cultural characteristics of people everywhere. At a time when the Nation-State is giving way to international, regional institutions (like the United Nations and The European Union), and the concept of globalization, Sharansky argues that the cultural and religious identities of people are of paramount importance for a civil world.

Some will dismiss his thesis for being out of step with the march of history, but the recent vote of the Irish to reject the proposed Constitution of the European Union argues that there is still quite a bit of life in the "old" idea of people forming groups around entities for reasons other than political ones. It is no secret that the current British Government has refused to put the "constitution" to a vote of a British people because it would lose to maintaining national sovereignty.

Sharansky's previous book The Case For Democracy had a great influence on American foreign policy this book will hopefully also impact the world. Elites tend to underestimate the influence of national, ethnic, and religious differences. Sharansky, based in part on his experiences as a dissident, explains why the elites are wrong, one more time.

The book is informative and provocative. Its worth buying, reading, and discussing.
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Format: Hardcover
Mr. Sharansky has offered us the benefit of his unique life experience and ability to debunk one of life's great sophistries. Like matches are somehow the cause of arson, or poverty is the cause of terrorism, we make the simplistic mistake of linking identity or even nationalism with negativity and try to blur the bright colors of ethnic and cultural diversity into some homogenous fog. He shows us with compelling clarity that within the context of a democratic rule of law that identity is not only valuable and desirable but crucial for the defense of the only form of government that is capable of accommodating diverse interests against the true imperialism and missionary imperative of those who want to destroy it.
We should have gratitude for his insights and encourage its reading to those who are interested in a better understanding of these dynamics and it should be required reading those in leadership positions everywhere.
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Format: Hardcover
The first half of the book covers the period while he was a prisoner of conscience in the Soviet Union. The State sought to control the people by suppressing diversity. The pressure inside the prisons to give in to the interrogators was, in his view, only countered by a strong sense of identity. Sharanksy came to the point of view that the essence of the dissident movement was in a common desire to respect and encourage distinct identities rather than be sublimated by the State. He describes forging alliances between different groups such as Pentecostals, Latvian Nationalist and Zionists based on respect for each others' identities. He also has kind words for the firmness and support of the cause of freedom by President Ronald Reagan.

Of note, Sharansky relates that when he was released the guards told him that he had to leave immediately and in his prison clothes. He refused saying he would only leave in a dignified fashion in normal street clothes - a move copied by the terrorist Samir Kuntar when he was released from an Israeli prison.

The second half of the book covers the period in Israel when Sharansky was in government and twice resigned from a ministerial position. Here too the importance of identity is covered where he sees that Arafat and the Palestinians actively sought to attack Israel's Jewish identity by not only demanding the temple mount but by denying (against all historical evidence) that the 1st and 2nd Temple were in Jerusalem.

I cannot help but feel that this book was heavily influenced by the essay by Ze'ev Maghen, "Imagine: On Love and Lennon" in the book
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Identity without democracy can become fundamentalist and totalitarian. Democracy without identiyt can become superficial and meaningless." Spain is one of those countries that has lost both. We're practically inviting our islamist north-african neibors to come take over. A balcanized peninsula in the making.

But this essay by a former political prisoner of the Soviet gulag, and reborn Jewish Israeli is an eye opener to all the world who has not lost its senses yet, in common-sense, plain language.

A good advice on how to break the cycle of relativism and cultural decadence in the West: the fear of God. Sharansky describes this fear in a way I had never been able to describe myself, and beautifully. You don't have to be a believer to understand it at all. He explains how he became aware of this fear (which, as you should know from the bible, is the beginning of knowledge).

Countries with strong identities (supposing they are also strong democracies) are good "not because of their particular identities but because of their strrong identities, because they each had things that were more important to them than their physical existence." Just as a Christian man can find in another Christian from across the world a brother.

The author's experience in political prison camps in Russia taught him that "those with the strongest identities were the least likely to succumb to tyranny, those who retained a sense of the value of history, of tradition, of community, those who saw a purpose in life beyond life itself proved the ultimate bulwark against Soviet evil." Then comes a description of what Lenin himself called those "useful idiots" in the West, like H.G.Wells or G.B.Shaw, who played into the hands of totalitarian comunism.
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