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  • Amartya Sen week in London

    by Sunny
    25th July, 2006 at 3:10 am    

    I’m a big fan of Professor Amartya Sen and he is in London all this week giving lectures to promote his new book: Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny. I’m currently reading it (along with a few others) and the first few chapters are very intellectually stimulating.

    I’m told he is speaking at Asia House in London today evening, and is at another event (that I’ve forgotten) on Thursday.

    Tomorrow he will be at the Nehru Centre in London. I’ll be attending this.

    Wed 26 July 7.00 pm Discussion : Identity and Violence : The Illusion of Destiny
    Prof Amartya Sen, Kamalesh Sharma and Tom Bentley

    In this sweeping philosophical work, Amartya Sen proposes that the brutalities are driven as much by confusion as by inescapable hatred. Challenging the reductionist view that people of the world can be partitioned into little boxes in terms of civilizational categories, he draws on history, economics, science, literature, and his own memories of difficult as well as easy times on three continents to present an inspiring vision of a world that can be made to move toward peace as firmly as it has spiraled in recent years toward violence and war.

    Prof Amartya Sen has written several books including Development as Freedom and the Argumentative Indian. He won the 1998 Nobel Prize in economics. Lamont Professor of Economics at Harvard University, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Cambridge, England.

    H E Mr Kamalesh Sharma, High Commissioner of India to the UK, has earlier been Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the UN in New York and to the UN Offices in Geneva, and Ambassador of India to several countries.

    Moderator : Dr Tom Bentley, is the Director of Demos, the independent think tank, since 1999, which has played a leading role in the formation of policy ideas and analysis of government reform over the last decade, also establishing an international profile as an independent source of ideas and innovation across a range of subjects. Tom’s work focuses particularly on democracy and governance, public services and learning.


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    1. Desi Italiana — on 25th July, 2006 at 4:53 am  

      Here is an article titled “What Clash of Civilizations?”. It is adapted from his book “Identity and Violence”:

    2. Kismet Hardy — on 25th July, 2006 at 6:18 am  

      My girlfriend has told me just today that my best friend is being beaten by her boyfriend but I’m not allowed to know because she thinks I’ll torture him which I will but not yet out of respect for my best friend’s wishes and her trust in my girlfriend

      This has made me realise one thing for sure

      The more an individual is at odds with his identity, the more violence he is capable of

      Violent men (and they are always men) don’t turn towards a race or a creed or a gender because he believes those people deserve to be beaten. He does it it because he can’t believe those he percieves to be weaker aren’t fucking up quite as badly as him.

      Sorry if this off-topic but I’m sad and finding it hard to swallow the irony of wanting to deal with the violent little shit by smashing his brains into a soft pulpy mesh of shit

      How would I then deal with my own identity?

    3. Kismet Hardy — on 25th July, 2006 at 6:20 am  

      Ah bollocks, assuming you can be arsed to make sense of the above, it should read “Violent men (and they are always men) don’t turn AGAINST a race or a creed or a gender”

      I’m sorry, it’s late and I’ve been sharpening a baseball bat

    4. Desi Italiana — on 25th July, 2006 at 6:48 am  


      Can’t you call the police and inform them of this situation? You could be an anonymous caller.

    5. Desi Italiana — on 25th July, 2006 at 6:53 am  

      “You could be an anonymous caller.”

      On second thought, I’m not sure this is possible- since they need to write a report, and obviously they must take your name down. You could ask them to not let your best friend and her boyfriend know.

      But they will probably figure out that it was you, though. However, better that than have her put up with abuse.

      And better to call the popo’s rather than sharpening your baseball bat :)

    6. Rakhee — on 25th July, 2006 at 8:14 am  

      Oh dear Kismet - I’m sorry to hear that.

      My advice to you would be get the girl out of that relationship as soon as you can. It may seem harsh now but he will NEVER stop and ultimately it will all end in tears anyway, or worse still, someone getting seriously hurt.

      Maybe the best way forward is to convince your girlfriend to at least allow you to speak to her about it. Try and convince her to get out.

      You’re reaction is natural. Just don’t act on it. Yet.

    7. Katy Newton — on 25th July, 2006 at 8:29 am  

      Kismet, don’t bother phoning the police unless you are actually witnessing an attack - if you aren’t asking them to come and prevent an ongoing crime they won’t accept a complaint from anyone but her whether you give your name or not. You need to work on your friend to report it herself, or at least stay away from the toerag.

    8. Rakhee — on 25th July, 2006 at 8:33 am  

      Back to the topic, yes, I like Prof Sen as well. In fact, I spoke with him a while back when I was working on a project all about reducing poverty in Asia in line with Millenium D’ment Goals.

      Although he didn’t have time, he gave me lots of advice.

      An incredibly intelligent man.

    9. Rakhee — on 25th July, 2006 at 8:41 am  

      Sorry Ed, going completely off the topic but you’ve got to read this:,,2-2283617,00.html

    10. Chris Stiles — on 25th July, 2006 at 9:44 am  

      Amin Maalouf’s book “In The Name Of Identity” ( covers the multiple identity issue in a much more readable manner (IMHO).

    11. Leon — on 25th July, 2006 at 10:12 am  

      Kismet, don’t act on it, if you’re going to do anything go to the police. They can charge people now without the victims consent if they have too…

    12. Kismet Hardy — on 25th July, 2006 at 10:29 am  


      Now back to touching myself

      Just read a bit of Amartya Sen. Too clever for me

      York Notes please?

    13. Sid — on 25th July, 2006 at 11:11 am  


      Do what I always do. Pour a big vat of boiling dal all over him from the upstairs window. Other than that, follow Leon’s advice.

    14. Nush — on 25th July, 2006 at 11:21 am  

      I was going to pop along to this, sadly duty calls and I am stuck in meetings, this book is on my wishlist *hint hint*

    15. sonia — on 25th July, 2006 at 12:03 pm  

      sounds really interesting. if only it weren’t in mayfair i might go along as well.

    16. TheFriendlyInfidel — on 25th July, 2006 at 12:08 pm  

      I’d really like to go to this, but I’ll never get back to London in time this evening … :(

    17. Rohin — on 25th July, 2006 at 1:25 pm  

      Damn you Hundal, I wasn’t advertising tomorrow’s talk on here cos I’m going and I don’t want to get there to find no seats are left! I have a meeting beforehand so will be cutting it fine, but the girlfriend and I will see you there old boy.

      Hope things work out for your friend KH.

    18. Ophelia Benson — on 25th July, 2006 at 10:52 pm  

      The Argumentative Indian is very very very good as well. I’m jellus, wish I were in London, wish I could go too.

    19. Serf — on 26th July, 2006 at 4:08 pm  

      Having Read Amartya Sen’s development as freedom, I have been looking forward to this book, I didn’t realise it had been released.

      Though he is largely ignored by my fellow rightwingers, I think he has a lot of important things to say.

    20. Jackie Brown — on 26th July, 2006 at 8:21 pm  

      Patiently waiting for someone to report back what Mr. Sen said. I had my copy of Development as Freedom, already to cheekily ask for a autograph— but the heat defeated me.

    21. Kismet Hardy — on 26th July, 2006 at 8:57 pm  

      He said: ‘Didn’t you hear them? Didn’t you see the crowds? You’re not like thee others. You like the same theeengs I do. Wax. We’re not hitch-hiking anymore…we’re riding.’

      Or maybe that was ren hoek

    22. Rohin — on 27th July, 2006 at 3:17 pm  

      I’ll try to write something Jackie Brown, but it’s hard to make a specific post out of it.

    23. Sunny — on 27th July, 2006 at 3:20 pm  

      YEah, it is. The speech was sort of rambly and kept going off point because Sen has too many experiences and anecdotes to tell. If you hadn’t read the book he was interesting. But to be hoenst he didn’t say anything new to me. But I’ll be writing about the book anyways, since he has some important things to say.

    24. sonia — on 27th July, 2006 at 3:45 pm  

      listening to anecdotes is why it’s interesting to hear these people speak methinks. but then again, some ppl find anecdotes make them feel impatient.

    25. Rohin — on 27th July, 2006 at 4:09 pm  

      I love anecdotes, the more obscure the better. I think Sunny meant what I meant too - in that whilst a rambly anecdotey talk is quite interesting for a Wednesday evening, it’s not the stuff that maketh a riveting, stimulating blog post.

      However MF Hussain was there too, two Indian celebrity institutions for the price of one.

      And I have a fan. A fan. A FAAAAANNN! (OK, someone who was told by Sunny to pretend to have read my stuff…but still.)

    26. Kismet Hardy — on 27th July, 2006 at 4:15 pm  

      It was me in a comedy wig and glasses you know it Rohin. I want my money Sunny

    27. Arif — on 27th July, 2006 at 4:22 pm  

      Sonia, you would have liked the talk - very much about how we are sometimes railroaded, sometimes confused, into raising up one kind of identity as if it should be the dominant one for our self-definition.

      He found various anecdotey ways to make the point that we should decide whether a particular identity is appropriate to each particular situation, and not get carried away in thinking that any identity (including “cosmopolitanism”) is good enough for all situations. The most dangerous kinds, of course, are the ones which suggest that this identity means human like me, and anyone else, not really human in the same way. But any identity when it is brought in inappropriately reduces our possibilities and shows a lack of clarity of thought which can ultimately be dangerous.

      Basically no-one should care that you are a vegetarian when you go into passport control and no one should care that you have a Indian passport when you are hungry. No one should care that you are a Muslim when discussing political violence and no one should care that you are an economic liberal when discussing spiritual development.

      That’s what I got out of it. As well as learning that he likes Bertrand Russell.

    28. sonia — on 27th July, 2006 at 4:45 pm  

      Arif - that sounds interesting. {i think you have a point on the ‘cosmpolitanism’ thing - {in trying to stick an -ism on cosmpolitan means getting into the knotty problem of over defining something in a potentially singular way)

      i would have made it but the heat got to me too. i spent all day traipsing around some of Groundwork Southwark’s projects - great stuff - but it was hot…

    29. mirax — on 28th July, 2006 at 3:39 am

      Kenan Malik on Sen’Identity and Violence, with some criticism.

    30. mirax — on 28th July, 2006 at 3:41 am  
    31. Sahil — on 28th July, 2006 at 9:44 am  

      Hi, Its my first post on this site, so go a little easy. I’ve become a little paranoid about posting after the slagging matches on the guardian website. There’s an article by Stuart Jeffries on faith-based schools and he also includes Sen’s arguments from his new book:,,1832102,00.html

      I have to agree, why bother with faith schools, shouldn’t we just learn these things by ourselves, rather than be indoctrinated with them from day 1 of existence??

    32. Jackie Brown — on 28th July, 2006 at 3:55 pm  

      hmmmm in this case he sounds very similar to Tariq Ramadan, on the identity thing. I sincerely think for non white people a large part of identity- [wrongly] comes from skin color- at least in this part of the world.

      Because most people [majority population] are not too bothered about the difference btw someone from Bangladesh , Lahore, Kerala or Khartoum (—religion can be a way to stand up and say—I am more than the color of my skin.— ok that sounds like a cola-cola commercial but I’m rolling with it. Sometimes you wonder how much people are really into their religion- they keep shouting it, but the actions don’t follow. It seems like a way to reach out and touch a larger community. Usually history doesn’t happen fast enough to see this but I wonder how much a religious identity supersedes or become subordinate to a National identity if the country of origin ‘suddenly’ really takes off , or falls off as far a being a ‘prestige’ place to come from. My grand dad could never understand us wanting a SONY xyz—because to him made in Japan always meant cheap. All that to say I think more people would cling to a specific ethnic /national identity vs. a religion if they felt more prestige could be had by that.

    33. Sunny — on 30th July, 2006 at 10:58 pm  

      Jackie - My feeling is that though people don’t follow religion as strongly as they claim, that is because it has become more of an identity marker than a way of life (as it should be).

      That includes the idea, as Sahil points out above (welcome!) that we don’t need religious schools since it is more of a personal thing that people should develop in their own time at home, rather than wear as a badge to differentiate people. If you’re making friends, what does it matter about the person’s religion? It certainly doesn’t to me.

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