31 March 2006
He's talking about identity in the context of religious identity -- about seeing Muslims through one and only one set of lenses (something this one is likely guilty of at times) -- but his thoughts apply to more than just religion. Race, gender, sexual orientation, and the like, can all be used, by others or by ourselves, to construct something that is less real than the messy complicated reality of our conflicted, deflicted, rejected, dejected, messy, lovely short lives.
The insistence, if only implicitly, on a choiceless singularity of human identity not only diminishes us all, it also makes the world much more flammable. The alternative to the divisiveness of one pre-eminent categorization is not any unreal claim that we are all much the same. Rather, the main hope of harmony in our troubled world lies in the plurality of our identities, which cut across each other and work against sharp divisions around one single hardened line of vehement division that allegedly cannot be resisted. Our shared humanity gets savagely challenged when our differences are narrowed into one devised system of uniquely powerful categorization.
Perhaps the worst impairment comes from the neglect—and denial—of the roles of reasoning and choice, which follow from the recognition of our plural identities. The illusion of unique identity is much more divisive than the universe of plural and diverse classifications that characterize the world in which we actually live. The descriptive weakness of choiceless singularity has the effect of momentously impoverishing the power and reach of our social and political reasoning. The illusion of destiny exacts a remarkably heavy price.