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Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role…

Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy

by Natan Sharansky

Other authors: Shira Wolosky Weiss

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In the post 9/11 world, its speaks eloquently and from the heart of a moment of possibilitiy for freedom, a link between liberty and security.
  HanoarHatzioni | Jun 8, 2009 |
What is your identity?
Do you have an identity?
What is identity, anyway?
And does it matter?

These are four major questions that the reader may have that run through Natan Sharansky's book as its subtext. At first it is not clear in which of it meanings Sharansky is using the word. The book is more polemical than closely analytical, and buzzwords such as post-colonial, post-identity, post-nationalism, post-modernism, multi-culturalism, and cosmopolitanism make their fiercely heated appearance in the text. Gradually, however, the intended meaning of 'identity' and the thrust of Sharansky's argument become clear.

Sharansky passionately argues that yes, now more than ever, it is necessary for liberal Western democracies to understand and embrace fervently their own identities against the anti-democratic identities that are abroad in the world.

Natan Sharansky is a former Soviet dissident who knows, beyond peradventure of doubt, that it was his own internal personal identification with the historical roots and continuing existence of his own Jewish heritage that provided the stamina to resist nearly countless interrogations by the Soviet KGB while in their Lefortovo prison in Moscow -- 110 interrogations during 16 months, to be exact -- and then nine years of further imprisonment as a political prisoner in the Soviet Gulag. He is directly aware of the power of having an identity that extends beyond one's own personal or selfish interests, and having bonds with a larger community of like-minded people outside of one's self, whether national, religious, cultural, ethnic, or sharing the same ideals.

Almost needles to say, in a multi-cultural world or society, different people and cultures see their own and other people's identities in different ways. In addition, identity is not merely personal but can have its political edge as well -- as, for example, in regimes which support terrorism or violence and are sworn to the overthrow or complete eradication of Western democracies and nations..

Sharansky provides a survey of the current international scene and discusses the different levels of acceptance that national, religious, cultural and ethnic identity receive in America, Europe and Israel, and describes historical and cultural reasons why that is so.

Sharansky vigorously eschews cultural and moral relativism and appeals to the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the authors of the Declaration of Human Rights, speaking 60 years ago, in 1948, in the early stages of the Cold War, as "the Soviet Union was working tirelessly to sow moral confusion in every internal forum."
"We must not be deluded by efforts of the forces of reaction to prostitute the great words of our free tradition and there by confuse the struggle. Democracy, freedom, human rights have come to have a definite meaning to the people of the world which we must not allow any nation to so change that they are made synonymous with uppression and dictatorship."

His own closing remarks are:
"The free world's shield against its enemies is its own identity, vigorously asserted and framed by a comitment to democratic life. Not all cultures are the same. Not all values are equivalent. The right to live a unique way of life is a right worth fighting for and if necessary worth dying for.
United, freedom and identity cannot be defeated. By reconciling these two powerful forces and strengthening this indispensable alliance, we can both fill our lives with purpose and advance the cause for peace."

This is a book well worth reading for its insights into the divergent passions that fuel many of today's headlines, which seem increasingly to describe violence, wanton murder, genocide and acts of terrorism, and which increasingly have Western democracy as their target. ( )
  Karlus | Jul 15, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Natan Sharanskyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Weiss, Shira Woloskysecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 158648513X, Hardcover)

Who is better prepared to confront challenges and defend principles in a volatile modern world? Those with strong national, religious, ethnic, or tribal identities who accept democracy, or democrats who renounce identity as a kind of divisive prejudice?

Natan Sharansky, building on his personal experience as a dissident, argues that valueless cosmopolitanism, even in democracies, is dangerous. Better to have hostile identities framed by democracy than democrats indifferent to identity.

In a vigorous, insightful challenge to the left and right alike, Natan Sharansky, as he has proved repeatedly, is at the leading edge of the issues that frame our times.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:39 -0400)

Challenging the principles of the right and the left alike, the former Soviet dissident argues that those with strong national, religious, ethnic, and tribal identities, as well as a devotion to democracy, are those best suited to defend democratic principles in the turbulent global arena.… (more)

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