Day By Day

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Should we Tolerate Intolerance?

Julie Burchill writing in the Times makes an important point about diversity.

What we have learnt recently is that diversity is not just to be celebrated mindlessly, but also navigated and negotiated. We, the host community, have accepted multiculturalism; the issue now is whether hardline — and I stress hardline — Muslims can do the same.

To my eyes at least, “live and let live” seems to be a concept they have a problem with; until they can grasp it, as the Sikhs and Hindus have (who have at least as strong and rich a culture, but feel no need to burn books, form parliaments, set up separatist schools and kill their fellow Britons to demonstrate this), the jury is still out on whether hardline Muslims can truly live happily in non-Muslim countries. And, after all, they have 56 — count ’em! — of their own to go to if they don’t like it. They are spoilt for choice.

Read it here.

Burchill's article is titled: "Why should we tolerate these Islamofascists who hate us all?"

Good question!

Here's why.

Tolerance for others is the essential ingredient that makes diversity work; a simple point really, but one that many people both left and right have trouble accepting. Britain is suddenly wakening to that fact.

Certainly violent Islamist radicalism, and all other doctrines that pose a clear threat to the nation must be vigorously suppressed and expelled, but we must also take care that in the process we do not slip over into general intolerance ourselves. That's not easy.

This does not mean that we simply say "live and let live," although that is about as close to a general principle as we are likely to come -- Christians may wish to substitute the "golden rule". Tolerance must never be confused with acceptance. Noxious ideas and practices must be challenged and confronted, but that dialogue must take place in an open, non-violent, public forum -- wherein the existence of radical others is tolerated.

And the whole process is complicated by the fact that genuine tolerance cannot be mandated, nor can it find perfect expression this side of Heaven. It can only emerge partially through a full, rich and extensive national dialogue, the result of which will seldom be entirely coherent or satisfying. The best we can hope for is a tolerable arrangement within which people of diverse faiths and beliefs can live and productively interact without resorting to violence. We're not talking about perfect brotherhood here -- just simple comity. It's not very satisfying, but it has the simple and considerable virtue of being achievable.

Burchell's piece is an essential part of an extremely important dialogue that is emerging in Britain, Holland and elsewhere throughout Europe. I will be following it with great interest.

We in the US have gone through this before -- about a century ago. That time diversity failed to take root and we fell back on "Americanization," immigration restriction, the "Red Scare", etc. Creating a truly diverse and pluralistic society is not easy -- it takes a lot of hard work. Will we in America achieve it this time? So far, so good, but things are still in doubt....

Stay tuned.

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