How Much Tolerance for Intolerance?

May 12, 2013 7:21 am 0 comments

United Nations in Geneva. Photo: wiki commons.

Tolerance is justifiably one of liberal Democracy’s most cherished values. But what do we do when tolerance, with its openness to multiple views, permits and even supports intolerance? This is particularly an issue today when open prejudice against Jews and Israel, and anti-Semitism, go unchallenged.

Fundamentalism and prejudice are rife in the Middle East, where many countries practice forms of gender, religious, ethnic and sexual apartheid. Yet, Saudi Arabia remains a U.S. ally despite the fact that women there are subjugated and it is illegal for Christians to pray in public.

The most egregious forms of anti-Semitism are rampant in the Middle East. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi libeled Jews as apes and pigs, yet U.S. leaders speak of the Muslim Brotherhood as a moderating force. Similarly, we turn a blind eye to the anti-Semitism, intolerance and corruption that are rife in the Palestinian Authority. We do so even though these practices and views violate two pillars of America—tolerance and pluralism.

Unfortunately, the United Nations and Europe also condone intolerance. In Europe, anti-Semitism remains a serious problem, but it is often camouflaged by politically correct speech and rationalized as political discourse about Israel. Terrorism against Israel is frequently excused or rationalized.

Michael Totten, in his book The Road to Fatima, wrote that one of liberalism’s “greatest dilemmas” is the question, “How much do the intolerant deserve tolerance?” He was speaking of the difficulty a weak nation like Lebanon faces, despite its history of liberalism, in dealing with an intolerant terror organization like Hezbollah. This phenomenon is not just a Lebanese problem. It is widespread. We live in a world where many enlightened nations and their cultural leaders excuse terrorism because they are sympathetic to liberation movements, or because they view the terrorist group as the weaker party.

Many Western intellectuals subscribe to a moral standard in which the party that is weaker in arms or political strength is morally right. Anti-Israel rhetoric is the most prominent example of this bias. Today, Israel is perceived as the stronger party, and Palestinian terrorism is justified as the weak fighting against the powerful. This moral framework has allowed many to express their latent anti-Semitism under the guise of morality.

How should we resolve this dilemma?

We should see other countries and movements as they really are, not as we wish they were. When we deal with a United Nations dominated by non-democratic countries, or an Arab world that still promotes hatred and prejudice, we should acknowledge that reality instead of retreating to the passivity of moral relativism. We should act responsibly and wisely, and stop excusing those who are intolerant and threaten our national and foreign security interests, and threaten our values.

Eric R. Mandel, MD is co-chair of StandWithUs-New York.

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