Cultural Tolerance – Part 2: What we ‘ought’ and ‘ought not’ tolerate

In order to have a functioning society, we need to agree on a common set of rules according to which we interact with each other.  (I ranted on a bit about this in my ‘Dogged by Dogma’ post.)  Some of these rules are codified into laws, others govern what we consider to be polite day-to-day behaviour.  Though the rules change from country to country, the basic principle remains the same:  without a common set of rules, there is no ‘society’.

We all, as humans, have the innate right to freedom of speech and thought.  So, let’s start by agreeing to tolerate that.  This means not denying it to anyone, even people we disagree with…or people who hold unpopular views.

From the freedoms of speech and thought flows the freedom of religious belief.  That, too, needs to be respected.  Most ‘western’ cultures are pretty good at protecting this one – usually, it is entrenched in the constitution.  But while we may be free to hold every belief we want, and are free to worship every deity (or absence thereof) we choose to, it is essential that we all understand that only those actions and behaviours that are legal under the laws of the land may actually be performed, whether based on religious conviction or not.

It is essential that we recognize that being tolerant of a belief is not the same as tolerating each and every behaviour that stems from it!

If it were, we would all need to tolerate human sacrifice.  And frankly, if we do tolerate illegal behaviour which stems from religious belief, in a very real sense, we WILL indeed be making a ‘human’ sacrifice! 

Asma Jahangir, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, has on many occasions reported that she has seen over and over situations where minority groups within a society demand special rights onto themselves, in name of religious freedoms – only to use these special rights to then oppress its own internal minority.  This kind of abuse of special rights is more common than we would like to think:  Ezra Levan’t has actually posted photos of Robina Butt, a woman who was assaulted by intruders into her own home after she and two other women complained of the financial improprieties at her own Mosque.  It is horrid!

So, let’s be clear.  We must tolerate each other’s beliefs.  

At the same time, we absolutely must not tolerate illegal behaviour, however motivated.  This is as much for the protection of the greater society as for the protection of the individuals within any specific minority.  If someone chooses to self-limit certain behaviours, good on them (provided they do not impact the society as a whole or diminish the rights of other individuals).  If they choose to self-impose rules which preclude them from enjoying certain privileges (such as people who refuse to have their photograph taken must be prepared to give up privileges for which a photo-i.d. is required – say, a driving license), they MUST be also prepared to give up such privileges.  Forcing them to comply with the conditions would be just as wrong as granting these privileges without compliance.

What is more:  not respecting these rules, granting special privileges to some but not others, will mean that the most basic rule of society is broken.  I may be repeating myself, but…without common rules, there is no ‘society’.  Doing so would breed resentment and hostility among various segments of the population…and how could unequal treatment by law not result in just that? 

We all need to keep this in mind the next time we are tempted to exempt one group or another from the laws which must apply equally to all of our citizens.