Tout le genre humain n’est qu’une famille dispersée sur la face de toute la terre. Tous les peuples sont frères, et doivent s’aimer comme tels.

All human kind is but one family, dispersed over the face of the whole earth; all men are brothers, and ought to love each other as such.

François Fénelon

Tolerance, religious and racial. Will it lead us to paradise, or perhaps only to one other?

Extremist terrorist attacks, and perhaps worse, can be blamed on our tolerance but an intolerant civilization would be far more unconscionable

In a previous post, I mentioned that I would write a post on the apparent paradox of racial and religious tolerance, namely the view that this very worldview invites the destruction of the “west” as a civilization (I reduce it to a lower case not by mistake but because I believe the “West” is a lie and barely deserves mention).

I always supported the quest for equality and social justice, and I have never been concerned with the question of whether human rights and the search for equality are intelligent or correct in any sense. Neither do I know of any sociologist, and I also never spoke to a single academic who argued thus. The only thing that matters at this stage in our civilization’s evolution is that we collectively chose this liberal democratic ideology and used it to augment society at a fundamental level, so that society now no longer has any meaning except by reference to this same liberal democratic ideology.

People who today contest racial and religious integration of society, our tolerance for diversity of belief by welcoming Muslims and other migrant communities to the west, are not ultimately wrong for the content of their arguments but for context of their arguments. The same can even be said of someone so obviously stupid as Donald Trump, who is little more than a cartoon character as far as any serious political analyst is concerned. We already opened the liberal democratic societies’ doors to Islam, we allowed Islam to take up residence in the so-called west. Perhaps it was all a reaction to Hitlerism, whereby people were so shocked by the idea of unconscionable exclusion and genocide of races and religions that they decide to lower all barriers to foreign races and religious systems. It no longer matters. We invited Islam in Europe, much as white Americans invited their fellow Black citizens to their neighborhoods and knocked down the barriers of segregation. Therefore, it is too late to burden our brains with the questions, “what if?” or speak as if it were possible to rewind history and live instead a prior conservative era, and rather one must ask instead, “what now?” What now of the future of the liberal democratic societies?

The conservative mindset is wrong because it reacts, because rather than issuing a plan to change the world on a course of constant improvement in understanding and evolution towards a cohesive human whole, it speaks only of reversing the changes that the youth already know to be inexorable. The best counsel one can offer, from all political and philosophical theory, is to examine the present world order and plot our course according to wills of the mighty forces already shaping our history, rather than building flimsy tidal barriers against change.

There are social changes that will come on this earth that even the most flamboyantly radical progressives alive in the world today would find unconscionable to obscene, were it not for the fact that these progressives will have since decayed into conservatives and from there into the grave prior to such changes.

Now let us call to account the specific threat that stalks the majority of people in liberal democratic societies, the threat of “Islam”, “the Muslims”, in the most naked confession by which we avoid euphemisms such as “Islamists”, “extremists” et cetera. We are told that this threat is the most perilous and contrary to our lifestyles as citizens of liberal democratic states. The issue is a tricky one, a hot potato, everywhere on the political spectrum. Everyone claims to have the answer to this “Muslim Problem”, but then avoids talking about it. To some liberals, Muslims are the antithesis of modernity and the antithesis in particular to gay rights, whereas to others Muslims are simply a persecuted minority that should be more welcome and given a greater political say in the liberal democratic politics. For people on the right, it is simply a question of whether they are Muslim themselves or call themselves Christian, and the dispute simply becomes then a sectarian one characterized by demagoguery and an arms race between opposing mobs rather than the more challenging disagreement witnessed among liberals.

We must consider the view advanced by some (particularly the gay opponents of Islam) that Islamic custom and sensibility threaten to overcome liberal democratic societies and that this is somehow a threat to professed “values” (other than tolerance, we may assume) and constitutions of this grey, perishing culture we now vacuously call the west. To this claim, I say the predictions may be true. Our desire to liquidate discrimination in all forms may eventually lead us to liquidate ourselves and that is a risk I am willing to take. Islam may be the instrument of some kind of liberal mass suicide, if indeed it enables an ideology cited by people who ultimately use it to overthrow the state and try to slaughter us all. That self-destruction (something British rightist politician Enoch Powell called his “rivers of blood”) may be the ultimate result of migration and plurality in liberal democratic societies. I simply don’t care, or if anything I welcome it. If such “rivers of blood” resulting from a failed pluralistic democracy are the result of the sacred choice we made as a society to include Muslims and other migrant communities in our societies more than fifty years ago, then trying to stop this result now would be ludicrous. Enoch Powell’s civil war, if it is the inevitable future of the liberal democratic society, simply becomes another throe in the development of this society.

However, such an outcome need not worry us. There is little evidence that it will happen at all. By now it is no secret that the average European far-right group has more infighting in its own group than the whole of the liberal democratic society where it is campaigning for its fringe of support. Those Enoch Powells who predicted civil war appear to be the only ones at each other’s throats at this time. While there is indeed statistical support for the growth of Islam on a global scale including in liberal democratic states, there is also statistical support for the acceptance of diversity. The growth of Islam is simply misrepresented by some demagogues as a growth of extremism. But while most Muslims do have different sensibilities and rather different households to other people in the liberal democratic societies, it is also a fact that more of them are tolerant of the “west” than the “west” is tolerant of them. While Muslims were doing nothing to protest gay pride events, popular political parties in these liberal democratic societies were campaigning to ban Islamic attire.

The message being given to Muslims in liberal democratic states at the moment is that tolerance should flow in only one direction, and that is from the Muslims to the cherished “west”. While the offense felt by Muslims to their religion being mocked and their sensibilities insulted is portrayed as Muslim intolerance, every step taken by the state towards the Muslim community is offensive in the extreme, compelling them to integrate. The message is that we take offense to Muslim attempts to convert us, but that we also take offense to Muslims resisting our attempts to convert them. It is the “west” that constantly cries of being offended by the way Muslims merely dress, and certainly also by the way that Muslims merely think.

There is also the fact that simply migrating to the liberal democratic countries or being raised in them is evidence in itself of the tolerance of a Muslim, and the fact that of those who do join extremist groups,  the reasons are almost always political and not motivated by a hatred of gay rights and other pro-human rights movements. It is at all times not the Muslims who bear the greater burden of needing to ensure that they are tolerant in the liberal democratic society. The burden rests with the preachers of tolerance themselves, who invited the Muslims to their society and who promised us all that a pluralistic democracy would be successful. If the tolls of tolerance prove too heavy for the people who adopted tolerance as their ideology, we need not worry about paying the toll by ourselves, because all society made the choice to adopt this ideology and must pay the toll with us.

By Harry J. Bentham

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