Tolerance is a Two-Way Street

My attitude will always be based on how I want you to treat me. Tolerance is the bedrock of harmony in our global world. We cannot all be the same, and we cannot all have the same religion, belief system, ideology, opinions, ideas, or lifestyles, but we can respect, appreciate and tolerate those who are different from us. What is making America great is that it is a melting pot; we celebrate the American virtue of tolerance and respect for all views, regardless of religious or political persuasion. Our forefathers fought for all our freedoms, including political, religious and social liberties. How can there be a democratic, open, civil debate about any subject if only one point of view is allowed? We owe it to them and our children to remain ever vigilant and critical of intolerance, in any form. But tolerance is a two-way street. It is not the ultimatum coined in the 70s, “My way or the highway. “ If I respect you and you also respect me, that respect is earned not given. Political and religious leaders urgently need to address this challenge. It has much to do with religion, because religion is a way of life. We cannot really separate religion from our daily lives. If we cannot tolerate each other’s religion, then we cannot tolerate each other’s way of life. Until we are able to do this, the violence will continue, and that is just intolerable. No one should curse other people’s religion; in turn, they will not curse your religion.

Today our world faces the challenges of violent fundamentalism, ethnic conflict, poverty, racism, and needs to respond to these ills.  We do not have any other choice; either we continue to sanitize the truth and look the other way, or we speak up.  The only way we solve the problems is to discuss them openly and honestly, respectfully agreeing and disagreeing.  Looking the other way or focusing on just the commonalities and pretending problems do not exist is not the solution. Instead, it is part of the problem. Every religion has its importance and a very dear place in the heart of its followers. No one would tolerate any insult against his or her faith.

I believe Christians and Muslims will be the last giants to face each other since neither of them can destroy the other or convert each other. The rift between Islam and the West will widen, and that clash of civilization is unavoidable. There is a steady rise in the emphasis on religion worldwide. Islam is a missionary religion and has planned to change the world from its inception. The politics of identity, locally, regionally, and nationally will become more prevalent.

In the last century, there were only a few of democracies; today there are more than 89 at least nominal democratic countries. Of course, the term democracy is itself problematic because there are different interpretations of democracy even in the Western world, but particularly in the Islamic world, even more than in the non-Islamic world. Consequently, the West cannot sale democracy to the Muslim world even though the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has committed its members to promoting democracy, women’s rights, human rights, good governance, and freedom of speech. For example, Muslim women wear headscarves or burqa The West considers this an oppression of women, but for the Muslim women, it is not oppressing them but is dignifying for them, because for them and according to their religion, only Allah can draw the line and demarcation, not human beings. Even though there is a debate about whether the Quran actually requires it per se, many believe they should wear it. The same cultural distinction applies for women in the Western culture who wear a bikini. In the eyes of Muslims and even of some Westerners, it is not dignified and makes women appear as an object, not as a free person. Each sees their clothing as liberating and freeing. If we learn how to respect each other’s views and beliefs, we will see each other as partners rather than as threats.

Leaders in the Muslim world must reach out to the West, just as much as they expect the West to understand Islam. If it is wrong to insult Islam, then it should be wrong to insult any religion. That does not seem to be the case in the Muslim world. We should not reward bad behavior, but again who decides what is bad behavior? The world stood up against the repressive ideologies such as Fascism, Communism, and Nazism. The world should not tolerate the political correctness or think that appeasement is the answer to fundamentalism and bigoted ideology. Winston Churchill once said, “ An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” Promoting tolerance is great, but not when the norms of political correctness are silencing opposing viewpoints and, if I dare to use the label radical Islam when talking about ISIS, I fall under the scourge of being automatically called “Islamophobic.” Interestingly, however, if someone works and earns more money, and is living conservatively, he is labeled as greedy; if you are not agreeing with worldly ethics and follow the sacred book of life, practicing the Christian faith, you are labeled as a backward or closed minded bigot or a crazy evangelical.

Tolerance means we still can love those individuals as God’s creature, but not agreeing with his or lifestyle. However, when one simply disagrees with another’s personal choices, then society automatically considers that person intolerant. For me, tolerance means loving those with different opinions no matter how much you may disagree. You do not have to agree with someone in order to love that person, but instead listen and understand. For true Christ followers, there are already guidelines: love your enemy and love those who sin against you, even though it is hard to love that person. We cannot live together as one community, if we practicing the divisive tactics of hate and bigotry. Instead, we should seek to find new ways to come together, not seek ways to offend one another. Disagreement does not equal hate.

The Constitution of the Untied States gives protection to religious freedom and prohibits anyone from making laws that inhibit its exercise; therefore, Americans know they have legal protections for their beliefs and practices. There should be the same freedom and protections of law guaranteed in Muslim countries for non-Muslims as well. We should not insult anyone’s faith because making fun of another’s belief is not freedom of expression. If some unenlightened person has denigrated symbols of the faith, for example made fun of the Prophet Mohammad, Moses, or Jesus, even if it is ugly and anti Islam, the response should not to reciprocate in an ignorant way either. Such an offense does not entitle people to go out and attack embassies, shopping malls, or coffee shops or to kill innocent people. That is not how a proper self-governing people should behave. Muslims claiming that they never insult anyone’s religion but that they respect Abraham, Moses, or Jesus should not demand that their Prophet Mohammad be respected more. Yet, they have failed to address rampant hate speech going on in mosques, schools, and social media against the non-Muslims and the West. Yes, we should respect the faiths and prophets of others, but it should run both ways. The West continues to condemn hate speech against other religions. The response should be reciprocity.

The main Christian concern is to share the Christian message of reconciliation with God and God’s love for all people. That is what for the Christian is called the great commission and good news. This great news is an integral part of the Christian faith. Muslims should not require the death of those who make a decision to follow other religions, because a threat of death should not keep them in line with that religion, but they should have free will to remain in that fold or to enter another.

There should not be any preferential treatment for any other religion. For example, non-Muslim children and students have been required to learn key portion of Islamic scriptures as an art enrichment and multi-cultural activity.  Even in Western countries curriculum is calling for mosque visitations and field trips. But none of the Muslims kids or students is allowed to learn about the Christian culture and arts. We cannot build mutual understanding if there is only a one-way understanding. The problem is that Muslims claim that Western morals are corrupt, and that there is nothing to learn from them.  Another example emerges in the UK in that as part of the national religious education curriculum together with the multi cultural community, it is a statute or requirement for primary schools children to experience and learn about different cultures. If some parents refuse to let their child attend the mosque, it is labeled racial discrimination. Such is the one-way street for respecting other cultures and faiths, one that is not going to lead to a vibrant society. Muslim countries should learn to treat “the other” the way Christians in Western countries treat their “non-believers”: we should have diversity and equality for all, not just for one side.  

Muslims often say they are big on tolerance, but apparently tolerance must flow only one way toward Muslims and their favored faith and way of life. They will always claim they are right and will make you understand that you are wrong. Tolerance cannot work only one way. The benefit of religion, according to the famous French sociologist Emile Durkheim, is that it acts as a moral force for socializing and social bonding.  It gives meaning and purpose to life.  It reinforces social unity and stability. It gives a common set of beliefs to help the group to socialize and communal practices to act upon. Instead of dividing the society, it can become an agent of social control and order in society. That is why God has sent the messengers and given the sacred book as guidance for followers not to get lost in, but to have a good life. Religion should help and motivate followers to work for positive social change in society.

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