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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Intolerance Breeds hatred

Every society consists of various groups following different faiths, ideologies, sectarian beliefs and social and political adherences. In some cases, there is a majority which dominates the society and makes attempts, either by force or by persuasion, to integrate these different groups into its fold. In such a scenario the majority believes that only by uniting all groups can society grow strong and defend itself from internal and external dangers. This creates conflict and instead of uniting, the society further fragments and breaks into pieces. This is what is called tyranny of the majority and its intolerance toward differences and diverse opinions.

In other cases the majority makes efforts to understand the existence of different groups in its fold; it adopts the policy of tolerance and allows them to express their views freely.

The outcome of both policies are quite different. In case of tolerance, creativity flourishes and blossoms. Finding no discrimination or prejudices, art, literature, music and other expressions of culture are produced which transform it into a progressive and multicultural society. In case of intolerance, the elements of creativity are strangled and minority groups, feeling insecure and deprived, fail to contribute socially, politically, and economically.

We have the example of the Jews in the Western society. As long as they were persecuted, their contribution to Western civilisation was limited to trade and commerce.
When the Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizens was passed after the French Revolution, the Jews were also granted equal rights. When Napoleon conquered Germany, he also liberated the Jews who were forced to reside in ghettos and were not allowed any commercial activities outside the ghettos. Once they were free, they emerged as the most creative group who contributed not only in trade and commerce but also in art and literature, philosophy, and science.

Nazi Germany suffered intellectually and culturally as a result of its anti-Jew policy. Most of the leading Jews left Germany and settled in different European countries or the USA. Germany was deprived of their talents and their adopted countries benefited from their presence.

History shows that those countries which followed the policy of intolerance suffered economically, socially and culturally. When the Arabs conquered Spain, which they called al-Andalus, they formed a multi-religious and multi-cultural society consisting of Muslims, Jews and Christians. This created a sophisticated society based on an enlightened philosophy that richly contributed to art and architecture. The vast store of Greek learning reached the West via Arab translation. There was no persecution of Christians. However, all this changed when in 1492 the combined forces of Castilian and Aragon defeated the last Moorish kingdom of Granada and expelled the Muslims and the Jews. They were given the option to either convert to Christianity or leave the country.

Thus followed a trail of tears. The Jews left and made efforts to settle in European countries where they were constantly harassed and terrorised. The Muslims settled in North African Muslim states and some of them became pirates to take revenge against the Europeans by plundering their trading ships. Those who converted were harassed by the Inquisition and tried on mere suspicion of following their old religion. It changed the whole cultural fabric of Spain. Although it became a part of the Holy Roman empire it slowly lost its cultural vitality and became backward.

The second example is of France which was predominantly a Catholic country. After the Protestant Reformation that started in 1517, the French Protestant sects, known as Huguenots, faced severe religious discrimination and persecution until Henry IV, the king of France, issued the Edict of Nantes in 1598, which introduced the policy of tolerance and provided them security. The process was disturbed when in 1685 Henry’s grandson, Louis XIV, revoked the Edict and exposed Protestants to the danger of discrimination once again. Nearly 200,000 Huguenots left France and settled in Germany, England, Holland, South Africa and South America. They were well-educated and highly skilled artisans. They benefited their adopted countries while France lost its valuable assets.

There is a lesson for us here. As we too are not treating our religious minorities on the basis of equality and not allowing them to exercise their fundamental rights, most of their members, feeling insecure, are leaving to take refuge in other countries. This is a loss to our society. Secondly, the majority is trying to establish its hegemony and harassing other religious sects. As a result, there is an alarming rise in target killings and massacres which cause instability and chaos in the society. Our society has suffered immensely due to persecution and discrimination.

History tells us that in the age of democracy and globalisation, the question is not of tolerance which is a paternalistic attitude, but of treating all citizens, irrespective of their religion and sect, as equal. Only then can a country survive and contribute to civilisation.
By Mubarak Ali: http://x.dawn.com/2013/06/23/past-present-breeding-hatred/


Tolerance in Islam

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Qur’an on; Tolerance, Peaceful Coexistence

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