Man weißt nicht noch, was ist Toleranz

Many Germans seem very proud of how civilized their country has supposedly become, but I have a hard time imagining a debate like this one being conducted earnestly in America without both sides getting laughed out of the room. One side advances the notion that all religions ought to be tolerated without being persecuted as if this were a controversial point, then the other argues the contrary position as if this were taking a stand for womens’ rights. And yet both sides muck up the most elementary of distinctions, namely that between religion and religious practice. Being a Muslim, whatever that means, doesn’t have anything to do with womens’ rights, because religions are beliefs, and beliefs are ideas. Ideas are different from practices. Practices may naturally entail from certain beliefs, but having a belief and practicing a custom are by no means the same thing. Why is it so hard to tolerate belief-systems of any stripe while still enforcing a unitary ethical code upon actions? Probably belief-systems that entail kiling everyone the believer doesn’t like are more prone to lead to ethical transgressions than ones that don’t (and I’m not saying that Islam does, I’m only speaking hypothetically), but let’s face it, at certain times, for instance when stuck in traffic or trying to get to my high-school locker, I’ve had the urge to wipe large numbers of my fellow men, but that doesn’t mean I should be prosecuted for the thought.

Actually, it doesn’t really matter if you accept that distinction or not, because my tolerance only extends as far as those things that I don’t actually believe to be wrong. If Islam is just a belief-system, I’m tolerant of it. If it absolutely requires its believers to beat women and blow up infidels, well then I’m no longer tolerant of it. So it comes out the same in the end. But I’d still rather that actions be viewed as actions rather than just as expressions of religious belief–helps to put the emphasis back on human agency. At any rate, Europe has always had a hard time taking a nuanced attitude towards religion one way or the other. For the last hundred years France for example has been a rigidly secular state, banning religious symbols and expression in all public domain, and now some of the political conservatives are talking about swinging back the other way by subsidizing churches, synagogues and mosques. I suppose it has not occured to anyone to just tolerate religion where it arises rather than officially supporting it or trying to eradicate it.

11 Responses to “Man weißt nicht noch, was ist Toleranz”

  1. shonk Says:

    Tangentially relevant is Randall McElroy’s post “Pluralist Sharia?”

  2. Curt Says:

    Why is a totally voluntary court that makes non-binding decisions something that the government needs to get involved with in the first place? Don’t people in the West who want to be judged according to sharia law go to their mosque and do it that way now?

  3. shonk Says:

    Well, yeah. But don’t tell NOW.

  4. mock Says:

    Would a fair amount of basically unwitting people be forced into the system, e.g. the more or less assimilated younger women of Dalrymple’s anecdotes?

  5. shonk Says:

    At a guess, I’d say probably no more than are already either forced into the judgment of the mosque or forced not to take their complaints to the police.

  6. Dave Says:

    Curt,You are taking the old fashioned attitude (which I agree with) that was basically the one taken towards the Communists in the bad old days of McCarthyism. In order to preserve constitutional liberties of freedom of belief and expression, you could read of say anything you want but you couldn’t actually advocate or practice violence or mayhem in specific. This is the conservative position, which is and was protected by the courts in the US. Now you have trend in leftist circles to pick and choose the correct position it is proper to advocate. Simple abstract concepts of freedom of expression for all and tolerance of unpopular belief are no longer held in high regard, but are applied selectively, depending on ethnicity, sex, religious status, and sexual orientation. Thus you have the debates you describe which indicate actual degradation of the liberty of individuals in these societies. Strangely, the censors consider themselves progressives. The thing that grates on me is their attitude that they should prescribe what is best for everyone.

  7. shonk Says:

    In order to preserve constitutional liberties of freedom of belief and expression, you could read of say anything you want but you couldn’t actually advocate or practice violence or mayhem in specific.

    Obviously I wasn’t there, but I think McCarthyism took it a bit further than that. Nonetheless, I agree with the rest of your points.

  8. Curt Says:

    Right, the McCarthyites in my view made the same mistake (probably cynically) that I have been criticizing of conflating speech and action–i.e. if you espoused support for communism you were a communist ipso facto. Then again, there has always been, then as now, a respectable conservative position which is not McCarthyite.

  9. Dave Says:

    I use the “ McCarty era? somewhat tongue in cheek because I get so tired of hearing the left especially the movie stars act like they were persecuted. They may have been discriminated against by those who disagreed with them but they generally do the same or worse when they have the chance.
    Of course McCarthy was no conservative or anything else, just a demagogue. His followers were right wing extremists. The mainstream supported individual rights.

  10. shonk Says:

    Apropos both my first comment and the post: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,6903,1593291,00.html

  11. Curt Says:

    I think the part in the article about failing to perceive the conflicts within other cultures is absolutely right. I get the feeling that one of the main causes of the intellectual schizophrenia that the author describes comes from an inability to see more than one conflict in the world. The anti-war protesters seem to subconsciously assume this, so since they hate the U.S. military apparatus they assume that its other enemies, like the suicide bombers, are basically fighting for the same cause. It might be a little cruel to point out that this view is just as narrow-minded and America-centric as the nationalists that they are allegedly opposed to, but I guess I just did.

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