Saturday, 08 December 2012 00:00 GFP Columnist - Dr. Stephen Gill
"Where there is no peace there is no health and where there is no health there is no prosperity and meaning in living. Peace, health and prosperity walk together" - Stephen Gill.

It is very encouraging that the United Nations has proved its interest in the spirit of tolerance through several means. The philosophy of awareness was behind the Year of Tolerance that was observed in 1995. To generate public awareness of tolerance to different cultures and religions, projects were launched. These projects included the use of traditional and nontraditional teaching methods, puppet shows, exhibitions, music and films.

Among the topics that were discussed and deliberated, included tolerance, multiculturalism, global diversity, and religious dialogue. These attempts led to the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance that were adopted and signed in Paris by one hundred and eighty-five member States of UNESCO on November 16, 1995. The signatories pledged to promote tolerance and non-violence in their countries through educational policies and programs. They also declared November 16, 2012 as the annual international day for tolerance.

Tolerance was not as much desirable in political and social spheres in the days of Buddha and Christ, even Gandhi, as it is desirable in the world of today. It is largely because of the growing pluralistic trend of the 21st century. The populations of most nations are composed of social, ethnic, cultural, religious and social backgrounds, representing a variety of life styles and ideologies. Diversity has become an unavoidable phenomenon and also a valuable and an attractive asset.

If democracy has to succeed, the portals of tolerance have to be opened widely because tolerance is the base from where peace, health and prosperity flower. Peace is the bird of health that dwells in the valley of tolerance. When the body starts malfunctioning due to the hysteria of chaos, dialogues emerge as nutritional heroes. Sincere dialogues are invested with energy fuelled with the food of peace, and peace is the attribute of God. Peace is the beauty that appears when the villains of democracy are chased away from the camp of ego. The enemies of freedoms malign peace with their half baked opinions, abandoning peace solitary in the court of pride.

In the beginning the word tolerance was used in the sense of fortitude and physical endurance. It encompassed the ability to put up with evil. In the seventeenth century it assumed a different significance because of the religious clashes and Reformation. On May 24 in 1689, the British Parliament passed the Toleration Act that allowed dissenting protestant the freedom to worship. This freedom was denied to Roman Catholics.

The same year, John Locke, a great advocate of religious tolerance, brought out the first volume of his Epistula de Tolerentia, which had a strong impact on the thoughts of that age. He stood for religious liberalism that embodied religious freedom for everyone. Another person who advocated religious tolerance was Voltaire, a French philosopher, who published Letters concerning the English Nation in 1733. Voltaire argued that the imposition of homogenous values on citizens lead to religious bloodshed. On the other hand, diversity and freedom shape a prosperous and peaceful society.

During the days of Reformation and also before, the problems associated with tolerance were viewed through the lenses of religion. Gradually, the philosophy of tolerance began to enter other fields, particularly politics. Today, a tolerant person is considered a civilized and educated being that recognizes the fact that modern nations and societies are complex, diverse and multicultural and must be considered in a positive and meaningful way. Tolerance achieves a higher goal of coexistence for peace and prosperity under a democratic government that gives equality to all the citizens before its law. In pluralistic communities, tolerance is a virtue that embodies the ability to enjoy one’s rights and freedoms without violating those of others. This assigns tolerance the role of a vibrant force that defines itself through dialogue, accepting differences as treasures.

Long before these philosophers and reformers, there have been wise men in the east who advocated tolerance because it was beneficial for the health of humanity. Gotama Buddha was the main spiritual physician from India who advocated it. He was born around the sixth century before Christ. About two thousand years ago, Christ came to advocate tolerance. He was vehemently against the use of the sword. Mahatma Gandhi during the British regime in India advocated the same in the political arena. This encouraged several more, including Martin Luther King from the United States, to follow the same path.

It is not right to say that tolerance is suffering, or a sign of weakness. It is neither the ability to tolerate something that is unpleasant nor surrender to a situation. It is not fortitude and physical endurance. It is rather a calmness and stability. Tolerance understands the fact that a singular unit can never be complete and self-sufficient because every unit depends on other units for survival. To be powerful, it is important for all five fingers of a hand to work together in unity. The same applies to a human body that is composed of several organs. In order to be healthy and strong all organs should work because they all depend on one another. Birds that are heavier than their own feathers need those feathers to be able to fly. They cannot fly with one feather. Even the feathers without a body are powerless because it is the body that supplies energy to feathers. Obviously, both the body and feathers need each other.

The same applies to every nation and ethnic group. The world is composed of nations and nations are composed of ethnic groups and religions. It is important to develop this awareness to cultivate tolerance among citizens for their happiness and progress. Citizens will not have to migrate to the West in search of an Elysium if they start practicing tolerance that is based on the awareness of its virtues. Several Western democracies, including Canada, recognize the importance of multiculturalism officially and promote it actively. It is the spirit of tolerance that is behind this recognition. Tolerance is more desirable in the countries where religious and ethnic tensions are going beyond control. The end of cold war has given birth to the steady rise of religious and cultural conflicts. Some of them have turned into full-scale armed conflicts that have destroyed untold lives, violating human rights openly. The formation of an unholy marriage between science and fanaticism is digging a grave for harmony.

With its message of tolerance, religion is supposed to improve human relations. On the other hand, using the hammer of intolerance, religion has been shattering the delicate glass of peace into pieces. Terrorism and religion have become synonyms in some nations. No one has seen God, yet His devotees are ready to kill and be killed in His name. There is ample evidence to testify that God is not pleased with killing and that He wants His followers to practice and preach charity, righteousness, goodwill and friendliness, not hostility. God is the supreme example of tolerance. Inanimate objects, such as planets and food grains, follow the axioms of live-and-let-live which sum up the beauty of tolerance. But the supreme creation, the human, does not follow these axioms.

The individuals who presume that by killing a few people they will be able to create a population that thinks and behaves alike should revise their convictions. Their use of the smithy of hatred to shape a world of homogenous ideas and faiths will cause a deeper chaos and desolation. History has proved over and over again that killing has never been able to solve problems. War-preparations lead to counter war-preparations. Hatred breeds hatred and love begets love. Killing may silence a few souls for a while out of fear. It also raises a crop of hatred, poison and revenge for more bloodshed. We are living in an age of the most sophisticated engines of death, which are within easy reach of anyone. The adoption of violent means is the blueprint of the chamber of suffocation, complete with poisonous ducts and wiring for self-destruction.

The logical conclusion is to learn to live side-by-side with people of other colours, beliefs and customs. It will be possible only if the castle of coexistence is brought into existence on the solid ground of tolerance and understanding to extend the freedom also to other religions. Tolerance should be based on the conviction that it is in the interest of the survival of everyone to repudiate the brutal devices of violence, giving a fair chance to democratic and non-violent means. Otherwise, the same brutal devices will awaken the tigers of anarchy to pounce on all from diverse directions.

The opposite of tolerance is intolerance that is often found in dictatorships. Democracy is built on the foundation of tolerance. Tolerance builds bridges of harmony and understanding. Bliss is the legitimate child of tolerance, because tolerance is the guardian of human rights. The globe of today is no longer the globe of yesterday, because there is a physical, material and scientific unity that has never been before.

The world has come out of feudal and isolated states to become a village. Due to advancement in transportation, people keep moving from one area to another for employment and other purposes. Everywhere, there are people of diverse creeds, colours, customs and traditions. To unite them all, there is a need for hands of tolerance that would build bridges for dialogue, respect for human rights and open the doors for prosperity. Transformation of our communities due to globalization, migration and unprecedented mobility will continue raising basic challenges concerning the ability of citizens to adjust and prosper. It is important to be aware that modern societies are pluralistic in nature. In other words, modern populations are composed of different ethnic, religious and cultural groups and backgrounds. Modern populations are diverse, therefore the door to solve their problems can be opened with the key of tolerance for coexistence.

The various nations due to the speed of transportation not only live face to face but also depend on one another for existence. The bird of cosmopolitanism is extending its wide wings to every corner. However, there is no mental and psychological unity. New citizens in several western democracies, particularly in Canada and the United States of America, have come from different nationalities. They are in a favourable situation to educate the citizens of the countries of their birth and governments to learn to live with people of other faiths and if there are conflicts, learn to settle them in democratic ways. This is the proven logical way to live peacefully and to promote prosperity.

In a society in which minorities are not safe, the majority is not safe either. Tolerance is for the survival of minorities as well as of the majority. It is a fact that in an environment in which minorities are not safe, the majority can also not enjoy its freedom. The latest example is in Afghanistan where the Taliban persecuted minorities, including women. Their repressive policies led them to their own downfall. Another example is the Mughal Empire that ruled India for about seven hundred years as long as they were tolerant of the religions of others. Aurangzeb dug the grave for the Mughal Empire with his intolerant policies. According to Human Rights Features of February 12 of 2001, “The Islamic Republic of Pakistan remains one of the most glaring examples of religious intolerance in the world.” It is largely because in Pakistan there is no real understanding between its majority class and minorities, mainly due to its laws.

Diversity is attractive and a valuable asset that is likely to cause more thirst for a peaceful coexistence under a democratically elected government. Diversity is going to be a wider and more visible reality as the globe continues shrinking. Any misguided group that wants to take law in its own hands in order to subjugate minorities through the tactics of terror is bound to be crushed by the giant of frustrations. It is the law of nature that intolerance leads to intolerance and bloodshed to bloodshed. The pages of history are cluttered with their incidents. It has happened in the past and it would happen in future.

The absence of tolerance sharpens swords that wound everybody. It was the sword of intolerance, sharpened with hate that caused the Second World War in which six million European Jews were slaughtered by the Nazi. It is estimated that about fifty-five million people perished in that war alone. The war led to the downfall of Western Europe that was the centre of power. The war also opened up the nuclear age.

Again, it was the sword of intolerance that was responsible for dividing India and establishing Pakistan in 1947. The partition resulted in the death of around two million people and about fourteen million were forced to migrate from one country to another. Another seventy thousand women were abducted and raped. Instead of solving any problems, the religious intolerance has worsened the situation. Both nations have become nuclear powers. Any nuclear conflict between them would almost wipe out both the nations from the world map and create severe problems for other nations.

Again it was the sword of intolerance that divided Pakistan in 1971 and established Bangladesh. Terror was unleashed on the sleeping, unarmed Bengalees. Three million of them were killed and ten million escaped to the neighbouring country, while thousands of women were raped and kidnapped.

The same sword is being flashed in the subcontinent of India and Pakistan even now. It is important to be aware that the majorities of today are not as powerful as they used to be, and that the minorities are not powerless as they had been. The world of today has changed dramatically. Intolerance digs the grave for democracy, peace and security. Intolerance is a scourge with deadly consequences. No society today can flourish by travelling in the boat of intolerance. Such societies impede their progress as well as the progress of others.

Intolerance assumes dangerous shapes when it is exploited by hungry politicians. They may manufacture lies and manipulate statistics to prove their ideologies based on hate. They may use arguments that are based on prejudice and misinformation. They exploit ignorance and xenophobia to stir up prejudice and discrimination to achieve their personal ends.

Intolerance has fed religious bloodshed and violent ideological clashes. To stop their repetition, several governments in 1995 and even now, and several social scientists, human rights activists, poets and writers have been grappling with the problem of taming the wild bear of intolerance.

To tame this wild bear, governments should frame laws to bane hate and discrimination against minorities. Tolerance cannot be promoted when there are laws that spread hatred, such as the blasphemy laws in Pakistan that are divisive, undemocratic and promote intolerance openly.

One may ask how to be tolerant to those who are intolerant. Such persons may not accept being tolerant of intolerants. However, tolerance will help to ease the situation. It may reduce the widening gap caused by violence. The widened gaps will continue widening because of the non-existence of lines of communication. The most efficient way to build bridges over the widening gaps is to promote freedom of the press. This can play a vital role in the promotion of public awareness. Also intergroup contacts and dialogue and problem-solving workshops can prove effective. Retaliation to meet violent situations is not always a rational answer. To punish those who do not think and act tolerantly usually worsen the situation.

Tolerance does not imply being careless about self-defence. Under volatile situations in democracies, tolerance demands extreme vigilance and precaution to protect rights and freedoms. Free speech is a pillar of democracy that needs to be protected to keep its building safe. Free speech does not mean freedom to advocate hatred and violence, and to indulge in fraudulent practices, murders, and the use of unethical means that undermine the government or the constitution.

Intolerance is rooted in ignorance and ignorance can be blotted out with education. The help of laws and education are needed to get rid of intolerance. Education for the cultivation of humanity would nourish the plant of tolerance, democracy and human rights. However, education that is a lifelong process should be started as early as possible. Children should be encouraged to be open and curious. Education should be started anywhere and at every level. Children of today will become adults in a much changed social and cultural atmosphere. The goal of education should be directed to teach them to be more flexible and to face those challenges of interpersonal relations. It is important to prepare a child to learn to live more harmoniously with understanding and communication among diverse groups of different cultural backgrounds. Aristotle was right when he said that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.

In defence of tolerance, I would like to quote from my novel 'The Coexistence', where I say that no citizen has any right to suppress the rights of others. There is no fire that can put out another fire, and there is no blood that can wash a blood-stained towel. War is fire that cannot be stopped by another war. It may create the situation of status quo, but status quo is not peace. More weapons are not the answer to weapons. One weapon of destruction may destroy more weapons, but this is not the answer to anarchy.

Peace does not exist in the dinners of the leaders nor at their podiums. Peace is the breath of the soul and soul is what matters. Peace is a quiescent rock even in the vortex which feeds suspicion and hostility. Peace means life is sacred and it should be touched with respect. Mind is the bastion where peace is born. Peace of every individual is the result of mutual cooperation. Without cooperation from air, sun, earth and others no individual can live. Every individual needs other individuals. In case of sickness, a patient needs the expertise of the medical staff and hospital. Even the medical staff accumulates their knowledge with the help of those who receive their knowledge from others. It is a non-ending cycle. Every unit is interdependent and recognition of interdependence is the way to the Nirvana of peace.

To shape a peaceful future, it is important to pay attentions to students in the classrooms. They must be made aware that every human shares the world, in spite of the differences in races, religions, cultures, languages, politics and so on. Tolerance opens the door for a meaningful dialogue. It opens the gate to a garden of flowers of different shades, shapes and colours, which add to the beauty of sight. It extends freedom to every flower to bloom, which brings uniqueness to the garden.

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