Asserting The Right: To say 'I am!' When all around you are saying 'You are not!', is the true definition of power. As Thomas Mann so rightly said: "Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil."
IT HAS BEEN a hell-week for Tolerance. Tragic events in France and unspeakable atrocities in Nigeria have tested her followers’ fidelity to the limit. The temptation to condemn; to lash out in righteous anger; has been overwhelming.
“What kind of people”, we ask, “can justify gunning down a roomful of grandfatherly journalists and cartoonists? Or strap a bomb to the body of a ten year old girl and send her into the middle of a crowded marketplace?”
In responding to such questions others demand to know what kind of people could crowd grandfathers and ten-year-old girls into “showers” and drop deadly poisonous pellets of Zyklon-B on their heads?
Such responses are intended to remind us that cruelty and violence are not the sole preserve of Al Qaida, Islamic State or Boko Haram jihadists. That, within living memory, highly-educated Europeans set a bench-mark for cruelty and violence that has yet to be exceeded.
They should also remind us that fighting for and defending Tolerance is no job for pacifists.
Our fathers and grandfathers did not hesitate to condemn or lash out in righteous anger against the Nazi regime. On the contrary, they made war upon it until little was left of its German birthplace except bloody piles of rubble. At Nuremburg, in the name of Humanity itself, they put Nazism on trial and hanged its guilty leaders by their necks until they were dead.
There are some (thankfully a small minority) who compare the Islamic religion in toto with Nazism and demand from the nations of the West the same uncompromising determination to rid the world of a malign influence that was displayed between 1939 and 1945.
Fortunately, Tolerance’s grip upon the vast majority of Westerners is still strong enough to reject such annihilationist solutions. Simple common-sense tells us that the murderous jihadists whose crimes have dominated the headlines for the past ten days have as much to do with Islam as the cross-burning members of the Ku Klux Klan had to do with Christianity.
Every bit as much. Because isn’t it true that even though only a handful of white southerners actually wore the Klan’s hoods and robes, its terrorist exploits (most of which, right up until the late 1960s, went unpunished) could only take place in a social environment that made both the moral condemnation and/or legal conviction of the perpetrators unthinkable?
Those southern towns were as full of churches as the cities of the Middle East are filled with mosques. The hard truth remains that the Klan was only defeated as a powerful terrorist force when the people among whom it operated were no longer willing to justify its crimes or shield its members from the claims of justice. When those churches finally stopped turning a blind eye to terrorism, and their congregations finally stopped turning up to lynchings.
Tolerance is a militant goddess – never to be confused with acquiescence or clever apologetics. To end the reign of the Ku Klux Klan required not only the courage and sacrifice of Dr Martin Luther King’s non-violent civil rights campaigners; not only the steadfast support of defiant African-American communities; not only the solidarity and assistance of progressive Americans from all over the USA; but also the relentless interventions of the Department of Justice and the covert operations of the FBI.
Tolerance rejects the racist suggestion that the Islamic peoples are incapable of responding to the moral challenge of terrorism in the same manner as White Christians in the South eventually responded to it.
Tolerance charges us to not only familiarise ourselves with the fundamental tenets of Islam, but also to challenge openly the ways in which the message of the Prophet has been distorted and defiled by the murderous blasphemers and heretics who dare to march beneath his banner.
Tolerance knows that it is only when the body of the faithful rises in revolt against the Kings and Ayatollahs, the Presidents and Generals, whose personal and profane interests are served by the dissemination of a creed that knows nothing of submission or penitence or charity, that the true voice of the Prophet will once again ring out clearly across the lands of the faithful.
But, most of all, Tolerance knows that her great enemy, Intolerance, only ever triumphs when ordinary, decent people confuse doing the right thing with doing nothing.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 16 January 2015.