Stephen Gill in search for Peace

 

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TOLERANCE IS VIBRANT AND POSITIVE ATTITUDE

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 *Appeared partly in India Journal (Canada) January 17, 1997, p. 18; and
online Pakistan Christian Post.


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. Same year, John Locke, a great advocate of religious tolerance, brought out the first volume of his Epistula de Tolerentia that 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 before, the problem associated with tolerance was viewed through the lenses of religion. Gradually, the philosophy of tolerance began to enter other fields, particularly politics. Today, a tolerant person is considered civilized, 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 good vibrant force for a reasoned exercise to define ourselves through dialogue and to accept differences.

It is not right to say that tolerance is suffering, or that it is a weakness. It is not the ability to tolerate something that is unpleasant for a long time. It is not surrender either to a situation. It is not fortitude and physical endurance. It is rather a calmness and stability. Tolerance is understanding of 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 body are powerless because it is the body that supplies energy to feathers and feathers take the body in the air. Both need the help of each other to fly. Obviously, both the body and feathers need each other.

The same applies to every nation and every ethnic group. The world is composed of nations and nations are composed of diverse ethnic groups and religions. It is important to develop this awareness to cultivate tolerance among citizens to be on the path of happiness and progress. Citizens will not have to migrate to the West in search of an Elysium if they start practising tolerance that is based on the awareness of its virtue. 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 becomes more desirable under the situations of tensions that are going almost beyond control in some countries for religious and ethnic reasons. 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. Instead, using the hammer of intolerance, it has been shattering the delicate glass of peace into pieces, proving tolerance also as a force for evil. 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 like planets and food grains follow the path of live-and-let-live which sums up the significance of tolerance. But the supreme creation, human, is just the opposite.

The individuals who presume that by killing a few people here and there 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 road 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 rocks of tolerance and understanding, including religious tolerance to extend the freedom that one enjoys also to other religions without hatred. Tolerance should be based on the conviction that it is in the interest of survival of everyone to repudiate the brutal devices of violence, giving a fair chance to democratic and nonviolent 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 that is the fount of human rights. The globe of today is no longer the globe of yesterday, because there is a physical, material and scientific unity that there 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 rapidly 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 the 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 of pluralistic nature. In other words, modern populations are composed of different ethnic, religious and cultural groups and backgrounds. Because modern populations are diverse, therefore the door to solve their problems can be opened with the key of diversity.

The various nations due to the speed of transportation live face to face now. Not only that, they depend on one another for existence. The bird of cosmopolitanism is extending its wide wings to every corner. But 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 also their 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, majority is not safe either. Tolerance is for survival of minorities as well as of majority. It is a fact that in a surrounding in which minorities are not safe, majority can also not enjoy its freedom. The latest example is Afghanistan where 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 continue shrinking. If any misguided group wants to take law in its own hands 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.

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. The year was proclaimed by the United Nations. To generate public awareness of tolerance to different cultures and religions, projects were launched from the use of traditional and untraditional teaching methods, including 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 in 1995. The signatories pledged to promote tolerance and nonviolence in their countries through educational policies and programmes. They also declared November 16 as the annual international day for tolerance.

Absence of tolerance sharpens swords that wound everybody. It was the sword of intolerance based on hate that caused the second world war in which six million European Jews were slaughtered by 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 center of power. The war also opened up the nuclear age.
Again, it was the sword of intolerance that was responsible for dividing India and established Pakistan in 1947. Partition resulted in the death of around two million people and around fourteen million were forced to migrate from one country to another and about seventy thousand women were abducted and raped. Instead of solving any problem, 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.

It was again 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 and thousands of women were raped and kidnapped.

The same sword is being flashed in the subcontinent of India and Pakistan even now. It is also important to be aware that majorities of today is not as powerful as they used to be and minorities are not that weak and 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 of 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.

The basic requisite to tame this wild bear is the use of laws to promote tolerance and also to promote equality before law. 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. Under certain circumstances tolerance may become a meaningless exercise.

One may ask that how to be tolerant to those who are intolerant of us. Such persons may not accept to be 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 nonexistence of lines of communication that breed assumptions based on a lack of personal experiences. The most efficient way to build bridges over the widening gaps is to promote freedom of press that 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 like you usually worsen the situation..

Tolerance does not imply to be careless about self-defense. Under particularly volatile situations in democracies, tolerance demands extreme of vigilance and precaution to protect rights and freedoms. Free speech is a pillar of democracy that needs to be protected to keep the building safe that it supports. 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 both 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 is a lifelong experience. It 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 adult in a much changed social and cultural atmosphere. The goal of education should be directed to teach them to be more flexible to face those challenges of tomorrow about interpersonal relations. It is important to prepare children to learn to live more harmoniously that is possible with understanding and communication among diverse groups of different cultural backgrounds.

Students in the classrooms must be made aware that every human shares the world, in spite of the differences in races, religions, cultures, languages, politics and so on. Every one inherits the same one earth, its air, and the sun, and has the canopy of sky over the head. It is wise to be tolerant of each other’s differences to enjoy our survival.

Teachers with more than one student know that all students are different in their abilities, culture, religion and even their mother tongues. They work to bind their students together with a thread of harmony for their common goal that is survival with the help of education. A classroom is a smaller version of the world that is more complicated, more wide and diverse. Differences whether in a classroom or in the world are strength. Every citizen of the global village is bound with the belief that tolerance of differences provide the thread to unite all humans to make the globe a better place to live for us as well as for our children and children’s children to grow free and strong. This is possible through the means of tolerance of each other’s differences. Aristotle was right when he said that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth

©Stephen Gill
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