Tolerance and Its Limits Essay

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Global terrorism has changed the entire spectrum of tolerance in today's world. Highlighted by the events of 9/11 the facts that even the world's most powerful nation was not immune to the effects of terrorism brought home the fact that there was little defense to the acts of terrorists. The age of innocence in the United States had ended and the rest of the world waited to see how the United States would react (Schorow 2002).

Terrorism has been a part of the world framework for some time but in the United States it had been something that occurred somewhere else. It was not anything that those living within the borders of the United States had to be concerned with. Those types of problems existed elsewhere. In America everyone was safe: until 9/11. 9/11 forced Americans to look at terrorism in a different light and to examine the roots and goals of terrorism.

For the first time in its history America had to face the fact that terrorists were determined to attack the foundation of the entire American system of values. The Islamic terrorists that attacked the World Trade Center were determined to divide Western culture from the Arab and Islamic world and to provoke a disproportionate and ruthless retaliation that would create a radical reaction from the Islam community that would create a disdain for the Western culture in general and the United States in particular. Along the way the terrorists hoped to destroy the values of freedom, tolerance, and the rule of law that characterized Western society. The terrorists' ultimate goal was to polarize the world into Islam and anti-Islam forces and to fuel the flames of hatred between the two sides (Richardson 2007).

In their effort to promote their goals of divisiveness and hatred the terrorists recognized that they needed to do something dramatic relative to establishing fear of terrorism in the minds of Americans. Having been largely insulated from terrorism the United States had felt safe and had not lived in constant fear of terrorist attack like most of the rest of the world. What the 9/11 terrorists managed to accomplish was to bring the United States within the fold of the rest of the world and instill the fear of terrorism in the minds of all Americans but it took a terrorist attack greater than any the world had ever witnessed to do so. In the process the terrorists have brought into question American and Western civilization's resolve to remain tolerant.

For most of man's history tolerance was most closely associated with religion but as the world has become more complex and globalized tolerance has been expanded to involve a willingness to accept differences between political and ethnic groups, homosexuals, and minorities of different types (Kaplan 2007). The principle of tolerance involves being willing to accept a wide range of beliefs and moral values and allowing individuals and groups espousing these beliefs and morals full opportunity to express them (Blake 2007). Underlying the practice of tolerance is the need for an open, pluralistic, and democratic society. This society must be respectful of civil liberties and human rights and must be dedicated to the promotion of intellectual, artistic, scientific, religious, and philosophical freedom.

Civil libertarians such as John Locke and John Stuart Mill have been outspoken in their support for the concept of tolerance (Conti 2005). They both argued that the tolerance presupposes the value of the individual and the individual's right to freedom of choice. The theory underlying these arguments is that a tolerant society is one that is likely to be more creative and innovative. A tolerant society is one that is more relaxed and, therefore, more open to new discoveries and new insights. The belief is that a tolerant society encourages mutual trust and a spirit of cooperation between its members. Along the way a general feeling of peacefulness is developed where differences between members of society are settled through the process of negotiation and compromise. In theory, there is less cruelty, hypocrisy, less dogmatism, less hatred and fanaticism. In essence, tolerance leads to a more humane, pragmatic society.

For the terrorists, the concept of tolerance is foreign to their entire philosophy and, some would argue, to their religious beliefs as well. There is some evidence to suggest that Islam itself lacks tolerance but there can be no argument that the terrorists in the form of al Queda and the Taliban lack any concept of tolerance.

The 9/11 attacks bring into focus the fact that tolerance is not an absolute. If it were America's reaction to the attacks would have resulted in a far more reserved response. The United States would have refrained from its attacks on Iraq and its eventual move into Afghanistan but, on occasions, principles greater than tolerance must be afforded consideration and in the case of the 9/11 attacks American society determined that the concept of tolerance had to be compromised in order to protect the other values that typically accompany tolerance. The danger, however, is to lose sight of the fact that, in the end, America must still return to its position of tolerance in order to ensure the continuation of an open, democratic society (Hinkson 2002).

The ultimate suppression of the beliefs that have fostered terrorism among radical Islams is best done through tolerance. In order to subdue the pursuit of jihad the United States and other Western civilizations must develop a clear and correct understanding of the diversity present among the world's Muslims. The typical American identifies being Islam with being Arab when, in fact, less than one-fifth of the world's Muslims are also Arabs (Hoodbhoy 2005). Americans also view most Muslims as living under governments that are anti-democratic while in actuality the majority of Muslims live under governments in India, Indonesia, Turkey, and Western Europe that are strongly democratic. It is true that in the Middle East, where most of the terrorists presently live, that the governments are undemocratic but that trend is rapidly changing and with additional tolerance this trend will continue (Reuters 2011).

On the other hand, America's tolerance for terrorism cannot be zero. To adopt such a position would be tantamount to potential suicide. The country must be prepared for future attacks as they are inevitable. So long as there are differing political and religious views there will be terrorism.

The events of 9/11 raise an interesting philosophical question in regard to the limits of tolerance. Tolerance has been a way of life in the United States but the 9/11 events have presented the United States with facing a sector of society, in this case the al Queda, who profess intolerance. This intolerance extends to a professed goal of destroying all infidels with infidels being anyone who does not follow the strict tenets of Allah and the religion of Islam. So what America finds itself up against is being tolerant toward those who are completely intolerant. Those who openly and defiantly profess the destruction of those who are tolerant, thus, America is facing the ultimate moral dilemma: tolerating those who refuse to tolerate them.

In the wake of 9/11 America set about determining what the limits of its tolerance were. In response to the loss of 3,000 American lives and billions in economic loss America was willing to spend multibillions in tax dollars and the loss of thousands of young service men and women lives. In addition, Americans have been willing to limit their individual freedoms and privacy by undergoing increased security measures at airports and other facilities; undergoing bothersome paper work whenever we try to open a bank account; and passing through security screens at nearly every public event. The fact that they continue is an indication that America society has decided that these losses in life, property, taxes, freedom and security are acceptable losses in the interest of demonstrating our tolerance.

Imagine, however, that the next time terrorists decide to attack America, and they will, that such attack utilizes some form of nuclear device that results in the loss of 25,000 American lives. Will such action test the limits of America's tolerance? If not, will 50,000 American dead? 100,000? This is a question that Americans may soon find themselves trying to decide.

The reality of terrorism is that it is a tactic and not a philosophy (Schmid 2005). It is a demonstration of the underlying philosophy which is intolerance. Radical Muslims used terrorism as a method of demonstrating their lack of tolerance. They demand that their fellow Muslims adopt a similar intolerant position in order to be considered observant Muslims. In the process of their doing so they act inhumanely by organizing suicide bombings, taking hostages, and televising public stoning and beheadings. Christianity and other religions have had their periods in history where they too practiced such wholesale intolerance. When they used theological justifications for their actions, the Crusades and Inquisition come to mind immediately, and so taking a zero-tolerant attitude toward terrorism is fraught with some danger and…[continue]

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