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In Praise of Tolerance March 15, 2011

Posted by cristobalgomez in Uncategorized.
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Alarmed by the growth of intolerance and its demonstrations of racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, islamophobia and other expressions of hatred and discrimination, various international bodies have reacted, as did the United Nations, which proclaimed the International Year of Tolerance in 1995, and UNESCO, which passed a declaration proclaiming November 16th (the anniversary of its constitution) the International Day of Tolerance. But these were moments of general mobilization that did not continue and did not translate into political or legislative instruments. In this declaration, the Heads of State and governments pledged to defend the principle of tolerance as a core value of democratic coexistence, demanding that it not be confused with the notion of permissiveness and stating that “Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the infinite richness of the cultures of our world, of our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance promotes knowledge, openness of ideas, communication, and freedom of thought. Tolerance is harmony in difference and is not only a moral duty but a political and legal requirement.”

The Universal Academy of Culture verified the dangerous international advance of intolerance (be it racial, religious, gender-based or cultural) and its penetrating role of stimulating hatred in an International Forum, where it thoroughly analyzed the problem and its dramatic expression in Europe, framing it historically as an idea of “institutionalized intolerance that explains the concentration camps, the crematoria, the physical torture, the ossuaries, the deportations, the Gulags and the confinement.” In reality, history provides us with an endless number of examples. “Individual and collective intolerance came together to bring about the Inquisition, religious wars, genocides, totalitarian purges, fascism, fundamentalism, etc,” affirmed the Academy.

Elie Wiesel, survivor of Auschwitz and Nobel Peace Prize winner, affirms in his introductory text for the Forum that intolerance “is not only the vile instrument of the enemy, but the enemy itself.” He insists that it is the prelude of hatred and violence and that both intolerance and fascism inevitably lead to the humiliation of one´s fellow man and with that, the denial of his humanity and his possibilities for development. Demonstrations of intolerance consecrate as a common value, not the people with diverse identities, but rather the very identity that opposes those who it does not accept and to whom it denies respect and appreciation. It is the common denominator and it appears in connection with demonstrations of racial, national, sexual, and religious hatred and other behaviors that discriminate, segregate, attack and incite against groups, minorities or people who happen to be, think, or behave in a different manner. When Intolerance transforms into a collective or institutionalized act, it undermines coexistence and democratic principles, and it presents a threat to world peace.

But, how should one combat intolerance? We know how to confront fascism because it is a system, a structure, a will-power that we must unmask, reject, condemn, and exclude from democratic societies. However, as the Academy asserted, with intolerance it is more complicated because it is subtle, because it is a common disposition that potentially nests within each of us, and because it is difficult to identify and to detect its characteristics. It feeds prejudice, and as Einstein said, “it is more difficult to neutralize an atom than to divide it.” But the most serious problem, as indicated by the Academy, is the malleability of intolerance, because it does not form part of a system, nor of a religion, nor of an ideology, but rather of the human condition itself, present in each of us, penetrating with a greater depth than any ideology, existing at the very origin of phenomena of a distinct nature.

The current economic crisis is making possible the dissemination of prejudices and stereotypes that feed xenophobia, spreading intolerant discourse, which is very dangerous in electoral campaigns, and which damages democratic coexistence, social cohesion, and intercultural integration. Many of these vile acts are spread openly on the Internet, fueling hatred, and racist concerts, demonstrations with openly xenophobic expressions and cries, propaganda campaigns that violate the dignity and the rights of immigrants, minorities, and all of society also occur, and we do not find ourselves surprised by attacks against offices of leftist political parties, cultural associations, and social organizations. To this long list, one must also add the assaults against people, which in some cases have irreparably led to murder.

The ley de Igualdad de Trato (the Equal Treatment Act), pledged by the government of Spain, is an opportunity to fully respond to discrimination and hatred, provided that it establishes measures to support victims and creates the Fiscalías de Delitos de Odio y Discriminación para todas las Comunidades Autónomas (Prosecutor´s office of Hate Crimes and Discrimination for all Autonomous Communities) and a reform of the Penal Code that would punish incitement and not leave any room for impunity, placing us within the international mandates for fighting effectively against racism, xenophobia, and intolerance. Together, we can do it.

Esteban Ibarra

President of the Movimiento contra la Intolerancia (the Movement Against Intolerance)

(Article published in the Diario Público. 11/16/2010).


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