We have come farther than we realize, and it’s causing us issues. Allowing ourselves to backslide should not be an option. There is no shortage of stories relating to our current faults: corruption, racism, disregard for our fellow citizens. It seems a wonder we haven’t erupted into full-blown chaos. And all of the commotion is drowning out important progress, so let’s take a few minutes and reflect on just where we are. Because we have to recognize our own current position if we want to plan our next steps.
Despite all of the rhetoric to the contrary, we have become an incredibly tolerant and benevolent culture, particularly as we look at diversity, be it race, sex, religion, lifestyle, whatever. And now we find ourselves in a difficult predicament. Partly because we – human beings – will never, ever be completely accepting of everyone else. But also because our new found tolerance is being projected on other cultures, such that we have a tendency to turn a blind eye to some harsh realities that still exist. We are struggling to find the balance between tolerance of ideologies and intolerance of injustice within those ideologies.
This article makes a good example. The problems we have are hidden between the lines, exemplified by the words that aren’t written. The article never uses the words Islamic, refugee, or Muslim. And yet that is exactly what this story is about: accusations that radical Islamic refugees from countries like Syria are creating pockets of their own cultural ideology and displacing the pre-existing populations, or subjecting them to their own foreign law, in this case Sharia law. Some have said that this is a serious problem in cities like Paris, London, and Brussels. Others say this is overblown, even “fake” news. But how can you have a discussion when you are afraid to say what you are discussing?
On the one hand, we want to help people who may be oppressed for their beliefs, who may be fleeing their own war-torn homes, offering a safe place to settle and restructure their lives, raising their families in peace. That’s our compassionate, accepting side, doing the right thing.
But there are realities to the situation that should not – that cannot – be ignored. Many Islamic (and other) countries do not share our values, our tolerance, our defense of human rights. Saudi Arabia has a judicial system based on a literal interpretation of the Islamic faith. While we in the US discuss the ethics of capital punishment, they still carry out public beheadings. The list of capital offenses includes things like atheism, homosexuality, or car-jacking. And that’s the central government; tribal law is practiced in rural areas, and it is so far from our way of thinking that it borders on incomprehensible. Skim through this article and you should at least see that there is a vastly different cultural mindset in some countries, well beyond any of the exaggerated polarization that we perceive in each other. We have to appreciate the difference between someone who, based on stories which often carry their own bias, appears to have some underlying prejudice; and those come from areas in which these same ideals are written and practiced law.
On the one hand, we lambaste someone who laughs at a sexist or racially-charged joke, but then we put on blinders to fundamental ideological problems that result in egregious – and very real – human rights violations. These philosophies are not to be tolerated or integrated into our own culture for any reason, no matter how accepting we hope to be. Failing to take steps to assure the preservation of our standards and the safety of our citizens, even in the spirit of cultural acceptance, is inexcusable.
Though I admit I have been distraught at the harshness of our attitudes towards each other of late, I now find some comfort in the recognition that this turmoil is an inevitable consequence of our continued improvement. Dr. Ben Williams turned a light on in my head with his response to my feeling that racism seemed more of an issue now than when I was a kid. “It’s just more visible now,” he said.
Look at the world through the eyes of a white supremacist: if your culture is segregated, you really don’t have much to go on about. It’s when things start mixing up, black people anywhere on the bus, no one cares about interracial marriage, your country elects a black president; it’s then that you start to panic and make noise. Just because I grew up believing that the color of a person’s skin is inconsequential doesn’t mean the rest of the world shared that view, it’s just that no one talked about it. It wasn’t visible. Now, we are hearing from the fringes because the nut jobs don’t like what’s going on. And that, my friends, is the sound of progress.
We are never going to see eye-to-eye on everything. We are all human, and it is natural for us to be drawn to familiarity, to surround ourselves with like-minded people. That’s OK. We all have our likes and our dislikes, and no matter who we are, each of us is going to have to accept the fact that there are always going to be other people that, for whatever reason, don’t like us. And some will not like us real bad. And if we are going to be truly tolerant of a variety of beliefs and ideals, that’s what we are going to have. The only option is forcing everyone to accept one ideology. That’s not our way.
So it’s OK to not like other people, or even to <gasp> believe that other people’s actions are immoral. This is the life we have chosen, to be accepting of those people who subscribe a religion that is different from our own. Where we have to draw the line is when one group attempts to impose its views on others. That seems very realistic when someone else is trying to tell you how to live, but we seem to lose sight of the goal when we are asked to let other people believe or live differently. And yes, that’s all of us; it’s just as hard for a devout atheist to truly accept a fundamentalist Christian as it is for the Christian to let the non-believer move along.
So trying to find a silver lining to all the anger, at least some of it is a result of our progress. I will take comfort in that. (I’ll try to take comfort in just about anything right now, thank you very much). But we still need to take a few collective breaths and step back and re-evaluate the situation with some semblance of logic. Because we don’t want our forward progress to be thwarted by our inadvertent acceptance of the very cultural mindsets that we have worked so hard to overcome.