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Let's Get Intolerant About "Tolerance"
The bullshit kind. Spiked's Brendan O'Neill lays out the good kind:

Real tolerance, according to OED definitions and the words of Enlightened thinkers such as Voltaire, means ‘permitting free expression of views one does not share’; it is about ‘broad-mindedness’; it is about having a ‘fair, objective and permissive attitude towards opinions and practices that differ from one’s own’; tolerance is about being rigorous and robust, allowing all views to be freely expressed so that the ‘value of each…can be tested.’ (1) See The age of intolerant tolerance, by Mick Hume)

And then there's the other kind, the kind where we feel compelled (by guilt, perhaps?) to twist and deform our society to meet other people's primitively based needs:

Official Tolerance is censorious rather than genuinely tolerant. It is about stifling debate rather than encouraging it. It is a demand that we do not rock the boat or ask probing questions, instead just respecting everything. Except, that is, those who are judged to be intolerant. They can be slapped down and censored with impunity. Tolerance has become a new moral code that you transgress at your own risk.

This is clear in the debate about the veil. When Khadijah, taking her cue from numerous Muslim community groups, says we must be tolerant of her ‘personal choice’ to wear the full face veil, she is effectively saying that we should not question or ridicule it. Why shouldn’t we? It is absurd for women in a modern, pretty open society like Britain to cover themselves from head-to-toe in black cloth; Jack Straw was right when he said these oppressive garments are a ‘visible demonstration of separateness’ (3). Although, of course, Straw’s own New Labour government did a great deal to nurture the notion that rigorous debate or criticism of religious practices should be curtailed lest it cause someone like Khadijah ‘cultural offence’. The government’s Religious Hatred legislation, which makes it a crime to ridicule or offend Islam or other religions, is Official Tolerance put into practice – a law that says public speech must be restricted in the name of ‘tolerating’ all cultures. That is a flagrant attack on the hard-won right in our secular society to speak out against superstitious nonsense, and a flagrant attack on genuine tolerance of people’s views and right to express them.

Official Tolerance is about giving a sedative to society, blanking out awkward questions, and covering up the hole at the heart of British culture. That may be another reason why the royals – isolated, and always keen to close down pesky debate among the masses – are drawn to today’s idea of tolerance. They can stave off debate by using the trendy and diverse-sounding language of respect. Religious figures find Official Tolerance attractive for the same reasons: it allows them to avoid having to defend their backward beliefs against their secular ridiculers. Meanwhile, among those who are critical of the traditional religions or something like the Muslim veil, all too often the complaint is that it is these religious practices that are truly intolerant, because they don’t respect women’s rights or gay rights, etc. The accusation of ‘intolerance!’ is wielded by both camps in order to shut up their opponents by getting the censorious Tolerant State on their side. Too many are inviting the authorities to be true to their word and punish anyone who appears intolerant.

We really could do with a more tolerant society in 2007 – a more genuinely tolerant society, that is. That means allowing people to believe and say what they like, just so long as the rest of us are free to challenge them. It means enlightening and enlivening public debate, rather than dampening it with demands that we all hold our tongues in case we offend sensitive religious souls, the Windsors, or anybody else. And it means doing away with the criminalisation of the ‘intolerant’ as the sinners of our new age in favour of cultivating a robust and open culture where everything is up for discussion. In a secular, democratic society seven years into the twenty-first century, we should tolerate nothing less.

Hey, everybody, this is America, a free speech zone. You prefer censored speech? Move to North Korea, Cuba, or Saudi Arabia.

By the way, check out the criminals hiding under the veil. And how just plain creepy it is, if you're a waitress, to serve somebody with their face covered, or with their entire body hidden under a pup tent, with only their eyes peeking out:

Others simply tell me, “Natalia, you bigot. You ought to embrace others.” No. I do not wish to see the face-veil banned or removed. I just don’t like its symbolism. I don’t like the way it makes a person look, like faceless black pillar on a crowded street. Aesthetically, it brings up unpleasant connotations for me - disconnect, removal, even disdain. It brings up notions of feminity as a dangerous object that must be covered up and blurred and maybe even completely restricted. Finally, it makes me feel as though the person wearing it does not trust other people (with good reason, perhaps, but an unsettling thought nonetheless). This could all be very different from the actual intentions and desires of the individual covering her face, but that does not stop me from feelings this way.

On one level, it’s almost an animalistic kind of reaction: like a blind-spot that I, a person traveling through my urban jungle, become quietly unsettled by.

Finally, what about men who cover their faces in public? Brrrr. I had to serve coffee to a guy who thought he was terribly clever and “counter-culture” for wearing a scarf over his face. I kept thinking that he must be some sort of convicted criminal, hiding in case the police happen by. Was I also a raving bigot then? Is it then perfectly OK for women to cover their faces but not men?

I came to the West with a lot of my own cultural baggage. Some of it I’ve come to view as positive, even as something I could share with others. Other things from my background are much more problematic. I don’t expect my neighbours to see the entirety of my heritage as something that must be, here’s that word again, “‘embraced.” Tolerated, sure. And even then, not all of it.

For example: Homophobic Slavic immigrants are currently busy threatening the gay community in Sacramento, CA. Homphobia is perfectly acceptable in most communities in Eastern Europe. But not here, right? When these people are out there harrassing the gay community, you can’t look away and tell yourself that it is simple their “‘culture” and that we ought to be tolerant. Everyone has the right to free speech here (and the Phelps clan is a shining example of that), but then again, everyone also tries to define this country for themselves. And this process can be unpleasant and uncomfortable. It’s OK to admit that homophobia makes one uncomfortable, no? Why not the face-veil?

Posted by aalkon at January 2, 2007 10:49 AM

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Yeah, those damned veils and scarves.... when I was in Afghanistan, I accepted the blue-tented women as the cultural norm, while inwardly rolling my eyes at what I thought a stupid and uncomfortable idea. I could easily understand, though, that an individual woman who decided not to go along with the bullshit would have a *very* hard time on the streets of Kabul.

I take offence, however, at the tiny minority of veiled women in Europe or the USA, where there's no such social pressure to hide oneself. It seems to me to be saying "I cannot show you my face/hair because you would be so impassioned by my beauty that you would most likely commit a crime". Arrogant, illogical, insulting. Just my opinion.

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at January 2, 2007 6:59 AM

I hate the veil, and my hatred for the veil is an impotent hatred.

I don't think women should wear the veil, especially in western environments. HOWEVER we can't ban the veil. Because then these women, who are simply following their religion, their culture, or the demands of male relatives will be unable to be part of society. We would be punishing the innocents.

So it is this horrible catch 22, I don't like that women are hidden away from society, but banning that which frees them will only hide them away even more. Is that really a catch 22? Eh, it's something, and it bugs me.

What I do know is, if I ever go to the middle east, I plan to travel, not with a veil, but with a very large gun for the man who would try to make me wear one. I have heard of women being forced at gunpoint to don the veil. Well it's about time men were forced at gun point to deal with the fact that not everyone agrees with them. Maybe not realistic, but wouldn't it be cool?

Posted by: Shinobi at January 2, 2007 1:04 PM

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