Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Tolerant Intolerance

As Austin Power's father, Nigel, says in the movie Goldmember, "there are only two things I can't stand -- intolerance for other cultures and the Dutch". Gay bashing in Amsterdam raises some curious problems for the intolerant -- and for the Dutch.

The story, apparently, is that an American gay couple were walking down an Amsterdam street, hand in hand, when one of them, the editor of a Gay magazine, was beaten allegedly by Moroccan muslims. Commentary abounds on the rising intolerance in the Netherlands towards muslims, especially since the murder of Theo Van Gogh. Does the right thinking person condemn the bashing and thus stand for the rights of gays to walk hand in hand down the street?

Of course, most can condemn violence of any sort in a civil society and leave it to the authorities to watch and wait for breaches. And wait they did. According to reports there were 15-20 people in the vicinity who may have witnessed the beating but did nothing about it. That seems like an awful lot of tolerance for violence.

But the other thing that must be recognized is that despite the fact that homosexuality is gaining more acceptability -- intolerance is present even in those countries where acceptablity has risen to the level of state sanctioned marriage. It would seem like laws against violence are not enough. Hate motivated crimes abound. Must tolerance reach the level where hate is abolished? I have difficulty accepting a society that seeks to regulate values. Even in Orwell's totalitarian society in 1984 where values were highly controlled and levelled, the expression of hate was encouraged -- even required. It seems an unlikely emotion to abolish. Is it not better to allow for diversity of opinion and abhor any violence that from there flows?

The biggest crime in Amsterdam that day was not the hate, but the apathy that allowed the violence to occur. The oft quoted words of Martin Niemoller are apt
First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't
a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't
a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I
wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up
because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was
left to speak up.

The other quote that rings with some relevance is "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Tolerance is not enough.

Does the same apply to the workplace. Recently, the Royal Bank of Canada estabished a rainbow triangle program. The essence of the program is to have employees declare their workspaces as a safe space for gays -- or gay friendly.

There are several problems that I see with this. First it is a value engineering program. It seeks to place too high a value on the declaration of certain common values. One assumes that in the group of people that witnessed but did not go to the aid of the man being beaten, there were those who would declare themselves as tolerant or pro gay. Having the value isn't enough.

In a society that values freedom of thought, belief and opinion, it is not only diversity of cultures and orientation that must be protected but also diversity of opinion. Whatever is done to quash that diversity, whether it is re education programs or violence, is done contrary to what is fundamental to our society.

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