When is tolerance a virtue?

A white blue collar type was sitting next to a young black boy on a fence and they were talking, when I annoyingly rode my bike right on the sidewalk in front of them.  The man snarled at me. “Hebe!” he said. (This happened a few miles away from my home.) It reminded me of a verse from comedian Tom Lehrer from a song he called National Brotherhood Week:

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,

And the Catholics hate the Protestants,

And the Hindus hate the Muslims,

And everybody hates the Jews

Now it is true that I should have walked my bike, rather than ridden it on that block, and I myself had made derogatory statements about blacks in the past – so who was I to complain? Its a stretch, but perhaps the man heard of my bigotry on the grapevine, and was being protective of his friend.

So this raises some questions about tolerance. When is it a virtue?

Lately more than one newspaper columnist has hailed Bruce Jenner, a famous athlete who had himself physically changed into a woman, as a hero.

Fifty years ago, he would have been considered crazy, or worse.

Many Americans now believe “gay marriage” is just another civil rights issue, and the march of progress means that it should be the law of the land. 50 years ago, this would have been thought insane.

We are told we should be tolerant of diversity – mainly diversity of racial background, religious belief, and gender-orientation.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that and Article VI specifies that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” So religious diversity was respected from the beginning of the union of the states. Women did not have the vote, at that point, and much of the black population was enslaved. But the idea that all men were created equal was also enshrined in the founding documents, and that idea triumphed eventually.

But principles can be taken to an absurd point where they result in the opposite of what they supposedly support.

Pamela Geller
Pamela Geller

Americans Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer were banned from Britain. Both are critics of Islam, and Ms. Geller complains that “In not allowing us into the country solely because of our true and accurate statements about Islam, the British government is behaving like a de facto Islamic state. The nation that gave the world the Magna Carta is dead.” Obviously the British government was worried about an Islamic backlash. Recently Pamela had a contest in Texas where different cartoonists competed to draw pictures of Mohammad. Two Muslims from Phoenix, Arizona decided to attack the event with guns, but were shot by police before they could shed blood. Now the very bloody army “Islamic State”, which has slaughtered its way through much of what was Syria and Iraq, says that they will send  all their “lions” to kill Pamela Geller.

It is interesting to look at her speech at the event. She starts off by saying that when you are afraid to say something, you are losing the right of free speech.

After the attack some news outlets blamed her for running a “hate group” and being provocative.

You (the reader) can judge for yourself whether her group is a hategroup – see her website “pamelageller.com”.

I have seen Muslims marching chanting “Jews to the gas!” and that unequivocally is “hate speech” since they want a group of people dead because of their race. Pamela Geller does not advocate killing Muslims. She says she is against Jihad, and against Sharia.

It is interesting that the right to free speech in the US is getting chipped away from two sides – one side says that insulting or hurting the feelings of a group has to be off limits, and another side insists that money should not influence politics, so even books that might support a party or candidate should be banned in certain circumstances.

According to a biographer of Voltaire, a French writer and philosopher who died in 1778, his attitude could be summed up as: ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’

Now THAT is tolerance.

Americans are tolerant of clearly bad behavior by their favored politicians, for instance:

“Americans are looking at embattled Hillary Clinton more favorably — and consider her a stronger leader — than they did earlier in the year, despite troubling questions about her ethics, a New York Times/CBS News poll has shown.”

Her ethics, as a new book Clinton Cash shows, are very, very questionable – she and her husband have made huge amounts (upwards of half a million dollars for a speech) from people or countries that by coincidence get favorable legislation or government largesse shortly afterwards.

And yet Americans who agree with her politics are willing to close their eyes to her ethics and “lack of transparency.”

Should they tolerate those dubious ethics?

I don’t feel all that tolerant to those fellow Americans. I don’t feel tolerant to people who march in lockstep with amoral leaders, just because those leaders utter some platitudes that resonate with them.  I also don’t feel all that tolerant for those fellow Americans who dismiss this book (Clinton Cash) as propaganda.

What about tolerance to political opinions? A Rochester Institute of Technology professor is accusing those who don’t believe in global warming of being criminally negligent, saying they should be imprisoned. The idea is that they spread disinformation that has terrible consequences, and therefore should be punished.

A pro-Nazi play in 1933 had a character say this:

THIEMANN: … And the last thing I’ll stand for is ideas to get the better of me! I know that rubbish from ’18 …, fraternity, equality, …, freedom …, beauty and dignity! You gotta use the right bait to hook ’em. And then, you’re right in the middle of a parley and they say: Hands up! You’re disarmed…, you republican voting swine!—No, let ’em keep their good distance with their whole ideological kettle of fish … I shoot with live ammunition! When I hear the word culture …, I release the safety on my Browning!”

This guy doesn’t sound tolerant. In fact he sees tolerance as an attempt to disarm the people.

David Horowitz traveled to Ohio State University, to argue against the ‘campus war against Israel”. He says this:

“However, my words fell on deaf ears, as they had all evening. Not only the comments but the cheers for the pro-Hamas speakers made this abundantly clear. These were thoroughly indoctrinated young Americans, committed to a genocidal cause.”

Molly Norris
Molly Norris

In 2010, a Seattle-based cartoonist, Molly Norris, offhandedly suggested to her Facebook followers that they participate in a “Draw Mohammad Day.” Based on her initiative which went viral over the web, a fatwa was issued against her. She received so many death threats, the FBI recommended that she “go ghost.” She was forced to leave her job, her family, her friends, simply because the FBI couldn’t or wouldn’t protect her inside the US borders.

My guess is that Pamela Geller should “go ghost” too, because we really aren’t that safe, even thousands away from the Jihad battlefields. Islamic State has a long reach, as does Hezbollah, as does any hitman from any country in the world.

Generally, we all believe we are right about the issues we care the most about, but some of us believe in tolerating free speech on those issues, and some of us do not.

People can be a inconsistent mixture of tolerances and intolerances. A feminist who complains about women being shut out of men’s clubs can also insist on the right of a woman to spend her grown life in a shapeless sack that covers most of her body except for her eyes (see sources). Based on some experiences of mine I see the inconsistent mixture of attitudes also present in organized crime. You would think Mafias would tolerate human weakness. After all, criminals run gambling rings, prostitution rings, drug selling rings and smuggling rings.

And yet certain victims will bring out the lethal disciplinarian in criminals. I have read of criminal bosses being intolerant of subordinates who are “bad earners”.

They can be intolerant of extortion targets who can’t cough up enough money.

Criminals are not Jihadophobes, unlike Ms. Geller. A veteran U.S. counter-terrorism expert tells us that Hezbollah has infiltrated the Southwest United States by joining forces with Mexican drug cartels that have long operated in the region.

So surely criminals are very “tolerant”?

It depends. I have run into criminals who regarded me with disgust. Even criminals can despise others, and I was one of the despised. It is not a good situation to be in.  It is also ironic.




College professor says climate change deniers should be jailed for criminal negligence



Free Molly Norris Foundation




3 thoughts on “When is tolerance a virtue?

  1. My guess would be that had these people, whatever their motives, decided to announce a “draw a cartoon of Jesus on the Cross” competition, they would probably attracted a lot more than two crazy gunmen. If you intentionally do something that you know will be deeply offensive to others, whether it is anti-Semitic insults or anti-Islam, it is clear that you have overstepped the boundaries of freedom of speech. Criticism, yes, but deliberate provocation, no.

  2. When people call me anti-Semitic names (its mostly in the past now), I can get upset, and I can perhaps get violent. (I have never gotten violent, but its understandable). But I would not pull out a gun and shoot them. If someone burns the American flag, I might disapprove, but I would not shoot them either. There was an artist here that put a crucifix in a jar of urine in N.Y. and titled it “Piss Christ”. Christians did not put a death sentence on him, or on the staff of the museum that hosted him. Some Christians did get upset with the fact that he did this with taxpayer funds.
    If we say that being very offended is enough to shut off speech, then it opens a Pandora’s box. American political speech in the past has sometimes been very cruel, and sometimes unfair. Likewise, the following repartee came out of Britain: “You Will Either Die on the Gallows or of a Loathsome Disease.” – John Montague (to John Wilkes) – – – – – -“That Depends on Whether I Embrace Your Principles or Your Mistress.” – John Wilkes, (in Reply). John Wilkes did not pull out a gun and shoot John Montague. I saw the cartoon that won Geller’s competition in Texas. It is of a angry bearded man waving a scimitar and saying “You can’t draw me!”.
    It should not cause ISIS, which has been enslaving women and killing their menfolk, to say that “all our lions” will go after Pamela Geller.
    If you drew a cartoon of me waving a scimitar around, I would just laugh.

  3. As you know, fanatics of all shades lack a sense of humour! Regarding the quote from the UK, we have long had a tradition of vicious satire regarding politicians and the monarchy, and no-one gets upset about that. (I know when ITV did a special screening of their Spitting Image satire show to an American audience they were horrified!) But when someone suggested in a poem that Jesus was homosexual there was a huge outcry (nobody got shot or anything). Obviously religious feelings are, or should be, treated more cautiously. Incidentally, it was for many years, regarded as unacceptable that anyone should depict Jesus on screen — I think a BBC TV play in the 60s was the first to violate that rule. ISIS are such a crazy lot that anything would make them draw their scimitars.
    The reason that Islam forbids the making of images of Prophets or saints is the same as that given by the Protestants in the middle ages, namely that it is idolatry. Moslems were anxious to avoid what had happened to Jesus, who under the influence of St Paul went from Messiah to “son of God” to “God himself.” They were successful in this but you could argue that the exaggerated reaction of the Islamists to perceived insults to Mohammed is itself a sign of them holding an idolotrous concept of the Prophet.

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