Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tolerance and argument

Nick Cohen, in the UK's Standpoint, writes about "Radical Islam's Fellow-Travellers," with particular attention to the antagonism toward Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the applause accorded Tariq Ramadan. In the course of the article, Cohen makes an important point about the difference between tolerance and respect.
.... On one question, however, Ramadan speaks plainly. The religious tolerance of the Enlightenment is not good enough for him. Tolerance means suffering the presence of "the other," he says. Only when we move from tolerance to respect will we "recognise that the other is as complex as we are; he is our equal, our mirror, our question."

Forget the sanctimonious sentiments for a moment. Forget, too, that Ramadan refuses to condemn or even mention the religious oppression and violence in much of the Muslim world, and consider what he is asking us to throw away. Religious tolerance received its classic Enlightenment definition in Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom of 1777: "No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever...All men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion."

Jefferson's key phrase was "by argument." Toleration did not limit debate but removed the barriers of state and church that had stood in debate's way. Argument is not in its nature always respectful of "the other's" point of view. At its best, it is robust and demanding. Ramadan's insistence on "respect" is a way of erecting new barriers in place of old, of ruling debates off limits. .... [more]
Radical Islam's Fellow-Travellers | Standpoint