The great tolerance trade-off

Jerome Darnell
In our society, the religion of "tolerance" is held above all others. This is quite unfortunate because, while tolerance is valuable, it is more of a loaded concept than an absolute good.  In fact, Mahatma Ghandi never quite liked the word, writing that it connoted the "gratuitous assumption of the inferiority of other faiths to one's own."

And he was right.

Frankly, tolerance is patronizing. You tolerate noisy children behind you on an airplane, or a sub-par chicken salad. Tolerance is, at its nicest, an exercise of civilly enduring something unsavory. An equal is never afforded your tolerance. I say this because our society at large is faced with a choice: tolerance or respect.

The particular issue that embodies this distinction is, of course, the mosque near Ground Zero.

The law is quite clear on the subject. Indeed, when President Obama was praised for his comments on the issue, I was rather surprised.

"Obama's Brave Stand" read the title of one TIME article, as if our President's vision of noninterference and, dare I say, "tolerance," was somehow courageous. It wasn't. It was the law.

It was quite depressing to see just how controversial the members of the media elite consider free speech to be, when advocating it strikes them as valorous. [Obama's brave stand, indeed! I can only imagine the courage they'd assign our president had he actually proffered an opinion on the matter.]

While such tolerance is an essential part of this country, it is also conferred only to those who we must reluctantly put up with. It does not befit those of goodwill, as the developers of this mosque and community center claim to be. Any person wishing to build bridges should not have to settle, nor ever choose to settle for (as is the case with Park51) the minimum tolerance that society must legally provide.

Respect, unlike tolerance, is not mandated by law. You have no right to be respected. It is a precious commodity, earned slowly and lost quickly, as it was lost here.

You see, the mosque proponents have always been guaranteed tolerance. What they rejected was respect. By recognizing the strong emotions - right or wrong - of the community, they had an opportunity to earn the goodwill of millions of Americans. This could have been among the greatest gestures of respect and empathy in the history of our religious dialogue.

Instead, the mosque developers have insisted on exercising their right. The law shouldn't stop them; that was sensitivity's job.

And while the mosque will remain mired in controversy, the result could not be more clear: its message will be tolerated - not respected.

In our society, the religion of "tolerance" is held above all others. This is quite unfortunate because, while tolerance is valuable, it is more of a loaded concept than an absolute good.  In fact, Mahatma Ghandi never quite liked the word, writing that it connoted the "gratuitous assumption of the inferiority of other faiths to one's own."

And he was right.

Frankly, tolerance is patronizing. You tolerate noisy children behind you on an airplane, or a sub-par chicken salad. Tolerance is, at its nicest, an exercise of civilly enduring something unsavory. An equal is never afforded your tolerance. I say this because our society at large is faced with a choice: tolerance or respect.

The particular issue that embodies this distinction is, of course, the mosque near Ground Zero.

The law is quite clear on the subject. Indeed, when President Obama was praised for his comments on the issue, I was rather surprised.

"Obama's Brave Stand" read the title of one TIME article, as if our President's vision of noninterference and, dare I say, "tolerance," was somehow courageous. It wasn't. It was the law.

It was quite depressing to see just how controversial the members of the media elite consider free speech to be, when advocating it strikes them as valorous. [Obama's brave stand, indeed! I can only imagine the courage they'd assign our president had he actually proffered an opinion on the matter.]

While such tolerance is an essential part of this country, it is also conferred only to those who we must reluctantly put up with. It does not befit those of goodwill, as the developers of this mosque and community center claim to be. Any person wishing to build bridges should not have to settle, nor ever choose to settle for (as is the case with Park51) the minimum tolerance that society must legally provide.

Respect, unlike tolerance, is not mandated by law. You have no right to be respected. It is a precious commodity, earned slowly and lost quickly, as it was lost here.

You see, the mosque proponents have always been guaranteed tolerance. What they rejected was respect. By recognizing the strong emotions - right or wrong - of the community, they had an opportunity to earn the goodwill of millions of Americans. This could have been among the greatest gestures of respect and empathy in the history of our religious dialogue.

Instead, the mosque developers have insisted on exercising their right. The law shouldn't stop them; that was sensitivity's job.

And while the mosque will remain mired in controversy, the result could not be more clear: its message will be tolerated - not respected.