Tolerance in Europe amid a history of violence

In Europe, tolerance emerged as a result of the disastrous war between the Protestants and the Catholics

Turki Aldakhil
Turki Aldakhil
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The concept of tolerance brings hope to any society that practices it. Solidifying the concept is, however, not spontaneous and requires social and political efforts. In Europe, tolerance emerged as a result of the disastrous war between the Protestants and the Catholics. It was, at the time, an antidote to the unprecedented madness witnessed in Europe’s religious wars. This is what also pushed philosophers to lecture and explain the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

There are two major figures we must refer to while discussing tolerance – they are French philosopher Voltaire and English philosopher John Locke. They wrote on the subject, explained and clarified it to the extent that it is no longer possible to understand or explain tolerance without reading, understanding and digging into their meaning.

In his book Treatise on Tolerance, Voltaire reprimands his Christian community and writes: “The Japanese were the most tolerant of all nations. Twelve peaceful religions were already established within their empire when the Jesuits came to add the thirteenth. It was soon apparent, however, that these cared little for competition and proceeded to suppress the others. We know what ensued. A civil war, no less terrible than those of the Catholic League, devastated the country. The Christian religion finally drowned in its own ocean of blood.”

John Locke has addressed the subject of tolerance in a direct manner, referring to the legacy of religious tolerance among Christians and voices surprise over some fanatics’ practices

Turki Al-Dakhil

“The Japanese closed their empire to the rest of the world once and for all, deeming us to be no better than wild animals, like those of which the English had purged their island. Minister Colbert was keenly aware that we needed the Japanese far more than they needed us, but it was in vain that he pleaded for trade links. He found them to be utterly inflexible. And so the history of our entire continent gives proof that it is foolish either to promulgate religious intolerance or to base policy upon it.”

John Locke addresses the subject of tolerance in a direct manner, referring to the legacy of religious tolerance among Christians and voices surprise over some fanatics’ practices. He writes: “That any man should think fit to cause another man – whose salvation he heartily desires – to expire in torments, and that even in an unconverted state, would, I confess, seem very strange to me, and I think, to any other also. But nobody, surely, will ever believe that such a carriage can proceed from charity, love, or goodwill.”

Derida’s deconstruction

Despite the sovereignty of tolerance as it exists in Europe today on the social level, thanks to the rule of law, the concept of tolerance there remains a matter of discussion and dialogue.

French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, who is associated with the idea of deconstruction, distinguished between natural, innocent and unconditional tolerance and forgiveness, which comes in a condescending manner. He writes: “What I dream of, what I try to think as the purity of a forgiveness worthy of its name, would be a forgiveness without power, unconditional but without sovereignty.”

“The most difficult task, at once necessary and apparently impossible, would be to dissociate unconditionality and sovereignty. Will that be done one day? It is not around the corner as, as is said.”

In order not to assess the experiences of other nations in bloodshed, wars, violence and elimination of others, we need to remember instances of tolerance in the history of Islam during its golden age when Jews and Christians in Andalusia were respected by Muslims. They had their rights and were treated in a humane manner.

Let’s recall Voltaire’s statement: “The rage that is inspired by the dogmatic spirit and the abuse of the Christian religion, wrongly conceived, has shed as much blood and led to as many disasters in Germany, England, and even Holland, as in France.”

Tolerance is the mother, the future and the pillar of civilized coexistence.

This article was first published by al-Bayan on Mar. 23, 2016.
Turki Al-Dakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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