ODT on Intolerance

The ODT editorial:

Central Auckland might not be Iraq or Afghanistan but it has been the scene of extremist religious reaction.

It was perfectly reasonable for certain churches and for various individuals to express their displeasure and even horror at what they saw as unsuitable or blasphemous in the Joseph and Mary billboard.

But the man who painted over it and the woman who attacked it with a knife are intolerant religious fanatics.

As such they are dangerous. In the name of their God they saw it as their right, even their obligation, to break the law and damage property.

The point I made.

While their actions are clearly of a different ilk to the suicide bombers of 9/11 or of a Baghdad market place, the fundamental impulse is the same. In the righteous name of God, they felt called to do their duty.

I agree. The moment you think doing God’s duty puts you above the law, it is a slippery slope.

But do the very values of the West contain the seeds of their own destruction? Is tolerance – and so-called “progressive” Christianity for that matter – a licence for wishy-washy thinking, policy and behaviour? Do the fanatics and the intolerant simply take advantage of weakness? Are the institutions and principles of democracy callously abused by ideologues for their own ends? These are dilemmas which liberal democracies face.

These are the concerns that echo through modern Western Europe as immigration swells the numbers from cultures and beliefs where ethics like individual human rights are far from sacrosanct.

The way forward has to be to ensure pride in the basic values that underpin democratic society and to defend them with vigour.

It means being prepared to be tolerant of different cultures and different beliefs but intolerant when aspects of those cultures and beliefs threaten the core on which Western democracies are based. Already, countries, institutions and individuals have been bullied over freedom of speech, with the most stark example the furore over the Danish Mohammed cartoons.

And the answer is to defend freedom of speech, not to applaud those who would deny it in Auckland.

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