Tolerance and Anarchy– Where Do You Draw the Line?

Irshad Manji participated with me in the "Effective Leadership" seminar at the Aspen Institute’s Socrates Society in July.   The opinion column that she wrote in today’s New York Times, in my view, accurately calls out one of the great challenges facing liberal societies reacting to terror on their soil: drawing the lines between tolerance, domestic security, and social order.

The bottom line is that liberal societies cannot continue to nurture anarchists in the name of multiculturalism and tolerance.  It is a perversion to label Tony Blair’s eloquent statement about a citizen’s duty to support the values of his/her host society as McCarthyism.  Ask the multicultural families of the dead how they feel about protecting the UK from future attacks.  Bravo Tony Blair and Irshad Manji for asserting these important points.

Published: August 9, 2005



FOR a European leader, Prime Minister Tony
Blair of Britain has done something daring. He has given notice not
just to the theocrats of Islam, but also to the theocracy of tolerance.

"Staying here carries with it
a duty," Mr. Blair said in referring to foreign-born Muslim clerics who
glorify terror on British soil. "That duty is to share and support the
values that sustain the British way of life. Those who break that duty
and try to incite hatred or engage in violence against our country and
its people have no place here."

With that, his government
proposed new laws to deport extremist religious leaders, to shut down
the mosques that house them and to ban groups with a history of
supporting terrorism. The reaction was swift: a prominent human rights
advocate described Mr. Blair’s measures as "neo-McCarthyite hectoring,"
warning that they would make the British "less distinguishable from the
violent, hateful and unforgiving theocrats, our democracy undermined
from within in ways that the suicide bombers could only have dreamed

But if these anti-terror measures feel like an overreaction
to the London bombings, that’s only because Britons, like so many in
the West, have been avoiding a vigorous debate about what values are
most worth defending in our societies.

As Westerners bow down
before multiculturalism, we anesthetize ourselves into believing that
anything goes. We see our readiness to accommodate as a strength – even
a form of cultural superiority (though few will admit that). Radical
Muslims, on the other hand, see our inclusive instincts as a form of
corruption that makes us soft and rudderless. They believe the weak
deserve to be vanquished.

Paradoxically, then, the more we
accommodate to placate, the more their contempt for our "weakness"
grows. And ultimate paradox may be that in order to defend our
diversity, we’ll need to be less tolerant. Or, at the very least, more
vigilant. And this vigilance demands more than new antiterror laws. It
requires asking: What guiding values can most of us live with? Given
the panoply of ideologies and faiths out there, what filter will
distill almost everybody’s right to free expression?

the watery word "tolerance" nor the slippery phrase "mutual respect"
will cut it as a guiding value. Why tolerate violent bigotry? Where’s
the "mutual" in that version of mutual respect? Amin Maalouf, a
French-Arab novelist, nailed this point when he wrote that "traditions
deserve respect only insofar as they are respectable – that is, exactly
insofar as they themselves respect the fundamental rights of men and

Allow me to invoke a real-life example of what can’t be
tolerated if we’re going to maintain freedom of expression for as many
people as possible. In 1999, an uproar surrounded the play "Corpus
Christi" by Terrence McNally, in which Jesus was depicted as a gay man.
Christians protested the show and picketed its European debut in
Edinburgh, a reasonable exercise in free expression. But Omar Bakri
Muhammad, a Muslim preacher and a judge on the self-appointed Sharia
Court of the United Kingdom, went further: he signed a fatwa calling
for Mr. McNally to be killed, on the grounds that Jesus is considered a
prophet by Muslims. (Compassion overflowed in the clause that stated
Mr. McNally "could be buried in a Muslim graveyard" if he repented.)
Mr. Bakri then had the fatwa distributed throughout London.

Since then, Mr. Bakri has promoted violent struggle from various London
meeting halls. He has even lionized the July 7 bombers as the
"fantastic four." He is a counselor of death, and should not have been
allowed to remain in Britain. And thanks to Mr. Blair’s newfound
fortitude, he has reportedly fled England for Lebanon.

The Muslim
Council of Britain, a mainstream lobbying group that assailed Mr.
Blair’s proposed measures, has long claimed that men like Mr. Bakri
represent only a slim fraction of the country’s nearly two million
Muslims. Assuming that’s true, British Muslims – indeed, Muslims
throughout the West – should rejoice at their departures or
deportations, because all forms of Islam that respect the freedom to
disbelieve, to go one’s own way, will be strengthened.

brings me to my vote for a value that could guide Western societies:
individuality. When we celebrate individuality, we let people choose
who they are, be they members of a religion, free spirits, or something
else entirely. I realize that for many Europeans, "individuality" might
sound too much like the American ideal of individualism. It doesn’t
have to. Individualism – "I’m out for myself" – differs from
individuality – "I’m myself, and my society benefits from my

Of course, there may be better values than
individuality for Muslims and non-Muslims to embrace. Let’s have that
debate – without fear of being deemed self-haters or racists by those
who twist multiculturalism into an orthodoxy. We know the dangers of
taking Islam literally. By now we should understand the peril of taking
tolerance literally.

Irshad Manji is the author of "The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith."

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