Opinions, Column

Is The Virtue of Toleration Hypocritical?

In an age where Western society holds liberal values and democracy to be the absolute truth and way of life, I think it is important to raise a specific question: are liberal values hypocritical? Philosophers like John Locke created the blueprint for the world that we, Western society, live in today, one in which we uphold our greatest value to be toleration. We have become detached from our personal beliefs to uphold the individualistic idea of refraining from infringing upon others’ beliefs. We view ourselves as the most tolerant and open version of humanity—that the Western values we hold so close to our heart are the right way to live. But, we are tolerant, especially in a liberal democracy setting, because we hold on to the idea that we are right to be so and even implicitly we try to impose the value of toleration on others.

This question that I am posing is probably rattling you a little bit right now. It rattled me as well when I first heard it in professor David DiPasquale’s class Islam and Liberal Democracy. I felt offended, and suddenly, I did not know if I should be proud to consider myself a tolerant human being. But, as much as it rattled me and I felt myself getting defensive, I listened to DiPasquale as he argued on behalf of another perspective, that being one rooted in Islam. 

For many Muslims, DiPasquale explained, Islam is not just a religion, but a way of life. It encompasses every single aspect of their everyday lives. It is the law and the truth. It is perfect. How can we, a society based on Western ideals of toleration, tell Muslims to tolerate us, when we are supposed to be tolerant of them not tolerating us? We try to impose our Western values on Muslisms in order for them to accept us as “free” and “autonomous.” And then we condemn them for not being tolerant, while we try to force them to accept us. That does not sound very tolerant. 

In Islam and Liberal Democracy, we read an opinion piece by Mustafa Akyol in the New York Times. Akyol argues that Islam should take a Lockean leap, much like one that Christianity took centuries ago. But here goes another question: who are we, or who is Akyol, to decide whether or not a religion, that to Muslims is the absolute truth of the world, should be tolerant, reasonable, and free. We, like Akyol, claim to be so tolerant yet we tell other people what to do because we hold our liberal values to be the truth. We are only tolerant toward other cultures as long as they somewhat believe in the same basic principles that we do, specifically tolerance. But what do we do when we are faced with people that adhere to different values?

We need to be aware of the fact that we claim to be so tolerant, yet we lack tolerance with people who do not have the same fundamental principles that we do. It is hypocritical of us to say that we are tolerant when we assume that everyone else holds the same values that we do. Liberal values, while we hold them dear to our heart and have defined our society upon them, are not so easily accepted by everyone, and we need to accept that.

Featured Graphic by Annie Corrigan/ Heights Editor

November 29, 2021