Do not tolerate intolerance

16 Apr

My sympathies go out to everyone affected by the Boston bombings. I used to commute through London during the IRA bombing campaigns, and saw some devastation.  It is deeply worrying to be involved in such incidents. Without wishing to pre-judge any findings the coincidence of date seems to indicate that this outrage is likely to have been the actions of some group or individual with a domestic agenda rather than a foreign terrorist group. It occurred eighteen years to the day after the Oklahoma bombing and twenty years after the Waco siege. This was also the day for tax returns to be filed. If it does turn out to be the work of some right wing nut then the USA should take a long hard look at itself and at what freedom really means.

There is a strongly flowing current of violence in the muddy streams of US society. You only have to listen to the opinions expressed by shock jocks or read a small sample of the poisonous outpourings on supposedly political discussion groups to realise that there are lot of very angry, very crazy people out there perfectly willing to justify assassination or political violence against any target considered even vaguely liberal. Many of these crazies are heavily armed and believe in conspiracy theories and alien abduction etc., etc. These people will not be able to engage in reasoned political debate.

For what it is worth, my belief is that all behaviour and beliefs should be tolerated except where those behaviours stop other people living as they wish. We should tolerate everything except intolerance. Now for a nasty piece of real history which has largely gone unremarked. The USA selected the Pilgrim Fathers as the ideal founders of the state among many groups of settlers. The usual story given about the Pilgrim Fathers is that they left England because of religious intolerance. This is exactly one hundred and eighty degrees from the historical truth. The extreme Puritans who landed at Plymouth Rock were perfectly free to practice their religion in England provided they behaved themselves and paid their taxes. But they were unwilling to share the country with people with different beliefs. They came to the New World in order to get away from other faiths. They formed the least tolerant society imaginable. The following is a small section from a site about American Quaker persecutions:

The Puritans of New England, specifically Connecticut and Massachusetts, exceeded the persecutions that the Quakers experienced in England, principally by hanging three Quaker men and one Quaker woman. Twenty-three other Quakers were scheduled to die by hanging before the King of England intervened. One would think that the Puritans, after escaping persecutions themselves by fleeing to New England, would have been more tolerant. But, as you will see, their self-righteous spirit, viciously dealt with all conflicting religious opinions; and, since the Quakers were far more convicting than any other sect, with their nontraditional doctrines, they were most brutally persecuted.

In the meantime, to return to the start of this blog entry, everyone’s death affects me. To quote one of my favourite poets:

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

John Donne, [English clergyman & poet (1572 – 1631)], Meditation XVII



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