Freedom and Tolerance

It’s good news that the worst possible outcome was avoided and Abdul Rahman’s life will be spared, but damage was still done. That anybody would face the prospect of death in the 21st century for converting to Christianity is sickening. It just stings even more that this happened in a country where American soldiers and their allies spilled blood to topple an Islamist regime just a few years ago and give freedom a chance. Even though Rahman was freed, he will be seeking asylum in another country to avoid the angry mobs that are threatening to kill him in the name of Allah.

I go back and forth on the question of whether democracy is achievable in the Islamic world. When I’m being optimistic, I convince myself that deep within every person is a desire to be free. But just because somebody wants to be free, it doesn’t mean that they want others to enjoy freedom. Sure, Muslims want to be free to practice their own religion, they just don’t seem to want other people to be free to practice other religions. They want to be free to print anti-Semitic literature in their own countries, but yet they don’t think people in other nations should be permitted to criticize Islam.

Democracy hinges not only on a personal desire for freedom, but also on a tolerance for the views of others. The only way to make changes in a free society is to persuade others without resorting to violence. The system can only thrive if people understand that sometimes they won’t get what they want.

After the last presidential election, there were plenty of liberals who were hopping mad that President Bush was reelected. But this is about as crazy as it got. Angry liberals did not start burning down evangelical Christian churches because they contributed to Bush’s victory.

Perhaps, in time, the Muslim world will understand the concept of tolerance. And I’m not willing to give up hope yet. But if I were keeping a ledger of progress in the Islamic world, the Rahman story would certainly bolster the case of the pessimists.

One thought on “Freedom and Tolerance”

  1. I have the same skepticism regarding the prospects for democracy in the Islamic world. The idea of a liberal (as in 19th century)tradition is totally foreign there. This is why I believe the Bush foreign policy, with its messianic idealism is WRONG. It took several centuries to create the idea that people are born with freedom and liberty. To go to other countries like Iraq and try to play nation building is a feudal enterprise. Wilsonian Democracy in the Balkans has failed. Trying to build a “South Vietnam,” didn’t work.

    Ultimately the best we can hope for is that these countries can establish the supremacy of the rule of law, and work with them to reform over time. As well, it is important for us to have a greater understanding of the cultures of these countries. It is clear that the present administration views people with regional studies expertise as “eggheads,” who will impede their desire to remake the world. This is akin to building a skyscraper without an architect.

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