In the ongoing row over a film clip denigrating Islam the European Union, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League and the Commission of the African Union have issued a joint statement that includes:
We … want to send a message today of peace and tolerance. We share a profound respect for all religions. We are united in our belief in the fundamental importance of religious freedom and tolerance. […] While fully recognizing freedom of expression, we believe in the importance of respecting all prophets, regardless of which religion they belong to.
We reiterate our strong commitment to take further measures and to work for an international consensus on tolerance and full respect of religion […] The only answer to the darkness of intolerance and ignorance is the light of mutual respect, tolerance and dialogue.
Notice how the wording repeatedly switches between “respect” and “tolerance” as though they were part of the same package and both equally necessary. Yet, the words are quite different, both in meaning and in their status as something that can be legitimately demanded.
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary makes this clear:
“Tolerate”: “(1) allow the existence or occurrence of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference. (2) endure (someone or something unpleasant) with forbearance”.
Contrast this with:
“Respect”: (1) “feeling of deep admiration for someone (or something) elicited by their qualities or achievements.”
Far from “respect” and “tolerance” being part of the same package, one can only genuinely tolerate something that one does not respect. Continue reading