Recently a number of news stories has been making headlines. These headlines involved violent people taking others people’s lives in the name of a religious and political organisation. These people are out for war and conquest according to some sources. I am not sure who to believe. There is one thing I am sure of though; knowing such violent people are able to do as they please is unsettling.
I have written before that when religion and politics mix, a deadly cocktail of beliefs and assumptions can become a threat to many people. In religion the believers are convinced they have sole access to the truth of divine revelation and that they represent their divinity in the actions. Religion can be a virtuous practice that brings peace and prosperity. Religion can also bring hate, violence and war as was rampant in Europe, the Middle East and other parts of the world in the past centuries. In some countries religious violence and war still exist as religion is interpreted as the source of validity for acts of violence.
Politics are the systems in place to rule and maintain order in a city, region or country based on assumptions and beliefs of what constitutes effective and if relevant fair politics. Politics are more than capitalism versus socialism and “vote for me, you get what you want”. Political processes go from top levels to lower levels to execute policy regarding all kinds of matters: national, regional and local. In the end the rulers benefit or the rulers and the people benefit depending on the politics.
The title of this essay though goes further than just who benefits. The title here indicates that there is more to living in a peaceful and tolerant society, namely maintenance. As a curious kid I was always fascinated by political processes and even now I despise some recent events and developments, I am still fascinated. What I perceive and I am not alone here is that Western political leaders have trouble dealing with fanatics who want to disturb the relative peace and tolerance there is for their own fanatical beliefs.
In the Netherlands the angry Muslims are a political concern. When I mention angry Muslims I mean fanatical Muslims who find their beliefs so important that they are willing to commit violence and express explicit threats. Some politicians say “throw them out”, or “we should talk with them and address their concerns” or “give them jobs and houses”. I understand such proposals but I disagree. In the end, if you as a citizen do not want to respect your society with its people and the relatively peaceful and tolerant lives these people want to live, just go. When fanatical beliefs or violent tendencies are what you stand for you should not be among the peaceful and tolerant people.
I use the word “respect” as little as possible because it is one of the most abused words in the English language. Respect is earned, not demanded and when individuals demand respect by using violence and threats in a society that gives them plenty of chances to succeed, they deserve nothing in my opinion. In this regard I find fanatical religious people, violent anarchists, violent activists and hooligans equally terrible people. I understand that there may be disagreements, but I do not understand the need to use violence and threats.
To maintain relative peace and tolerance it is important to let people express themselves. Disagreements are part of life, unsolved disagreements are also part of life and not everything people want can be done. When there are people who enforce their arguments with violence and threats whether based on rationality or belief, there is a problem. This problem is simple: the threat and potential destruction of relative peace and tolerance in which a society can thrive.
There is another aspect to this. When the rulers of a country commit violence and threats against their own people what are these people to do? Well as long the justice system is still effective the rulers, thus government can be held accountable and be made responsible. In the worst case though the people have to fight back to regain control over the political processes and have to re-establish a virtuous government. In the end the people have the final say and when the government says otherwise I know who not to trust.
Since I was a kid I have read the Bible, history books, writings by Erasmus, Thomas Moore’s “Utopia”, Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, the Kamasutra, Friedrich von Gentz’ “The Origin and Principle of the American Revolution compared with the Origin and Principles of the French Revolution”, Hendrik van Loon’s “Tolerance” and many other books that somehow also relate to relative peace and tolerance. The Kamasutra is an intriguing book about society more than just a simple instruction manual. How you interpret it depends on what you know about ancient Indian society. I am not done reading because there is so much to discover and learn. Plato and Aristotle also made very interesting observations about society.
One thing that has become clear for me is simple. There are no simple answers to how relative peace and tolerance can be maintained due to the many factors that can influence the society, its rulers and the individuals in society. People and their cultures all over the planet have particular differences that are not always comprehensible. What is clear is that living in relative peace and tolerance does come down to a choice. If an individual or a group of people thinks or believes it is justified to use violence and threats, they probably will do what they intend to do.
People who think or believe that using violence and threats is justified by their own systems of thought or belief are the threat to a relatively peaceful and tolerant society. The people who allow violence and threats are a threat to themselves. What remains is then the matter of how to maintain relative peace and tolerance. It all comes down to the people who just want to live and enjoy their lives. These people have to decide and hold their politicians and the violent and threatening people accountable. I want to live in world worth living and if that means I have to speak up I will. The maintenance of relative peace and tolerance is too important to ignore.