Should We Tolerate Intolerance?

Below is the intervention read by Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, representing Bürgerbewegung Pax Europa at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 14 “Tolerance and non-discrimination II, including: Combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, also focusing on intolerance and discrimination against Christians and members of other religions”, Warsaw, September 30, 2015.

Intervention by Bürgerbewegung Pax Europa

OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

Working Session 14

To what extent can we tolerate intolerance?

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished delegates.

We are gathered here in order to discuss how to prevent and eliminate discrimination against individuals or communities on the grounds of religion or belief in the exercise of fundamental freedoms in all fields of life, including equal rights of believers and non-believers.

However, these fine intentions cause us to be confronted with the paradox of tolerance. In the words of Karl Popper:

If we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

Fortunately, this paradox lends itself to an easy resolution: In order to defend tolerance, we must have the courage to remain intolerant towards intolerance, with vigilance and diligence.

We, the defenders of human rights, democracy and free, secular societies have no obligation to be tolerant of those with different ideological aims. OSCE pS cannot have any obligations to be tolerant of ideologies, organizations or individuals opposed to fundamental OSCE principles.

Suppose we have a religion that has a core tenet that adherents of other religions, such as Jews and Christians, are to be condemned, and non-believers or adherents of other religions even more so. The fundamental right of freedom of belief grants anyone the right to believe so; this is not an issue. However, there is no fundamental right to act in accordance with such beliefs, for doing so would limit the freedom of others, which is not permissible in a society protecting fundamental freedoms.

Ladies and gentlemen, in defense of our free, secular societies, we have the right to not tolerate religious mandates to despise Christians, Jews or others. This directly implies the right to not grant any privileges to organizations promoting such views, to have them controlled by our security organizations, and to have them dissolved under the law, discrediting their leaders and their ideology.

BPE thus recommends:

  • That our security organizations investigate the ideologies of any and all religious groups.
  • That any religious group promoting anti-Semitism and similar views be re-categorized as political.
  • And that any such group be held legally responsible for how they motivate their members.

For links to previous articles about the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, see the OSCE Archives.

9 thoughts on “Should We Tolerate Intolerance?

  1. I’m not sure I agree, even if my sympathies are squarely with the anti-Jihadi movement.

    Truth, by nature, is “intolerant”. No elementary teacher can tolerate the idea that 3+3=7.

    Further, “intolerance of intolerance” informs a lot of the Left’s onslaught against Christianity and its adherents, including turning a blind eye to the dangers posed by large-scale Muslim immigration. As a Christian, I can understand the Left’s anger at Jesus’ declaration that he is “the way, the truth, and the life”, and the only way to the Father (John 14:6); but, then again, I have my own problems with their dogmatic assertion that “progress” towards their own ideals is “scientifically certain”.

    For me, “tolerance” is simply the recognition that the final judgment on a man is God’s prerogative, not mine. Perhaps, in five years’ time, the man I think is a reprobate for his hatred of Christ and Christians may actually turn into another Apostle Paul; perhaps he will die and “go to his own place” (Acts 1:25).

    I guess tolerance needs to be demoted from primary virtue to mere attitude.

    • No my friend. If you expres intolerance in your writings you must be intolerant.No matter how much you dont live up to the words of your ” holy” books.

      The left expresses intolerance in their “bible” ” das kapital”. Hitler expressed his intolerance in his manifesto. The koran..etc.etc.

      I am an atheist. I have no book which ” guides” my believes. Other than Richard Dawkins bestseller.

      You can not get away with your book that set the whole of Europe on fire and say: well..lets judge people on how they behave, only.

      Maybe you got leviticus all wrong? And it’s only because of the enlightment and seas of blood that we got you back in line of tolerance?

  2. Doesn’t seem to work that way.
    “Tolerance” is generally used as a weapon against the majority.
    The actions of the “oppressed” minority must be “tolerated” no matter how perverse, self-destructive, violent, or hostile they might be, while the actions of the “oppressing” majority to protect itself must be curtailed.

  3. Tolerance in the Judeo-Christian sense is neither a carte blanche right to free speech nor a right to practice barbarism or violence. It originally implied a willingness to overlook minority practices and differences. The reason why tolerance is truly important is because it relates to how the majority chooses to treat those different and usually weaker than them. Will gays or Jews be allowed the same chance at a job, for example.
    During WWII, Denmark answered yes while Germany said no. However this concept should not be conflated with a right to free speech, nor twisted into a cover for ignoring acts of violence by those we are supposed to “tolerate”.

    As an atheist who believes that human life is the most precious thing in the scientifically known universe, I would suggest that tolerance and speech be framed in this way, as a negative commandment based on Jesus’s golden rule: Do no harm to anyone who doesn’t harm you. Do no violence to anyone who is not violent, even if they offend you. You have now satisfied the requirements of tolerance. Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.


    Now just realize that if a minority starts throwing sticks and stones at you, your obligation is forfeit and you must deal with the aggressor in a commensurate manner. Individually.

    In a society where ideas are an open market, better values win. The reason we see good values losing now is that the market of ideas is being distorted by violence aimed at silencing some of those ideas. Get rid of the corruption by getting rid of the place of violence by government or by religious street mobs, and you can have plenty of tolerance for everyone and what they do in the privacy of their home or place of worship. But no group should be given special dispensation to violent speech and activities in the name of tolerance, because quite simply, tolerance does not demand that and never did.

  4. Tolerance is not what we should be aspiring to. If we tolerate something, we don’t aren’t truly comfortable with it, we are merely acknowledging that it is better to live with it in order to experience reciprocal tolerance of our own peculiarities.
    You cannot “tolerate” what I am. You can only tolerate or not tolerate how my existence either affects or doesn’t affect you inwardly.
    Mahatma Gandhi once said, “If someone slaps you, show him the other cheek.”

    I would like to reconstruct this line as, “If someone slaps you, show him the other cheek. If he slaps again, beat the [obscenity] out of him.”

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