Global phenomena of intolerance: Need for creating index of tolerance

By Vivek Pattanayak*

In the Turkish media Daily Sabah, a candid view was expressed about the rising zelophobia and bigotry  in Europe. Even in a country like Germany, known to be extremely conscious of its Nazi past, the Turkish people living for more than seven decades have not escaped sporadic physical violent attacks. The continent had history of antisemitism. The infamous Dreyfus case had sullied the glorious  reputation of France known to be the pivot of the movement of liberty, equality, and fraternity not only in the West but also in the world. No wonder there was a saying, “what France thinks today, Europe thinks tomorrow.” Now  with huge Muslim population mostly from the Maghreb countries and even black  Christian people from Sub-Saharan Africa, the fifth Republic has witnessed xenophobic convulsions for two decades. Although Disraeli, the prime minister of Britain in 19th century, was a Jew, the Grand Britannica could not hide its prejudice towards Judaism. The Netherlands had a fair share of people coming from erstwhile colonies from Indonesia to Surinam. Belgium, with imperial connection with Zaire, the former Belgian Congo has also got colonial migrants. Although till recently they had not exhibited any flagrant and open hostility towards them but with the rising of  the rightist Le Pen movement in France they too have been infected by this malady. Of course, in the recent history Europe has become a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural society partly due to liberal immigration policy adopted for few decades to buttress its labour force, particularly blue-collar workers because of the low birth rate in Europe, and  the aging population, and shortage of IT skill after the onset of internet revolution with influx of the Indian techies.

In the UK, the migrants include a third generation of people of colonial origin whose grandparents hailed from across the globe. No wonder the saying was “sun never sets on the British empire.” Brexit exposed its fractious society. Interestingly, although the Iberian Peninsula was the birthplace of imperialism, there was hardly any visible migration from Latin America. Only in recent times, Spain received migrants from Morocco. In spite of the long Arab-Islamic presence in the peninsula and  history of Crusades, anti-Islamic sentiments have risen only recently because of repeated Islamic terrorist attacks after 9/11.

What has amazed the political observers of the non-Occidental hemisphere is that the Scandinavian countries, traditionally known as welfare states with long culture of tolerance, have of late seen significant departures from this historical trend, particularly in Norway.

The American  society, although long bedevilled by slavery, south-north fractious division, and segregation, had consciously allowed immigration which made it multicultural with flowering of “American dream” of people of different countries. The society had evolved to become a cauldron of all cultures after the World Wars, First and Second, especially for the Europeans. The Indian diaspora, influx of Latin Americans, the Asian population in particular Chinese, even the Japanese and now Vietnamese had made the society visibly multiethnic. However, all of a sudden, the non-Western world woke up to a rude shock with the arrival of Trump with slogans, “America for Americans” and “America first.”

Xenophobia is not a distinctive feature of the West. Intolerance towards different culture is also visible in Land Down Under although it has abandoned the discriminatory White Australian policy since long back. Needless to state that although  opprobrious apartheid policy in South Africa has gone long since, even after the epoch-making work done by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission under the leadership of Nobel Laureate, Desmond Tutu, the subterranean tension between the White and Black is yet to disappear.

More strikingly, the world has also witnessed tribal tension, religious strife, sectarian hostility, and linguistic rivalry in Africa, in the Middle East and in the subcontinent of India. Pakistan was a byproduct of this and so was Bangladesh. Even after Eritrea became a separate country, Ethiopia known for its great ancient civilization where Judaism, Christianity and Islam flourished along with animism, we see the brutal internecine wars.

India, learning from its history, adopted a constitution to preserve  “unity in diversity” although communal, caste and linguistic clashes have not waned. How far it has succeeded in preserving the spirit of the Founding Fathersopinions would vary although rising majoritarianism  has unnerved many. More appropriately, it can be said that it has so far maintained territorial integrity  in spite of a multiplicity of differences.

The Soviet Union, a country of racial, religious, ethnic, and linguistic divergences remained united for more than eighty years. Many would give credit to the philosophy of communism while others would attribute it to dictatorship of communists.

China with the monolithic culture of Hans has struggled with Uighurs and Tibetans.

Variety is the spice of life. Is the global society getting deficient in that spice?

Tolerance towards differences on the grounds of religion, race, language, sect, sub-sect, caste, and sub-caste is a monumental challenge to maintain peace in the global, regional, national societies. In some countries tolerance is spectacularly high while in some it is abysmally low. Switzerland in spite of four different linguistic groups, German, French, Italian and Romansh, and different religious people, Protestants, Catholics, and Calvinists there are no visible signs of tension. Singapore has also unequivocally demonstrated its unity in spite of racial, religious, and linguistic differences. Canada has actively and avowedly  promoted multicultural society since Pierre Trudeau was in the seat of power notwithstanding the Quebec separatist movement and past violence of FLQ and tensions during referendum. Peaceful coexistence of Anglophones, Francophones, allophones, and ingenious people along with visible minorities is a spectacular achievement of its political leadership. New Zealand with a mixed population of the European whites, indigenous Māori people, and non-European immigrants, under the present leadership of Jacinda Ardern, has shown excellent ability to create an ecosystem of tolerance.

Tolerance includes  forbearance, patience, restraint, and self-control. Measurement of tolerance perhaps needs to be devised by sociologists, psychologists, and political scientists. In recent times, thanks to the initiative of Bhutan, happiness is being measured for countries. Happiness Index is calculated, and annual reports reflect who are in the first ten or first twenty-five. Some countries regularly remain within the first twenty-five like Bhutan, Costa Rica, Finland, and Switzerland while some others  remain below one hundred twenty-five.

UNDP also prepares the Human Development Index. A Global Democracy Report is also prepared. Measuring tolerance will assist in assessment of the level of liberal democratic culture in the countries.


*The author is a former bureaucrat and held important positions in aviation and power regulatory body. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.

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