Youth Views: Tolerance has two faces. By Christelle Sadeghi and Josiane Bechara

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As the world enters a new age of enlightenment both technologically and intellectually, conflicts plague the earth while large distances between continents vanish as a result of a newly emerging global community. The amalgamation of people with different cultural backgrounds, traditions and values enriches this community, yet it also contributes to the appearance of ideological deadlocks and collisions. The result is a multitude of vast cultural clefts separating people today. The consequential dilemmas have instigated a search for a process of peace-making through the promotion of tolerance.
UNESCO`s Declaration of the Principles of Tolerance states that "tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world`s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance is harmony in difference". The Oxford Dictionary states that tolerance is the ability to tolerate the beliefs and actions of others and to permit them. It also describes tolerance as being "the capacity to endure hardship or pain".
However, when the pain of acceptance sometimes exceeds its threshold, can tolerance still achieve harmony? One could then consider tolerance as promoting passivity towards injustices that violate our basic human rights. Without attempting to further understand people who are different from us, this form of tolerance can actually lead to intolerance. It can shut down conversations rather than encourage them.
This kind of tolerance can be a form of avoidance â€" it prevents individuals from asking questions, learning about themselves and others. By defining the limits of tolerance, one might run the risk of promoting intolerance too. Instead one should view it as the capacity to question what should and should not be tolerated through action, not passive acceptance. Self-criticism should be the basis of this new approach. It is with self-criticism that one can start to form stronger bonds; delving deeper into understanding one`s self can lead to an understanding of others.
Xenophobia, a phenomenon that affects the entire world, is the product of a timorous conscience, namely of individuals who lack sufficient self-confidence and who do not feel secure in their personal status. Strangers are thus regarded as a threat. It is precisely when we do not feel sure of ourselves that we consider others, especially strangers, a danger.

It is unfortunate to think that attitudes are not changing fast enough. Many of us had thought that globalisation, television, the Internet and people`s increased eagerness to travel would lead to greater tolerance, yet we are regularly confronted with the opposite. The element of exclusion/isolation is key. In 2006 a report entitled "Muslims in the European Union - Discrimination and Islamophobia stated that the main issues in regard to tolerance are, on one hand, a large proportion of society discriminating against Muslims and, on the other hand, a problem of self-isolation by Muslims.

However, the more people live, talk and work together, the more they recognise the value of the other. Without these kinds of interaction, one cannot gain recognition of equal value.

It is thus important to see how understanding through self-criticism is a valuable goal. It involves active dialogue with others, and asking questions that test our perceptions of others â€" such as their religious practices, traditional attire and belief systems. Instead of quickly developing preconceived notions, we must define others for ourselves. Genuine communication is imperative if one is to learn about others on their own terms. It is also sometimes important to reject a certain state of conditioning. We retain the right to no longer engage in the negative aspect of labeling or judgment. Thus, this kind of tolerance can promote the impetus to refuse corruption, bigotry, and prejudice.

Instead of passively accepting one`s fate by normalising and tolerating a corrupt system, one should question, reason and actively criticise. No longer can we be lenient towards a system bound to self-destruct as a result of human intolerance. Sometimes a refusal to tolerate the status quo is needed to galvanise change. It is through active intolerance that one can improve the basic human welfare of a nation and its citizens. No longer can one hold onto the constant expectation that tomorrow`s policies will solve today`s issues. It is obvious that action towards a better future starts now.

Tolerance born out of real understanding becomes a great transformative activity. It promotes true integration, fusing people from various backgrounds into a truly global and multicultural community.

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* Josiane Bechara recently graduated from the American University of Beirut (AUB) with a bachelor degree in psychology. She is a researcher at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at AUB. Christelle Sadeghi is currently a student at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium. They co-wrote this article as part of the Soliya Connect Program West-Muslim World intercultural dialogue program. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service.

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