“I tolerate you”

Tolerance is a much used, socially desirable value across the Western world. It sounds attractive because it reflects values such as the ability to live side-by-side those who are different and to restrain oneself. Yet, tolerance as a value can be interpreted in different ways, and possibly therefore it is so attractive for a political usage.

For example, unlike with the American melting pot, the Dutch did not require immigrants to integrate or assimilate. They were merely tolerated as a different community. Yet, tolerance indicates a power relationship, with those who tolerate as the more powerful. For example, to say that ‘I will tolerate you’ at a personal level reflects this power difference clearly. Yet, it seems acceptable rhetoric at the national level, even if the meaning is the same and is not, as also commonly thought, a concept of inclusivity.

In fact, Wemyss (2006: 215) argues that tolerance is not a positive national aspiration as it is in fact ‘the conditional withholding of force by those at the top of a ‘hierarchy of belonging’. Secondly, tolerance indicates acceptance and benevolence for the greater good, which, over the years, has become synonymized with a social and liberal political view. Therefore, using the word ‘tolerance’ is indicative of an implied power relation as much as it supports the idea of a multicultural society.

Proponents of pluralism, like the enlightened Gentili, assume that the nature of human beings is as such that they can (be taught to) live side by side without caring what the other thinks, or who they worship. Pluralism, then, is a possibility provided that people acknowledge and suppress their urge to invade, segregate, and dominate. It requires a shift from an individualistic approach to politics to come towards an ethical, inclusive form of governing, as argued by Amin (2010):


One reason for a turn to a politics of ethics – the desire to link moral and political

philosophy – is the belief that rationalism, utilitarianism, consumerism and individualism have diminished the role of ethics in social organization and human interaction, and that credos such as liberalism, socialism, religious society and nationalism have legitimated harm, including ethical harm, towards those believed to be on the outside (Appiah, 2006; Parekh, 2000).


In the UK, the Commission on Integration and Cohesion published the ‘Our Shared Future’ report, which indicated that there was a sense of shared values across the individuals and communities consulted.  In an independent report advising the commission, Buofino and Thompson (2007: 15) argued that ‘good mental health, satisfying and secure work, a secure and loving private life, freedom, moral values and a secure community were found to be the main factors affecting happiness’. The Commission concluded that their expectation that communities clash in terms of values was not found to be true but warned that ‘if the discrimination experienced by some groups within our society continues, we will not be able to achieve the goals we set out in this report for building integration and cohesion’ (Commission on Integration and Cohesion, 2007: 27).

In the Netherlands, the report called ‘The Drama of Multiculturalism’ (Scheffer, 2000) shook the establishment on its foundations. The author argued that multiculturalism had failed and that, due to the pillarization ethos and because Dutch society is void of strong nationalism, immigrants were not required to integrate. This left them confused in terms of their identity as SIT and SCT would have predicted. Furthermore, Scheffer (2000) argues that for multiculturalism to work, the Dutch should not eschew conflict in order to come to a resolution. He concludes[i] (translated from Dutch):


We have had an exceptional time, when a relaxed and wealthy society let go of the reigns. The illusion of invulnerability was strong and it seemed as if freedom and forbearance stabilised autonomously. Those years are over. At the moment, citizens obtain less justice security, social protection and cultural acknowledgement from the State. Now that the cornerstones of our contented nation are moving, many turn against the government that constantly relativises itself. The political upper-layer, who used to possess a clear civilization mission, now doubts itself and loses more and more grip on the societal reality.


Then one can understand the refusal by the cabinet and parliament to face the, for everybody visible and often high-lighted, problems surrounding ethnic minorities in the Netherlands. A parliamentary study in to the immigration and integration policies is necessary, because now whole generations are signed off under the veil of tolerance. The current policy of generous admission and limited integration enlarges the inequality en contributes to a sense of estrangement in society. Tolerance moans under the weight of outstanding maintenance. The multicultural drama that unfolds then is the largest threat to societal peace.


 Instead of taking heed of Scheffer’s words, by voting for the PVV, the Dutch elected for a full immigration ban on people from Moslim countries, a tax on Moslim women wearing a veil and for The Netherlands to leave the EU if Turkey joins. Wilders’ PVV party and other similar parties in Europe reject multiculturalism because they are unwilling to be tolerant even. Statistics generated by so called voting indicator software that advises the public on a representative party of their viewpoints based on questions show that PVV’s program is popular; It is argued that they represent what people think but feel they cannot say (Kanne & de Beer, 2009).

It is the management of the complexity of the modern person’s sense of belonging and security within conflict situations that requires further study. Identity negotiation between layers of identity by definition leads to conflict. The current negotiation between the higher order national identity (American, Dutch, European), and smaller subcultures (e.g. Muslim, gender, or gay subcultures) is a case in point. Additionally to negotiating one’s own identity, people are required to interact with others with often very different values. This diversity in experience and background can be a platform for success (van Ameijde, Nelson, Billsberry & van Meurs, 2008) but it may also cause misunderstandings (van Meurs, 2003; van Meurs & Spencer-Oatey, 2007). We have to acknowledge this challenge: the human fear of uncertainty vs. the human capacity for compassion.

[i] We hebben een uitzonderlijke tijd achter ons, waarin een zeer ontspannen en welvarende samenleving de teugels heeft laten vieren. De illusie van onkwetsbaarheid was sterk en het leek alsof de vrijheid en verdraagzaamheid zich als vanzelf bestendigden. Die jaren zijn voorbij. Burgers ontlenen momenteel minder rechtszekerheid, sociale bescherming en culturele bevestiging aan de staat. Nu deze hoekstenen van onze tevreden natie zijn gaan schuiven, keren velen zich af van een overheid die zichzelf voortdurend relativeert. De politieke bovenlaag die vroeger over een duidelijke beschavingsmissie beschikte, twijfelt aan zichzelf en verliest meer en meer zijn greep op de maatschappelijke werkelijkheid.

Zo kan men de weigering begrijpen van kabinet en parlement voor iedereen zichtbare en vaak gesignaleerde problemen rondom etnische minderheden in Nederland onder ogen te zien. Een parlementair onderzoek naar het immigratie- en integratiebeleid is nodig, want nu worden hele generaties onder het mom van tolerantie afgeschreven. Het huidige beleid van ruime toelating en beperkte integratie vergroot de ongelijkheid en draagt bij tot een gevoel van vervreemding in de samenleving. De tolerantie kreunt onder de last van achterstallig onderhoud. Het multiculturele drama dat zich voltrekt is dan ook de grootste bedreiging voor de maatschappelijke vrede (Scheffer, 2000)


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