An end to tolerance

Okay, I think I’ve had enough of tolerance.

Last Friday, Israeli gays gathered for a pride rally in Jerusalem, to celebrate life in general and gayness in particular. The rally had originally been scheduled to include a march through the streets, but that part was cancelled because the religious right threatened to respond with a counter-demonstration, and authorities couldn’t cope with it. So they held it at the sport stadium, where 2000 participants were protected by 3000 police officers, who managed to keep most of the ultra-Orthodox at bay.

Meanwhile, in the other (Arab) part of town, a group of gay Palestinian Americans thought they might put on a rally of their own, to coincide with that of the Israelis. Joining them were nine Palestinian-American gays who had come to Jerusalem for the rally. Except that a couple of locals, who claimed they represented the Waqf (the Muslim religious authority in charge of, among other things, the holy sites in the city) came to their hotel and threatened to cut off their heads if they marched. And when the two locals got one of the Americans alone, they beat the crap out of him, leaving him unconscious in the hospital.

This is an American, from Chicago, the victim of a hate crime on foreign soil. So why isn’t this an international incident? If this had been a straight blonde kid from a Bible-belt college who was threatened with beheading, then beaten, thrown down the stairs, and kicked senseless, would it be relegated to an inside page of the paper?

When one of his friends was interviewed, “Daoud” from Detroit could only say ruefully that America had a degree of tolerance that they were discovering did not exist in East Jerusalem. This comes out as a praise of the US, and I suppose it is, in the same way that saying somebody doesn’t beat his wife is praise, or that a motorist doesn’t sideswipe pedestrians recognizes a good thing. But honestly, why shouldn’t one be able to expect the right to walk down the sidewalk without being run down? As a woman, I expect the right to drive my own car, earn my own money, make decisions regarding my own body; if someone jumped out of an alley and threatened to shoot me if I didn’t get off the street and go into hiding, wouldn’t I be just a tad outraged? Wouldn’t the rest of the country? And if I chose to march in a parade declaring my pride in being a woman, how would that be different from a march declaring my pride in being created gay?

I’m sick of tolerance. We don’t need to “tolerate” gays or blacks or Hispanics or women in politics or people in wheelchairs, any more than we need to tolerate the sky above or trees in the forest or our own left foot. They’re here, they’re as much a part of us as our left foot, they’re not going to go away, so as the old gay rights chant has it, get used to it. Instead of begrudging them their existence, “tolerating” them because the law says we have to, we need to learn to look at their differences—OUR differences—as a part of the texture of life.

Traditionally, Islam has recognized Judaism and Christianity as partners, all three being “People of the Book.” We may not agree with your world-view, but we can learn from it, use it to enrich our own view of Creation. For Christ’s sake, see the humanity.

And I do mean Christ’s sake. There’s a great deal about the Christian message I wrestle with, and disagree with, but one thing I do know: Jesus of Nazareth tried to look past little things like religious differences or a person’s sex to see the God-created person, like the Hebrew prophets before him and the Prophet Mohammed after him.

We don’t have room for mere tolerance in this crowded world. Instead, we need to celebrate the richness of the humanity God has created. We need to turn a disbelieving eye on any thug who uses God as an excuse for his actions. We need to shun anyone who would even consider compromise with criminals whose beliefs put young men in the hospital. And I’m not even a minority, or gay, or red-haired, or anything, I can’t imagine how fed up I would be if I fit into any of the minority categories.

No more tolerance.

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  1. WDI on November 14, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    Thank you, Laurie, for sharing this. I do remember the international press the American kid got when he was caned in Singapore for — what was it? Spitting out his gum or something. Anyway, that created an uproar. I didn’t even hear about this one.

    And thanks, also, for teaching me something I hadn’t thought about. I’ve been using the word “tolerance” for years without thinking about its deeper implications. I won’t do so again. My GLBT friends have definitely brought rich new colors to the tapestry of my life. So, to extend the metaphor, I think we should all actively seek out those new threads — because you never know what will emerge when you start weaving them in.

    OK, ’nuff literary pretensions 🙂 Thanks again, Laurie!

  2. 2maple on November 14, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    The hardest thing about traveling outside your culture/comfort zone is expecting others in their world will see, respect or even understand your cultural norms.

    Not saying that beating someone oblivious was right or acceptable by any means…but were the American Palistinans surprised at an intolerant reaction? If they wanted to be an “issue” lightning rod…they should have expected that they might get “struck”?

    I’ve run into issues associated with just being a women or having a college education create sticky situations…I certainly wouldn’t expect undertanding or tolerance on something so close to a persons core being as issues of sexuality!

  3. wimindance on November 14, 2006 at 4:17 pm

    Laurie, thanks once again for being a voice that represents me.

    The part in all this that makes me want to cry is often, as a gay women, I don’t even see the injustice – I’m happy with tolerance because it’s better than the more common alternative.

    Your post reminds me of another realization I had while I was watching Ellen DeGeneris in her coming out episode on her prime time show all those years ago. At one point the episode Ellen is complaining to her counselor, played by Oprah, that every time Ellen comes out to someone the response is “I’m sorry”. “Why can’t they congratulate me?,” Ellen asks. And Oprah does just that.

    A month or so after that episode aired I had a coming out moment with a colleague and for the first time in my life heard congratulations as the response. It may seem a small thing but in that moment my life went from being something to be apologized for to something to be celebrated. And today I can let go of being tolerated.


  4. Roxanne on November 14, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    1. Recogniton of and respect for the opinions, beliefs, or actions of others.
    2.a. The amount of variation from a standard that is allowed.
    2.b. The permissible deviation from a specified valued of a structural dimension.

    It seems like people have forgotten the primary definition of “tolerance”–which involves respect–opting for other, more convenient, definitions. It is as if “others” are permitted or allowed to be themselves–as if one needs permission to be one’s self.

    Should the American Palestinians have expected to be “struck by lightning?” Should any of us? Isn’t that blaming the victim? It’s like saying of a rape victim, well, what did she expect with the way she dresses?

    Jesus Christ associated with tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, and the mentally ill, among others. He saw and valued who they were (the “God-created person”), not what they were.

    What are people afraid of? Or is it just about power–who has it and who wants to keep it (from others)?

  5. 2maple on November 14, 2006 at 8:18 pm

    Oh dear….with respect to Roxanne’s “…Isn’t that blaming the victim? It’s like saying of a rape victim, well, what did she expect with the way she dresses?”

    Sorry, that was not what I meant at all. What I was stumbling around trying to say was that respect works two ways. Is it OK to offend someone because I think I’m right? Some times and places are just better than others thats all.

    If I am in another culture/ setting, with values that are not common or accepted am I repecting the people I am a visiting? Not a judgement of right or wrong.

    When I was traveling in the middle east in college, we were invited to a tea and dance at a large university (sounds sooo quaint 25 years later :). The tea was fine -men and women, students from both countries attended. As for the dance, all the women from this country were sent home. It was inappropriate for them to be there dancing with foreign men. The inference was that it was OK for the arab men to stay and dance with the “loose” American women. After a quick caucus the women in our group said, then no dance for us either. It surprised the arab men no end. They had no idea how insulted we felt, it lead to alot of discussion, and we were far more respected by them in the end than we had we blithly followed our customs.

  6. Anonymous on November 15, 2006 at 4:44 am

    This story was really buried – I live in Jerusalem, and had heard about the rally, but not the American being beaten in East Jerusalem. If the situation had been at all different the media would have handeled it so differently. My prayers are with this young man.

  7. Antigonos on November 15, 2006 at 7:44 am

    The comment I tried to send yesterday obviously didn’t come through. I THOUGHT I was the only Jerusalemite reading Laurie’s blog, but it seems I was wrong.

    To an American liberal it may seem incredible that in this day and age there are people who find homosexuality extremely offensive–but there are many, and especially in a city so imbued with holiness by three religions, all of which decry homosexuality as an abomination. No side in this affair is free from blame: those “gay pride” folks who only wanted to be as confrontational and provocative as possible, and those who threatened violence–and in the case of the Moslems, actually committed physical violence against one of their own.

    “Gay pride” parades have been held in Tel Aviv, without incident, but Jerusalem IS different. Perhaps the “gay priders” should have been more tolerant of the feelings of those Jerusalem residents who abhor homosexuality. Many Israeli homosexuals, btw, were opposed to the parade as well, as being harmful to their position.

    In the end, it is to the credit of the police and the organizers that they managed to arrive at a compromise satisfactory to just about all.

    Tolerance doesn’t mean uncritical acceptance of everything. That is anarchy and chaos.

    Sarah in Jerusalem
    PS–to the other Yerushalmi blog reader–would you like to become acquainted? Nice to know there’s another LRK fan here!

  8. Roxanne on November 15, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    Thank you, Antigonos and “Anonymous” from Jerusalem, for your comments. I always enjoy reading Antigonos’ posts. I appreciate hearing views and opinions from the “other side of the world.”

    BTW: Antigonos–check out your blog. I (hopefully) sent you an attachment regarding your earlier question on this blog about the wadi. I couldn’t find an email address for you.

    And 2Maple–no offense intended. I guess my frustration about (some) people’s fear of “others” and differences–and the way(s) they choose to display/vent those fears–leaked out in my words. My apologies. I’ve learned reading all of these comments that there is a fine (and frustratingly-hard-to-find) line between respect for one’s self and respect for the traditions and customs of other cultures …

  9. vicki on November 15, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    Thank you all for responding. I was feeling frustrated at not knowing how to voice my own thoughts. I thought it was amazingly naive to think you could have a gay pride parade without repercussions in a place like Jerusalem. People must feel they are “pushing the envelope,” but then they should not be surprised to get the concommitent response that is almost bound to come. As to the lack of news attention, what else is new? Hardly any foreign news is covered. How many Americans are attacked world wide that do not make it into the press? Hundreds per year, I would suppose. The gum chewer in Singapore was a sort of one-off, because it was so bizarre to be caned for such a seemingly minor infraction. Think of all the Americans who are rotting in prisons around the world with their families desperately seeking our attention so that we would plead their cases. Thanks for the opportunity to write a remark here, as bumbly as my thoughts are turning out to be!

  10. snarkhunter on November 15, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    And I do mean Christ’s sake. There’s a great deal about the Christian message I wrestle with, and disagree with, but one thing I do know: Jesus of Nazareth tried to look past little things like religious differences or a person’s sex to see the God-created person, like the Hebrew prophets before him and the Prophet Mohammed after him.

    I don’t know what to say beyond this: Amen.

  11. Acre on November 15, 2006 at 5:06 pm

    As to how a minority feels about the regular onslaught of hate speech and marginalization masked as tolerance, I blogged about it the day after the election this year and so I won’t go on at length. (Though I know most of you don’t read my blog. My response is in a post called “Wheelies in My Field” if you’re interested.) But to sum up: the harm and pain of hearing your life and desire are an abomination is a type of violence as well. And so my response to the the comments that gay rights activists should expect to confront the violence of homophobia and know better is that I also don’t agree with the assumption that there is no violence done by maintaining silence, not “pushing the envelope,” or capitulating to the demands of the dominant. If tolerance means respecting the right of any community to do harm to others, then I’ve had enough of that tolerance, as well.

  12. Antigonos on November 15, 2006 at 5:44 pm

    Laurie, thank you for replying–but it didn’t come through. I have now edited my profile so you can send me the answer to my “wadi” question directly by email.

    As for “the other side of the world”, whaddya talkin’ about? Jerusalem is the NAVEL of the world. You folks are out in the stix somewhere, says I, chortling. Native Americans, like the ancient Brits, have been identified as the Ten Lost Tribes at some point, after all.

    Sometimes I think that there ought to be “proxy violence”, rather like the tournament jousts of old. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I never read stories about bloody brawls outside the stadia where NFL games–which are quite violent–are played. However, all over Europe, where the less physical soccer is played, fans seem to feel almost obliged to take up literal cudgels in defense of their local team/national side, etc. There must be a lesson in all this…

  13. jay137 on November 16, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    To Sarah in Jerusalem: Sorry, I won’t tolerate violent homophobic hate crimes, or even respect violent homophobic yahoos, whatever their reace or creed or geographic origin. I do respect people who will stand up with pride and make it clear that who they are is who they are and needs no excuses

  14. Dicentra on November 16, 2006 at 6:35 pm

    Oh, tolerance has a place and will do in a pinch, but tolerance is no substitute for love: The pure love of Christ, the charitable Love that encompasses thy enemy and thy neighbor and all thy fellow creatures on Earth.

  15. Roxanne on November 16, 2006 at 8:29 pm

    Hmmm … another hot topic. (Recall the “Sex” post of October 31st.) Laurie R. King is sure getting us all worked up lately, isn’t she? 🙂

  16. Anonymous on November 17, 2006 at 4:10 am

    sigh, such a terribly complex world we all inhabit (and know about almost instantaneously these days)…

    there is a bumper sticker I adore that is my eclectic favorite:

    “God bless everyone, no exceptions”

    really he/she is the best one for that job, way beyond my skill set, but I do aspire.

    Still Laurie, thanks so for your ire, it gives pause for thought again and again.

    M. Diane

  17. E.McC. on November 17, 2006 at 6:08 am


    When I read your posting, I was flooded with memories of the Matthew Shepard murder. Harper’s Magazine published a great article back then, and I recalled that the author spoke about the inadequacy of tolerance (when what was needed is acceptance). I just double-checked and got the citation for any readers who want to follow-up further on this thread. See the Harper’s Magazine, Sept. 1999 issue, “A Boy’s Life,” by Joann Wypijewski.

  18. Dark Orpheus on November 17, 2006 at 9:34 am

    This is slightly off-tangent from the earlier discussion, but just felt that I had to clarify some factual errors that came up in the course of the discussion.

    It was mentioned that the case of Michael Fay being caned in Singapore is for “Spitting out his gum or something”. The actual charges is for theft and vandalism.

    From Wikipedia:
    “Between September and October of 1993, several expensive cars in Singapore were found pelted with eggs and spray-painted. The police eventually arrested a 16-year-old suspect, Shiu Chi Ho, from Hong Kong. After questioning Shiu, the police had several expatriate students from Singapore American School, including Michael Fay, questioned and later charged with more than fifty counts of vandalism. Fay pled guilty to vandalizing the cars in addition to stealing road signs. Under the 1966 Vandalism Act, which was originally passed to curb the spread of communist graffiti in Singapore, he was sentenced on March 3, 1994 to four months in jail, a fine of 3,500 Singapore dollars (US$2,214 or £1,514 at the time), and six lashes of the cane. Shiu, who pled “not guilty,” was eventually sentenced to eight months in prison and twelve strokes of the cane.

    “Fay’s lawyers appealed, arguing that the Vandalism Act provides caning only for indelible forms of graffiti vandalism and that the spray-painted cars were cheaply restored to their original condition. Although the appeal failed, then Singapore President Ong Teng Cheong commuted Fay’s caning from six to four strokes as a gesture of respect for the American president. Fay was caned on May 5, 1994.”

    The Michael Fay case is not as clear-cut as it has been portrayed in the media. My opinion on the case was that it was handled rather badly through the diplomatic channels. The intervention of the United States government in this instance may have contributed to the Singapore authorities having to reassert their sovereign right. Singapore is one of the smallest nation in Asia and politically insecure.

    And the question here is, would the American government have been as vocal if Michael Fay was not a white young man from a priviledged family?

    I think we should try to get the facts right if we are to criticise anyone. This is only fair.

    Please do not mistake that I defend the decisions made by the Singapore authority on the issue of the Michael Fay caning – in fact, I disagree with a lot of Singapore policies. Recent amendments to the Singapore Penal Code has finally legalised oral and anal sex acts between consenting heterosexual adults. But homosexuality is still illegal in Singapore – the authorities claim it is because Singapore is still a conservative society, and the laws must respect the social climate of the country.

    Of course, the authorities also claim they will continue with the current policy of not actively prosecuting homosexual acts.

    Gays and lesbians will be “tolerated” – but still criminals. Technically.

    Is this respect for society, or just an excuse, that’s open to debate.

    For a country that prides itself for its racial diversity, it is still too small-minded to embrace the diversity of other kind. I am ashamed in this instance.

    But definitely, it’s not about the chewing gum.

  19. BentonQuest on November 17, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    Thank you Laurie,
    Sometimes I think us gay folks get so used to feeling like second-class citizens (even in our own country) that tolerance becomes acceptable. Thanks for opening our eyes.

  20. vicki on November 17, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    Thank you for clearing up the “spitting gum” deal. My nephew lived in Singapore for many years and declared it paradise on earth. I guess I believed the gum deal because I had just returned from London and the spotted sidewalks. When I asked about it they remarked that it was caused by all the people who spit their gum out. Were they pulling my leg? Have I got that wrong, too? It made me think that no wonder Singapore was so gumaphobic… they saw the sidewalks of London and realized the consequences of indiscriminate gum spitting out and decided they would cut off the problem at the root. I really expected better behavior from the Brits. What would my grade school teachers say? I was raised on the dictum of “be sure to save the paper wrapper for your gum, wrap it in that and throw it away in the proper receptacle.”
    Okay, okay, okay. Just thought I would relieve the tension with a bit of humor. Lighten up a little. We’ve got to save a little passion for Ruwanda and Durfar.

  21. Tish on November 17, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    Thanks much for your eloquent post. I’ve used one quote from it and linked to it from my own blog.

  22. drjay1941 on December 17, 2006 at 2:11 am

    I wonder if the word and concept missing is “hospitality” which is a primary virtue in many traditions. I tolerate when I put up with, not when I am hospitable towards. We can do without tolerance in most instances, but not without hospitality.

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