Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Let's call it "a letter on tolerance"

Excusatio non petita, accusatio manifesta. The wisdom of this Latin saying, for which apologies that are not asked for are equivalent to self accusation, holds me from giving in to the temptation of forwarding with an apology the theme I am going to tackle.

I restrain myself and take a start.

Newsweek of July 27, had the cover article denouncing "The myth of Eurabia", i.e. "the false fears of a Muslim take over".

It seems according to it that the far right in Europe suffers of a paranoid fear of a Muslim take over.

I am not sure whether I qualify as far right, but I am convinced that some reasons of preoccupation do exist. And if it is so, how does the article's author qualify: far left?


An apology therefore is in order. Such an article touches me in my honor of philosopher-theologian and cultural anthropologist.

I'll quote to this end the famous French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss – I hope the Newsweek journalist knows whom I am talking about, otherwise all my apology is in vain.

Or perhaps not.

Back in the fifties of last century, in a beautiful book of his entitled Tristes Tropiques Lévi-Strauss made himself known as defender of little tribal societies of South America. Now he is too old to be still speaking about anything, but in his latest public statements he rather came to the defense of European civilization, because, he said, he sees it at risk of extinction.

May be he has turned far right.

How about saying that he is just an intelligent and wise author, who knows where the problems lie?

A little more down to earth: several years ago, it must have been in the middle Nineties, a friend of mine, teacher of Latin and Greek in high school and a good catholic, reported an experience that alerted her on a threat.

She had been, together with other fellow teachers, at a seminar organized by the Roman church school office on the theme of multiculturalism. As the well meaning teachers that they were, they all felt obliged to express a generic approval of the importance of keeping open to other cultures. But there was also a guest speaker, a Muslim engineer I don't remember from where, who had been living in Italy for some twenty years. When it came his turn, he left them all flabbergasted. "For you, tolerance is a value", he said, "for us it isn't. You don't make children, we do. Draw the consequences by yourself."

The Newsweek article deftly dismisses the second, demographic point made by that engineer in still non suspect years: long it takes before Muslim become a majority in Europe. Besides, they are not so unanimous in their views: many, perhaps the majority of them want to integrate.

Does this mean that even the first point is voided? And that there is no threat? I wouldn't say so. Many incidents, even horrid ones, seem rather to point to the contrary.

How grave is it? Well, that's something that requires discussion.

My answer is: the gravity of the threat depends on its being or not being perceived. In other words: I see the threat coming not so much from Muslims, as from insipient Europeans who don't understand the nature of the problem.

Or, for that matter, insipient Americans.

It is not a question of right or left, but of knowledge of human affairs. And here an anthropologist like Lévi-Strauss can come handy, teaching us that human nature does not change.

Nobody, anywhere, ever likes to be tolerated.

At least since John Locke's famous letter, in our society we keep on extolling tolerance. That's because we never stop and think of converting the noun into the verb.

Now, try to say to somebody: I tolerate you. And imagine his or her reaction.

In our society we wanted for some reason to be, on principle, tolerant; so we made space to people, many of whom found our tolerance unpleasing... and reacted with their intolerance.

The reason is that we don't even know what we are called to tolerate. Having we rejected or at least put aside our knowledge of the alternative in Christianity, which inspired the universal recognition of the equal dignity of any man (and of course woman) we rightly hold as natural, we don't have anything left to offer for it except lurid tolerance.

Am I preaching intolerance? Certainly not! I am just saying that tolerance, if it can work on the legal level, doesn't work as a civic virtue apt to promote good will in social relations.

I don't care how many of the Muslim immigrants are against us, what matters is that they are the most vociferous in a Europe that is highly deculturalized.

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