Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tolerance, Change, America, and the World

An item in Monday's news started me thinking about tolerance, and how it's been practiced here in America. Sometimes tolerance, American style, is the sort you'll find in a dictionary: "willingness to recognize and respect the beliefs or practices of others." (Princeton's WordNet) Sometimes "tolerance" and "freedom" mean "free to agree with me, and do things my way."

I've experienced two flavors of the latter sort of "tolerance," and don't think much of either.

I think the 'dictionary' sort of tolerance is a good idea. Partly because it's part of my system of belief, partly out of a kind of enlightened self-interest. I've been over this in another blog:And, yes: as the name of that blog suggests, I'm a Catholic. Which may not mean what you've been told. I'll get back to that, later in this post.

If you follow that other blog, you may as well skip this post. It's a slightly-edited version of "Religious Freedom In America: It Could be Worse" (March 20, 2012). I decided that most of the original post fit this blog's range of topics:Enough introduction. Here's that post:

Tolerance, Freedom, and America

One reason that I think America is okay is that this country has a fairly good track record for tolerance. Far from perfect, though.

I remember when this country was flushing McCarthyism out it its system, and when "banned in Boston" was taken seriously: sometimes as a sign of End Times; sometimes, I think, as free publicity.

I endured political correctness, when I last did time in American academia. It wasn't, in my opinion, an improvement on McCarthyism: just the same old 'my way or the highway' attitude, with a somewhat different agenda.

Life, Freedom, and Change

But we got over McCarthyism. I think we'll get over political correctness, although the "free to agree with me" attitude packaged as "tolerance" is still very much with us. I've been posting about a current effort by America's national government to control how Americans practice our religions:
By the way, what you may have read in the papers notwithstanding: 'Those Catholics' aren't trying to make you worship our way. The problem we have with the HHS mandate comes from our belief that human beings are people. All human beings.

Anyway, we're not allowed to 'force' anyone to change your mind about faith. It's in the rules:
  • Catholics must support religious freedom
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2104-2109)
    • For everybody
      (Catechism, 2106)

It Could be Worse

Like I said, America has a fairly good record of tolerance. Killing folks who don't conform, and bragging about it, isn't a serious problem in today's America.

Folks in some parts of the world have a very different approach to living with differences:
"School that employed American shot in Yemen denies he proselytized Christianity"
Associated Press, via (March 19, 2012)

"The school employing an American teacher gunned down in Yemen has denied accusations that he was proselytizing Christianity.

"A text message that circulated by mobile phone in Yemen said that 'holy warriors' had killed 'a senior missionary' in the central city of Taiz, shortly after the teacher was shot dead Sunday by two gunmen on a motorcycle...."

"...A statement from the International Training Development Centre in Taiz identified the victim as Joel Shrum, an American development worker living in Yemen with his wife and two children since 2010.

"The school denied that Shrum was proselytizing, saying that he 'highly respected' Islam. It said Muslims and Christians work together on 'human development, skill transfer and community development' projects there and that religious and political debates are not permitted...."
The lesson to learn from that article isn't, I think, that all Yemeni, or Muslims, are bad. Even though whoever killed Joel Shrum may have been a Yemeni, or a Muslim.

Frightened by Change?

I'm inclined to believe the school's claim that he was not guilty of proselytizing. Arguably, though, the entire school is guilty of trying to 'destroy' Yemeni culture. Sort of.

The school's agenda of "human development, skill transfer and community development" sounds like a 'plot' to bring Yemen into the 20th century. Maybe even the 21st.

Change can be scary. Folks sometimes feel threatened by change. I think that Associated Press article shows what can happen when folks get scared: and think that killing someone will solve their problems. Or at least make them feel better.

Judgmental as this may seem: I don't think that's right.
(Catechism, 2258-2287, 2302-2317)

Human Development, Living in the Past, and Being Catholic

I'm a practicing Catholic, so human development is one of my priorities. (" 'To Build a Better Future ... With Confidence Rather Than Resignation' " (February 20, 2012))

For someone living in Yemen, who sees change as intrinsically bad: the International Training Development Centre in Taiz is a very real threat.

I'm not spooked by change. But then, I'm an American.

I grew up in a crucible of change: the country I live in today isn't like the one I grew up in. Which isn't an entirely bad thing. I remember when "she's as smart as a man" was supposed to be a compliment, and that's another topic.

A World Full of 'Foreigners'

I have no problem with international organizations. Not because they span national boundaries, anyway. That's not because I'm a Catholic, though.

I grew up outside the Catholic faith, and spent my teens in the '60s. The United Nations was a disappointment, communist experiments were disasters: but I found no reason to drop the idea that people are people, no matter where they are.

Later, when I became a Catholic, I learned more about why accepting all people is important. (Catechism, 616, 631, 2318, for starters) And that's yet again another topic.

A World Full of Neighbors

I've said it before. We live in a big world. Some of us are what the "Parthians, Medes, and Elamites..." became after two millennia of change.

Some of us are like me: what barbarians living on the far side of Magna Germania became after more than a millennia of contact with the Catholic Church. We changed a lot. We even gave up human sacrifice, and that's yet again another topic.

But we're all the same. We're people. And, like it or not, we're all neighbors.

The Catholic Church tells me that I'm supposed to love God, and love my neighbors. Also that everybody is my neighbor. (Matthew 22:36-40; Matthew 5:43-44; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-30; Catechism, 1825)

That's a simple set of ideas. Believing them isn't a problem. Embracing them isn't always easy: but I think it's important.

Particularly since some of my neighbors have been through a rough time lately.

Yemen, History, and Getting a Grip

Some places weathered Europe's colonial period, and the Treaty of Versailles, without coming apart at the seams. Other places are still like Yemen. I think there are worse ways of wrapping up a war than the Treaty of Versailles, and that's another topic, for another blog:
I sympathize with folks in Yemen who are trying to pick up the pieces from several centuries of foreign rule.1 But I don't sympathize with those who decided that folks who don't agree with them should die. They're still neighbors: but that sort of thing has to end, for everybody's sake.

Apparently someone in Taiz, Yemen, is at least going through the motions of treating Joel Shrum's death as a crime:
"...Taiz security director Ali al-Saidi said Monday that the investigation is still ongoing...."
(Associated Press)
That's good news, as far as it goes.

Related posts:

1 Yemen was a center of civilization. Two or three millennia back. Change happens, though, and several centuries of foreign rule didn't work out very well for Yemen. My opinion. (More at "History of Yemen," Wikipedia) Yemen since the Versailles debacle, briefly:
"North Yemen became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. The British, ... withdrew in 1967 from what became South Yemen. ... the southern government adopted a Marxist orientation. ... exodus of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis from the south to the north.... formally unified as the Republic of Yemen in 1990. A southern secessionist movement in 1994 was quickly subdued. ... a group seeking a return to traditional Zaydi Islam, began in 2004 and has since resulted in six rounds of fighting ... with a ceasefire that continues to hold. The southern secessionist movement was revitalized ... Public rallies ... inspired by similar demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt ... fueled by complaints over high unemployment, poor economic conditions, and corruption. ... resulted in violence, and the demonstrations had spread to other major cities. ... hardened its demands and was unifying behind calls for SALIH's immediate ouster. ... and in early June an explosion at the mosque in the presidential compound injured SALIH, who was evacuated to Saudi Arabia for treatment. ... SALIH returned to Sanaa amid heavy shelling and machinegun fire ... SALIH signed the GCC-brokered agreement to step down, to transfer some of his powers to Vice President Abd al-Rabuh Mansur HADI..."
(Yemen, CIA World Factbook (last updated March 6, 2012))

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.