In the medieval times, it was a crime to translate the Bible into the languages that could be read and understood by common people. People who tried to defy these laws were captured, charged with heresy and sometimes burned at the stake. If you are one of the more liberal-minded albeit religious persons today, you will frown and condemn such acts of intolerance in the dark ages. Back then, you could have been burned for daring to speak up.
In Nazi Germany, simply being a Jew meant you would be targeted. You might end up being burnt in the gas chambers or if you are more fortunate or less depending on which you would prefer, you sent off to a death camp in Germany, Austria or Poland due to this accident of nature. The fight against this intolerance led to WWII.
The problems in Nigeria can be traced to intolerance evidenced in the fear of domination by one tribe or the other. To what would you ascribe the killings in the North that ultimately formed a strong basis for the declaration of the State of Biafra and ultimately the Civil War?
One thing you would notice in these acts of intolerance is that the perpetrators often act in sincerity, based on a belief that they are doing the right thing. Some would have even thought they were doing God’s will. But history has been mostly unkind to them. The results of their lack of tolerance have shown that perhaps we would have a less bloodied history if they never did the things they did.
The word intolerance derives from the Latin word intolerantia which denotes an unwillingness to endure a differing opinion or belief. It is an unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behavior that differs from one’s own. Synonyms of intolerance include bigotry, narrow-mindedness, small-mindedness, parochialism, fanaticism, dogmatism, illiberality; prejudice, bias, partiality, partisanship, sectarianism, one-sidedness, inequality, unfairness, injustice, discrimination.
It is important to give an in-depth definition for intolerance because it sets the premise of this piece. Intolerance is a negative word but its effects on society are even worse. A lack of tolerance can destroy the very fabric which should hold together any society. Intolerance means there are more reasons for disunity; it creates a people so divided that they cannot come together for any cause. One fears that society in general and the Nigerian society, in particular, is slowly being eroded by intolerance.
Once upon a time, the division was between the government and the masses, the oppressors and the oppressed. One could easily rally the masses under the umbrella of labor or civil society and so distinctly see the ‘us vs them’. These days the partisanship is not so clear-cut. We have the APC/PDP, APC/APC, PDP/PDP, KOWA/APC, government/masses, inner caucus/others in government, volunteers/aides, paid volunteers/paid aides, civil society favorable to government/civil society seeking the face of government/ civil society not seeking face of government, fragmented labor…even more fragmentation, each group trying to own the narrative.
What this means is that before you can garner support for a cause, you will have to cross so many hurdles and be forced to run a marathon at the speed of a hundred meter dash. You will be left so frustrated that you may decide it is better to suffer the intolerance that led to the purposed rallying.
Outside politics, intolerance holds sway in religion. There are not only the different religions in the world but even among the bodies of religions, there are sects and counter sects. Protestants broke away from Catholics but continued protesting within whilst sowing wild oats and birthing children in the myriads. In Islam, Hindu, Shinto, Buddhist and other religions there are also numerous sects. Many so intolerant to each other that they sometimes resort to wiping out people of a particular sect. The continued incarceration of cleric Ibrahim Yaqoub El-Zakzaky in Nigeria has been linked to the Shi’a/Sunni divide. In fact, the recent conflicts in Iraq have been linked to the difference in ideology based on these two groups.
If you think that running away from politics and religion will save you from intolerance, then think again. Intolerance has crept into our social lives and is threatening to destroy that too. There is the division caused by the gender wars and the divides resulting from sexual orientation. These days, you not only have to be careful what you say but how you say what you say so as not to trigger attacks from a group that disagrees with your views. The protection of minorities and minority views often leads to the bullying of the majority and vice versa. Even when you choose not to express your views you will be labelled by the zealots of one group think or the other. Your silence is a submission to the oppressors and oppression. Oppression itself is a construct of what thinking you adhere to.
Let us get this straight; there is nothing wrong with bias. We all have our biases. In the same vein, we all have things we can tolerate or not tolerate. For instance, some people cannot tolerate milk. This does not mean that milk is bad. It only means that milk is bad for them. A person who is lactose intolerant may choose to become an anti-milk advocate. They may choose to start telling people that milk may not be good for their health and cite examples of people who should avoid milk for their own well-being. Even persons who drink and love milk may welcome their advocacy and even share in it peradventure they have someone in their family /friends are lactose intolerant or would benefit from not taking milk. But what if this person decides that everyone must stop taking milk and then begins to target and label people who do not agree with their anti-milk advocacy?
The above example may sound extreme, even unthinkable, but read a book like The Wave and you will see how easy it is to go down the slippery slope of intolerance. All it requires is a group of people who believe they are right, and they have a right to impose their will on everyone else. Give these people authority and they believe they can help others think what is best for them. But let us remember that even if our cause is right, it is wrong to impose our beliefs on others. You can evangelise but you should not colonise. You can propagate but don’t facilitate hate. Any idea that you need to use intolerance to propagate is not worth the violence you infuse into it. Remember one person’s lactose intolerance could be another person’s milk.
When we all realise – conservatives, liberals, neo conservatives, neo liberals, alt-rights, alt-lefts, fact checkers, truth seekers, revealers of fake news, creators of alternative facts, narrative shapers, shape shifters, communists, socialists, evangelists, atheists, religious, irreligious, areligious, agnostics, homosexuals, transsexuals, asexuals, white feminists, black feminists, neo feminists, feminist feminists, narcissists, extremists, pundits, intellectuals, neo intellectuals, Kabiyesi intellectuals, intellectually challenged, witches, wizards, pro-lifers,pro-choicers, men, males, boys, teenagers, women, females, girls, children, the unlisted- when we realise that we are just people with different views maybe then we will get rid of intolerance. When we realise that this can just be about milk, we would probably be more tolerant and respectful of the views of others.