Tolerance and Power

Tolerance and Power

By: M. Usama

The Constitution of Pakistan 1973 through its Article 41(2) enunciates that only a Muslim can become the President of Pakistan. Same is the condition for the Prime Minister as well [Article 91(3)]. It means that to occupy these high offices, one must be a Muslim even if one practices corruption, perjury and gloats on the resources of our country. This ‘condition’—I do not challenge it—nonetheless, does not fulfil the purpose of placing a man of scruples at the helm of national affairs.

In her bestseller titled “Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance—and Why They Fall,” renowned American lawyer and author, Amy Chua, explains the rise of hyperpowers. Highlighting the thesis, she says that “tolerance” was not the only, but a “necessary,” condition for a nation to exert influence over the world. “Whereas Achaemenid Persia was essentially just a war machine, Rome was also an idea.” The reason for quoting the example of Rome here is to create an analogue with today’s United States of America. The Roman Empire, with two millennia of grandeur, was not only an empire but an attraction, an illusion of magnificence for the people of the world. The Roman emperor inherited the title of the king of the world. The mere idea of associating oneself with the empire was a source of pride for the peoples of different nations. We see that after thousands of years, the US has occupied the place once enjoyed by Rome.

In our own country, with all the hypocritical criticism we direct at the US, we still aspire to be a citizen of this country. This is because of their soft power that has immense significance. They dictate the world economically, socially and politically. With their tentacles spread all over the world, multinational corporations (MNCs), aircraft-carriers roaming international waters, and culture inculcated into the very veins of people, they [the US] wield the prowess to shape attitudes. And what is the reason for this dominance? Simply, acceptance, amalgamation and harnessing the talents of peoples of the world! This very ‘acceptance’ leads to the concept of tolerance.
It is very important to mention here that tolerance doesn’t mean to be at par or above some absolute standard. Here the theory of ‘strategic tolerance’ comes into play. That is to be more tolerant than your contemporaries. The Dutch Empire in the seventeenth century became a global power on the basis of this strategic tolerance. While in the rest of Europe there were pogroms against the Jews, and burning people alive, inquisition and suppression of minorities’ rights were rampant, the Dutch opened their arms embracing everyone that came to live in their country. The rights of the émigrés were protected, freedom of religion was intact and they enjoyed a respectable social status. Many Jews in the Dutch Empire reached to higher echelons of power.

Same was the case in the Great Ottoman Empire. Under Suleiman the Magnificent, the empire stretched its borders from Hungary to North Africa. Astonishingly, among those who helped the empire grow by contributing their respective skills, most notable were Jews as the empire benefitted greatly from their extensive networking across Europe. There was no discrimination on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity and no impediment to a person’s growth through the highest of ranks. It was the meritocratic attitude of the Ottomans that non-Muslims were free to bring a case to an Islamic court against Muslims. However, it strikes a deplorable contrast with the situation that we face here in Pakistan today. Although the sanctity and significance of the blasphemy law in Pakistan is not at all questionable, yet its exploitation as well as its use for setting some personal scores is absolutely lamentable.

The Mongols, the people of the Steppe, were illiterate and wild. But it is remarkable that how Genghis Khan, a man who till his death remained illiterate, was able to make a nation out of these tribes always engaged in internecine wars. It may seem ironic given the cruelty and brutality the Mongols were known for, but they were very tolerant. There are accounts that how the Mongol courts were home to religious discussions and arguments. Under his rule “All religious leaders, monks, “criers of the mosques”, and “persons who are dedicated to religious practice” were exempted from taxation.”

Violent extremism, fundamental narrative—peddled at times by the pulpit of the mosques and at times in well-furnished drawing rooms—lack of education and the absence of a counter-narrative, and many other manifestations are some of the causes that are billowing the flame of “intolerance” to new heights. Our receptacles are filled already to the brim so we have very little space left to absorb or even listen to others’ opinions. We have closed our intellectual gates forever—guarded by nescience. And this closure may prove expensive in future.

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