The Left

Tolerating Intolerance

Pat Robertson
Pat Robertson
Marion Gordon "Pat" Robertson, March 22, 1930, is an American media mogul, executive chairman, and a former Southern Baptist minister, who generally supports conservative Christian ideals. | Pat Robertson, Minister, Baptist, Christian, Conservative,

Why yes, I can support the rights of both gays and Muslims

In the wake of the recent Orlando shooting, some conservatives claim liberals are caught in a bind. We lefties say we support the rights of gays and Muslims, but now that a Muslim has shot up a gay night club, we'll have to choose between them.

Right-wing pundit Rod Dreher, for example, has declared that "the Left will not be able to bear the tension between two of its favorite causes: fighting 'homophobia' and fighting 'Islamophobia.'" Pat Robertson likewise says "the left is having a dilemma of major proportions" because it will have to side with either gays or a religion that doesn't approve of homosexuality. British celebrity-turned-pundit Katie Hopkins declares that "until Islam is tolerant of gay rights, we cannot tolerate Islam. In any sense. You have to choose."

Actually no, we don't. Protecting both the rights of Muslims and the rights of gays is not a contradiction.

Consider the Orlando shooting. I see absolutely no conflict condemning a murderer who gunned down more than 50 people and supporting the rights of nonviolent Muslims to worship as they choose. It's no different from condemning Christian terrorist bomber Eric Rudolph (the killer who planted a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics) without condemning all Christians. Or condemning ecoterrorist Theodore Kaczynski (AKA the Unabomber) for murdering people without condemning all environmentalists as killers. Is the distinction that hard for Hopkins, Dreher and Robertson (and others who've made the same argument) to grasp?

Contrary to Hopkins, it's perfectly possible to tolerate the intolerant; people do it all the time. I tolerate white supremacists, Christian theocrats, Muslim theocrats, neoNazis, anti-Semites and Westboro Baptist Church, even though I disagree passionately with all of them. They have no right to be exempt from criticism or condemnation, but none of them should be silenced or hunted down for their ugly views. Preventing violent actions, harassment and intimidation is one thing; denying even the worst human beings their rights is another. Opposing conservative Islam or fascism or conservative Christianity while defending the rights of Muslims, fascists or Christians isn't a paradox — it's how democratic society is supposed to work.

And contrary to Dreher there's no conflict in fighting both bigotry against gays and bigotry against Muslims. After all, it's not as if the right-wing's attacks on American Muslims are based on any concern for gay rights. Dreher, for instance, thinks the Obergefell court decision that legalized gay sex was a disaster for America. Robertson says recriminalizing homosexuality is a good idea and predicts that gay marriage will bring God's wrath down on the U.S.A. The Orlando massacre is just another club for them to beat Muslims over the head.

I don't particularly like tolerating intolerance. The hate-mongers of the world, be they Christian, Muslim, secular, whatever, are pustules on the face of humanity. But to paraphrase Winston Churchill, tolerating intolerance is the worst possible option, except for all the alternatives.

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Updated Jun 7, 2017 5:46 AM EDT | More details

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