Sunday, January 25, 2009

Re-defining 'tolerance'

An op-ed piece in today's Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star by Steven Hill of the New America Foundation holds up Malaysia as an example of religious and cultural tolerance and moderate Islam.
But contrary to the stereotype about Muslim countries, Malaysia is for the most part a tolerantly religious nation. Indeed, religious toleration is enshrined in the nation's constitution. Other religions thrive here--Hindu, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Confucianism, Taoism, and other traditional Chinese religions.
Not so fast there, Hot Rod. I visited Malaysia a couple years back, and much of this is true, at least in the more urbanized areas. I visited a Starbucks just north of Kuala Lumpur and was attended by a 20-something female Muslim barista who joked and wise-cracked in near-perfect English like any American Starbucks employee. But such anecdotes don't tell the whole story of religious 'tolerance' in Malaysia.

For example, they say nothing about the Malaysian government's demolition of Christian churches and other non-Muslim places of worship, nor do they tell of the Malaysia chief justice's push for hardline Sharia law, already practiced in some Malaysian states.

Finally, let's not forget that to "tolerate" isn't the same as to "welcome". One might tolerate the presence of a raging boil on one's ass, but won't be sorry when it's gone.

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