Toleration For The Intolerant

Duly Noted

Only seldom will vacation travel sharpen the mind. More often than not, the exercise brings little relaxation. Much of the activity degenerates into dutifully checking off “must see” items and the pictures taken serve as the proof that the assignment had been completed. Your correspondent’s visit of Andalusia netted “results” that in part confirm the thesis. 

Spain’s Andalusia has much to offer to the eye and, often unnoticed, to the intellect. The architecture might be superb but the real significance of the region is something one cannot see. The true glory of the place is not what is culture had erected physically but its intellectual contribution. It is in Andalusia that emerging Europe succeeded to reestablish its access to Greek knowledge. Its achievements had been lost during the “Dark Ages”. This could happen through the good offices of Muslim rulers whose intermittent tolerance –or disinterest- enabled Muslim, Jewish, and Christian savants to transmit and to embellish knowledge that willing recipients could consume. Fortunately for the then “third world” West, the inclination, and the demand to learn from others appeared in time. That was before Islam’s civilization regressed voluntarily into theocratically imposed orthodoxy and government mandated unconcern for anything beyond the Koran. As a result, the West, which became a good “cultural learner”, could take the route that elevated it from a stagnant civilization into a dynamic system. That process enabled it to develop a new systemic model and to become a brand that currently even its detractors attempt to imitate. 

It is an oddity of human development that the Spain that emerged from the Reconquista has failed to benefit from the cultural seeds generated on her territory. Is that to be credited to a “liberation” immediately followed by transoceanic conquest? Russia’s rise taking her from the “Mongol Yoke” to the quick subjugation of most of Eastern Eurasia, offers a parallel case. So does her role as a great power coupled to reactionary politics and underdevelopment, which parallels Spain’s record. 

It is not surprising that the above, being complex and not convertible to a “sight”, got hardly any mention in the presentation of our guide. Surprisingly, however, regardless of local roots and an obviously good education, the woman’s presentation suffered from generous doses of distorting PC. Generously applied but limping Hitler analogies –such references always ignore Stalin- were used. Interestingly, not for the facts but as illustrations pointing to the “decline of the West”, Islam’s ultimate orthodox ossification has been marginalized. What was left was credited to the “Berbers” and not to the unsurpassed fanatical potential inherent in a faith that had successfully resisted its own Reformation and an Enlightenment. As for post-Reconquista Spain, innovatively the rest of Europe was made to share whatever misdeeds could be credited to her at the expense of the Indios. After all, the North “profited” from the wealth created through the conquest of overseas. It might tell something about Spain’s current vicissitudes that this could be said without reference to the comportment that left Spain poor and made work and commerce oriented societies successful.


Retroactively applied tolerance appears to stretch into the present by the means of conflict avoidance through institutionalized softness. The picture above illustrates a point.  As a snapshot, it is inspired by an instant insight. In the line-up of images, the playground in front, the white mosque, and the rock of Gibraltar have a story to tell. The playground is what it seems to be for kids. The mosque is not a product of old times but a new construction to mark presence in a lost province. Lacking a strong local demand, it rates as a plaything of the Saudis. Money can buy things no one would think of! The word “tolerance”  in the first sentence of this paragraph provokes the insolent question whether a Christian church –ostentatious or modest- could be built on the soil of the spender. Lastly, and most lasting of the depicted items, there is the “Rock” that has been the useful playing field of the Royal Navy. Those that survived the “war” due to Allied victory cannot cease to be appreciative.

To conclude, let us shift to a walk in Malaga. While wandering through romantic passages between an oversupply of cathedrals, loud noise commanded our attention. The source turned out to be a sizable religious procession commemorating a local something. Instantly, a louder dissonant tone emerged. Its source turned out to be a dozen of Hare Krishna fans. The volume of the noise they generated compensated their diminutive and out-of-place visual size. Marching alongside the procession made it apparent that their presence was provoked by the “local yokels’”exercise and that it meant to gain attention by spoiling the traditionalists’ show. 

The term “tolerance” has been given several times a significance in the foregoing. Therefore, its renewed inclusion seems to be logically justified. 

Perhaps thanks to the tourist-dominated scene, no one pelted the handful that made out the carefully staged provocative counter-demonstration. That holds, even if the action of the organized non-conformists has not been in favor of another Deity but was meant to disturb an exercise in homage of a Spanish speaking and indigenous Catholic God. As a bystander one had the feeling that the action was about as sensible as entering a vegan restaurant to order a T-bone steak. The incident reminds one of a six-year-old child erecting a sand castle on the beach that is destroyed by the two-year-old sibling. The case makes one to philosophize privately about the application of the principle of tolerance.

In our times, tolerance seems to have become a victim of a kidnapping. For one thing, as a dictated value it compels  communities to tolerate what is intolerable. Used as a one-way street, it obliges majorities to ignore behavior that the minority, protected by the value, is unwilling to accord in reverse to the majority. The tolerance of the intolerant is becoming a practice. In this case, it is represented by the use of the protection of privileged status to disturb the majority whose activity had been devoid of any disadvantage of the protected. The disturbance indicates the lack of tolerance of the cuddled minority that denies the same privilege it claims to the majority. Such cases make one wonder, how much of the now claimed rights would be extended if demographics or a coup would empower the moment’s minority to dominate the present’s majority. 

Muslims and The "Dark" Ages

I generally enjoy your articles, George, and so I was deeply disappointed and distressed to find you panhandling that liberal myth about Europe having lost touch with its Greek heritage during the Dark Ages and being indebted to "the good offices of Muslim rulers" for its preservation and transmission to the otherwise benighted West.

The fallacy of this history was previously discussed in Thomas F. Bertonneau's essay, "The West's Cultural Continuity: Aristotle at Mont Saint-Michel," a review of Sylvain Gouguenheim's Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel: Les racinesgrecques de l_Europe Chretienne, (Brussels Journal, 2009-01-05). 

You may also find discussions of this myth in various works by Remi Brague pointing out how little "tolerant" muslim leaders had to do with any such transmission of the West's classical traditions, knowledge of which had very little appeal or interest for islam.  

I sincerely hope you will enlighten yourself about this topic and stop peddling mythology about some supposed "golden age" of islamic learning.