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Opinions of Monday, 24 August 2020

Columnist: Leo Igwe

A case for tolerance

The Polish government must commended for leading the Group of Friends of Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. I commend this initiative that fosters dialogue, tolerance, and understanding in the world.

This group could not have been organized at a better time because acts of intolerance and violence based on religious differences rage in many parts of the globe. These acts of religious bigotry and bloodletting are linked to the existence of de facto and de jure laws against apostasy and blasphemy in many countries.

The Freedom of Thought Report, published by Humanists International has noted some of the egregious violations of religious liberty and the legal discrimination against persons whose religion or belief are not part of the mainstream.

Apostasy and blasphemy laws impinge on the full exercise and enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief. Humanists International's 2019 Freedom of Thought Report states that 69 countries still have blasphemy laws. These countries have stiff penalties for those who renounce their religious beliefs or express non religious views.

They institutionalize religious discrimination and make religious persecution a state affair. Apostasy and blasphemy legislations violate safeguards and respect for diversity because these laws target minority religious and belief groups in various countries. Incidentally there is no religious or belief group that is in the majority everywhere.

All religious and belief groups are in the minority somewhere in the world. In muslim majority countries, blasphemy laws target muslim minorities and other other minority religious or belief groups including christians, Hindus, traditionalists and atheists. In Hindu dominated societies, blasphemy legislation are used to persecute muslims, atheists and other minority groups.

Those who espouse non religious, non theistic, atheistic, religion critical and dissenting views are the most targeted of all minorities in countries where apostasy and blasphemy apply.

In a religiously diverse world, individuals hold different, conflicting, critical, and contradictory ideas and views. People express thoughts and beliefs that others may find offensive or annoying.

The essence of diversity is dissimilarity, not similarity, disagreement, not agreement, variety, not sameness. For the full exercise of the right to freedom of religion or belief and preservation of diversity in the world, tolerance is necessary. Tolerance is the glue that knits together disparate ideas, and beliefs, turning religious diversity into a source of strength, not weakness.

Tolerance has no meaning if it is predicated on views and expressions that one finds pleasant, agreeable, and acceptable. Tolerance is of no importance or consequence if it is only about respectful positions and concurring propositions. In a world plagued by religious persecution and violence, tolerance is needed to safeguard the plurality of views and beliefs and guarantee peace, stability, and progress.