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The Limits Of Compromise

The Limits Of CompromiseFletcher student and terrorism expert Lorenzo Vidino says that even tolerance must have its limits.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.03.06] Cartoons published in a Danish newspaper satirizing the Islamic prophet Mohammad ignited a storm of protests throughout the Muslim world last month, opening up an international debate over freedom of speech and religious intolerance and capturing media headlines around the world. As the controversy continues to simmer, one student at Tufts’ Fletcher School examines how the international reaction to these drawings may point to a more complex issue.

AlQaedaInEurope“The protests over the Danish cartoons provide us with a good perspective on … issues [of tolerance],” Lorenzo Vidino, author of Al Qaeda in Europe: The New Battleground of International Jihad, wrote in a recent Boston Herald opinion piece.

Vidino, a first-year master’s student at Fletcher, thinks the controversy raises vexing questions about the limits of tolerance.

“How far must we compromise to respect other people’s feelings?” Vidino asked in his editorial, citing the example of two Scottish Muslim groups that tried to prevent a Glasgow restaurant from being able to sell alcohol to customers sitting outside because it would be offensive to Muslim passers-by. “Are we on a collision path with a monolithic bloc that violently opposes any criticism or perceived offense?”

Perhaps, but Vidino says the global community can play an important role in preventing that from happening. Unfortunately, he wrote, the Western media’s handling of the Danish cartoon controversy may have made the problem worse.

“Most of the Western media caved in and left Denmark to fend for itself,” he wrote. “The lack of support for the Danish newspaper … has shown we are willing to accept limits to free speech, if going beyond those limits provokes a clash with the most violent voices of the Muslim world.”

But, he pointed out, those “violent voices” represent only a “radical minority of Muslims,” most of whom belong to “organizations with the stated goal of Islamizing Europe.”

The majority of Muslims, he wrote in the Herald, “deeply resented the publication of the cartoons, most of which were unquestionably offensive. Yet they expressed their anger in a democratic way, through letters to newspapers, peaceful demonstrations, and even boycotts …”

Rather than giving in to the small percentage of Muslims who reacted violently, Vidino explained in the Herald, Western nations should have initiated a conversation with those who sought to resolve the issue peacefully.

“A civilization that believes in itself and its values would have engaged the moderate voices in a healthy debate over free speech and tolerance, while standing strong against the radicals who attempted to exploit the controversy for their own political purposes,” he wrote.

It’s crucial for nations to stand their ground against intolerance, according to Vidino.

“Tolerance to the intolerants does not pay — it produces only more intolerance and creates the impression that we are unable to stand up for our values,” he wrote in the Herald.


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