The Arabic word for Tolerance is ‘Tasamuh’ which literary means to be indulgent and lenient of or toward someone! One can also trace the root of Tolerance in the Arabic language to the verb ‘Tahawana;’ to be negligent of something or someone!
What is however more curious about the contemporary discourse of Tolerance in the Arab world is that its premises and intellectual hypotheses are primarily based on Western interpretations of the great culture of tolerance. For example, in English, to be tolerant of something is to be accepting of its difference and perhaps to be open-minded toward human diversity.
Therefore, most of the connotations of the term ‘Tolerance’ tend to be positive, representing a particular set of positive behaviors.
Yet, one can argue that Tolerance in Arabic (Tasamuh) continues to imply some kind of “enforced” toleration of something rather annoying! I am not fully capable of providing an accurate translation of tolerance in Arabic, however, as a native speaker of the language, Tasamuh has always meant for me some kind of hyperbolic behavior in which a powerful person “tolerates” those who are weaker or those whom he fully controls! It is very simplistic in today’s world to blame the spread of intolerance in the Middle East on previous Western colonialism and imperialism.
However, some Middle Easterners continue to interpret tolerance as weakness and perhaps as a surrender to enemies! Extreme sentimentalism, lack of a culture of critical thinking, and fundamental close-mindedness continues to depict tolerance as weakness in the ME. One cannot also blame lack of proper liberal education for the spread of intolerance in some Middle Eastern environments.
Few terrorists seemed to have received higher and “liberal” education, some have even graduated from Western universities. It is very difficult sometimes to come up with one or few accurate interpretations to explain the spread of intolerance in some Arab and Islamic societies.
However, a deeper look at the root cultural and social causes of intolerance might help reveal why intolerance spreads quickly among some Middle Easterners.
For example, a society which lacks a strong culture of tolerance will always produce some individuals who hate diversity and pluralism. In other words, one can trace the roots of intolerance in some Arab and Muslim cultures to the ‘native’ fundamental cultural values that constitute the cultural and social fabrics of those societies. It might also be useless sometimes to rely only on improving education to spread tolerance if the basic doctrines of a society continue to revolve around patriarchal ways of thinking.
By Khaled Aljenfawi