An excellent article appears in the Toronto Star today by Farzana Hassan, president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, entitled, 'When Tolerance Becomes Dangerous.'
In it, Hassan makes a simple but often forgotten point: in our rush to accommodate various conflicting minorities, we frequently abuse, "the principle on which pluralism is based – one that acknowledges diversity, but after an agreement has been reached on what is civil, just and compassionate."
Over the last few months we've seen increasing conflict over the acceptance of cultural practices at odds with mainstream Canadian culture, especially in Quebec.
I've been conflicted myself on this very issue. As a homosexual, I'm a minority and will always be vulnerable to the impulses of the majority, rational or irrational. I used to buy into the philosophy of cultural relativism, where no one can assume that the culture in which they live is superior to any other. This was the basis of queer liberation in my mind: sure most people are heterosexual, but I'm not. The standards by which you judge yourself as heterosexuals cannot be applied to me as my experience and my sub-culture is fundamentally different.
But I've moved away from this kind of thinking in recent years. By this argument, I cannot criticize other cultures or religions that would oppress, even kill, gays and lesbians in other parts of the world. I would have no moral leg to stand on when criticizing the terrible homophobia on display in Russia recently, for example.
Instead, I think I now agree with much of what Hassan and many others argue. We must respect pluralism, and to do so that means we acknowledge diversity, but only after all show respect for what is civil, just and compassionate.
I also liked one of Hassan's last points in her article: "Last but not least, as we proceed with a redefinition of cultures and societies and the place of multiculturalism in them, let us not forget to invoke the compassionate elements of religion that foster love, peace and understanding, as well as forgiveness for transgressions."
Just because organized religion can be used in the most heinous and inhumane ways, we ought not throw the baby out with the bath water.