Of religion, culture and intolerance

Of religion, culture and intolerance

We are indebted to Philip Mendes and Bennett Muraskin for writing on the complex facts behind the virtually total exodus of Jews from Arab lands in the wake of Israel’s birth. A key to understanding this phenomenon is recognizing its complexity.

Recently, I saw Bill Maher’s bitingly satirical documentary “Religulous.” The flaw in this otherwise entertaining and illuminating film is his uncompromising conclusion: that religion is inherently bigoted and violence-prone and that even moderately religious people are “enablers” for the extremists.

In a related vein, some people whom I’ve dialoged and debated with online have characterized as “racist,” my view that the Arab and Muslim worlds have a huge problem with violence and intolerance. They are NOT inherently this way – that would be a bigoted assertion.

One has to ask if many majority Arab countries and areas (e.g., Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, the Gaza Strip, Sudan/Darfur) and non-Arab Muslim countries (e.g., Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey) are not plagued by inter-communal violence and intolerance. If they are not, then my point could be categorized as prejudiced or at least mistaken.

My observation is based upon my reading of the facts that indicate social pathology, but it is not intended to denigrate anybody for their ethnicity or religion. I mean to highlight the desperate need for progressive change in these places. And obviously this does not exempt Israel and predominantly Christian societies from the need for more tolerance and enlightenment. This blog regularly reports upon Israel’s shortcomings and abuses; we are equal opportunity critics.

By | 2008-10-30T13:09:00-04:00 October 30th, 2008|Blog|2 Comments


  1. Anonymous November 10, 2008 at 2:18 am - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    Let me explain what here does actually make you a racist:

    “some people whom I’ve dialoged and debated with online have characterized as “racist,” my view that the Arab and Muslim worlds have a huge problem with violence and intolerance. They are NOT inherently this way – that would be a bigoted assertion.”

    Your racism come through when you note as an afterthought at the end of this post that Israel and the “predominantly Christian countries” also have flaws, while you clearly imply that it is Arab and Muslim countries that have the most significant problems with violence and intolerance, and while you ignore the rest of the world.

    When I look at, for example, Freedom House’s index of Freedom (and personally I don’t 100% agree with Freedom House), I do not believe that what clearly jumps out is that Arabs and Muslims dominate in Freedom House’s measures indicating a lack of freedom (with “lack of freedom” implying to an extent intolerance).

    Also, China, with 1/4 of the world’s population, has very high levels of internal repression. Europe’s wars and colonization in the 20th century killed tens of millions of people. Indonesia and India have the greatest numbers of Muslims in the world, and are currently relatively tolerant societies. Africa has been the site of brutal wars killing millions of people (DRC now, Rwanda/Burundi in the 90s), sometimes along ethnic lines.

    I also have a great deal of trouble seeing Israel as a tolerant and/or nonviolent society. In fact I see it as exactly the opposite, and pretty far out there on the spectrum on both. The US also has to be ranked as one of the most violent societies in the world (and not terribly internally intolerant, but with our intolerance externally directed). What else can you say of a country which executes its citizens, has a very high murder rate, is prone to getting into wars and killing non-white people, is the world’s greatest arms exporter and is probably the greatest exporter of violent movies?

    In short, in your desire to brand Arabs and Muslims as intolerant and violent, you appear blind to the very high levels of violence and intolerance in the countries you are most closely associated with (US and Israel), ignorant of violence and intolerance in the rest of the world, as well as ignorant of variations within the Arab and Muslim world. This leaves you focused on Arabs or Muslims, devoid of the context of realities in the rest of the world.

    That is what makes you a racist.


  2. Ralph Seliger November 10, 2008 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    I appreciate Ted’s ‘gracious’ comment. Obviously, I have no concerns for the failings of Israel or the US; anybody with their head on straight would see how I never criticze Israel and never post anything sympathetic to the struggles of Palestinians.

    Seriously Ted: Some of your points about China and the US are well taken. But the notion that I am a “racist” (rather than simply mistaken, in your view) for observing that the Arab and Muslim worlds have huge problems with violence and intolerance is an example of both your own intolerance and your rudeness.

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