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When I read that the United Arab Emirate’s Minister of Tolerance had been accused of sexual assault, I could not help but smile. The account of the assault itself, if true, was not at all funny, quite the reverse, but what caused me to smile was the very idea of a government minister of tolerance, presumably with a whole ministry to himself, complete with deputy ministers, senior and junior bureaucrats, secretaries, office cleaners, etc. No satirist could have invented anything better.

No doubt also the bureaucrats in the ministry had, in the words of job advertisements, “a proven track record” in the promotion of tolerance, for example by the public beheading or flogging of those convicted, or merely accused, of intolerance. The logo of the ministry was, perhaps, Be Tolerant or Else, its coat of arms including an angel statant and an executioner rampant on each side of a quartered shield displaying a halo alternating with a severed head. Life at the Bottom: Th... Theodore Dalrymple Best Price: $4.57 Buy New $8.83 (as of 07:45 EST - Details)

Tolerance is one of those many qualities, such as bravery or originality, that in itself is neither good nor bad, but whose worth depends upon many other considerations. A precondition of tolerance, of course, is disapproval, for there is no need to exercise tolerance of what we approve of or are indifferent to. We can all tolerate what we approve of; it is in the exercise of control over the expression, verbal or in action, of our disapproval that tolerance lies. Such control may shade into stupidity or pusillanimity if it leads to tolerance of what ought not be tolerated; we call intolerant those people who do not accept what they ought to accept. Often our designation reveals as much about us as it reveals about them.

Our Culture, What&rsqu... Dalrymple, Theodore Best Price: $4.24 Buy New $12.83 (as of 04:12 EDT - Details) The precise limits of proper or laudable tolerance are difficult to delineate a priori, and are a perennial problem for liberal democracies. What is impermissible in a church is not impermissible in a football stadium. Even the range of permissible behavior or expression in churches is quite wide, according to denomination. Most people accept that the law should not be the sole guide to the permissible; for example, the law might permit me to offend you gratuitously, but that does not mean that it would be right for me to do so. On the other hand, if I have something worthwhile to say, the fact that it might offend you should not deter me from saying it. Some people are so sensitive, or claim to be so sensitive, that they would find even the passing of the time of day offensive. So much the worse for them. Their claims to sensitivity should not constitute grounds for censorship.

We laugh (quite rightly) at the idea of a Ministry of Tolerance, as we would laugh at the idea of a Ministry of Politeness or of a Ministry of Kindness. But it is always as well when sneering at the absurdity of others to turn the searchlight inwards, and examine oneself, or in this case one’s own polity. No sensible person would look to the UAE for political guidance; but increasingly the same is true of many Western countries.

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