Propensity for intolerance

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The Toledo Times

MOVIES and television shows about our world's distant, and sometimes not-so-distant, future often paint a picture in which the inhabitants of Earth, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion, have come to value the shared heritage of this tiny speck of dust on the fringes of the universe.

Unfortunately, there is little in human history, distant or recent, to bolster such confidence, as even a brief perusal of current events makes abundantly clear. Humankind's propensity for intolerance, violence, and oppression based on racial, ethnic, or religious differences is all around us.

Ethnic-based violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The long-standing and continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Centuries-old disputes between Shiite and Sunni Muslims throughout the Middle East. Muslim separatism in the Philippines. Tribal strife in Kenya. Myanmar's suppression of the Karen and other ethnic minorities. Ethnic violence in East Timor and the Indonesian territory of Aceh. Civil war between the Sinhalese and Buddhist majority Sri Lankan government and the minority Hindu Tamils. Conflict between the Turkish government and separatist Kurds in northern Iraq.

Millions have died in these and other clashes too numerous to enumerate here, and millions more have been displaced. And not only is there no end in sight for many of these conflicts, but some have become such a part of the fabric of modern life that they have faded from world consciousness and only occasionally rise to the level of newsworthiness.

Less violent but no less the result of what appears at times to be an almost genetic hatred of "the other" are the re-emergence of extreme nationalism and anti-Semitism in Russia and various parts of Europe, as well as the continuing popularity of white-supremacist groups such as the neo-Nazis in the United States.

In the United States, blacks were granted the right to vote more than a century ago and it has been nearly 90 years since women secured the same right. But one of the great debates of this election season is whether Americans are yet ready to elect a woman or a black to the highest office in the land.

And speaking of women, we should not forget that millions of people around the world - the vast majority of them women and children - are being held in slavery. In addition, women remain second-class citizens throughout much of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and even in the so-called enlightened West are not only underpaid but trivialized, marginalized, and objectified - even by themselves.

If recent history proves anything, it is that intolerance is ingrained deeply in the human psyche and takes only the slightest scratch at the surface to be revealed.

In a world where competition for declining resources is likely to increase, where the human population continues to explode, and where climate change could change the world's bread baskets into dust bowls, putting aside our differences may be the most important - and difficult - lesson of all.

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