Ubiquitous Political Intolerance

The quintessential aspect of democracy, and indeed that of any good community, where each of us can build flourishing lives, is tolerance.

Outside religion, politics is the only other known discipline where opinions differ to the point of death, and that is why both religion and politics have been the force behind all wars.

The fact that the diversity of interests, desires and opinions in politics is so great is exactly why tolerance matters. It is understandable that we differ so much as people that we often come to a point where we do not understand why others should think and behave the way they do.

In Zimbabwe we have had political players associated with certain ideologies, and others styling themselves as patriots, democrats, liberals, socialists, communists, human rights defenders, and so on and so forth.

We have this traditional divide that says the ruling party stands for revolutionary patriotism; while the opposition is seen as pliant or copycat liberalists driven by Western aligned economic policies; and that assertion is not without cause.

What we must understand as a people is there is no revolution that isolates or divides its own people, no revolution that belongs to a clique of owners. We must understand there is no liberalism outside patriotism; you can’t be liberal without a patriotic cause. The underlying value to any ideology is the national interest, not political power.

While patriotism and nationalism are ideologically popular, and perhaps borrowed liberalist policies are seen as frowned upon by many, not least for their perceived poodle outlook; we must always acknowledge that those that believe in borrowed policies have a right to their choice of thought and opinion, just like those of us who may see themselves as patriots cherish the same right for ourselves.

The very possibility of democracy turns on tolerance. Society by definition involves people getting along peacefully and cooperatively most of the time, if not all the time. All this cannot be possible unless we begin to accordingly recognise the entitlement of others to their choices.

When we have a calamity like we have just had in Cyclone Idai, the natural expectation in any decent democracy is that all of us become united in grief, and that everyone will unite heart, hand, mind and soul with all others in alleviating the challenging crisis.

A calamity like a natural disaster must bury our political differences instead of exposing them.

We cannot stand on the stage of a national calamity to score cheap political scores against political leaders we do not like.

That is not only disrespectful for the deceased and the families affected, but it is a betrayal of culture, human decency, respect, life itself, and manners.

I am a writer who is somewhat strongly opinionated, and given that my domain is political commentary, I have had first hand experience with intolerance, especially given where I write my work from, and also my background as a Zimbabwean, a country in the recent past seen in the West as divided between pro-democracy angels and tyrannical followers of the ruling ZANU-PF.

I happen to be viewed as a sympathiser, if not an agent of the ruling ZANU-PF.

At one time, The Canberra Times declared that I was the resident “personal agent” of former President Robert Mugabe in Australia.

My left wing politics and the support I have for pro-people policies across the world do not help make the position of those against me change.

Be it Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Cuba, Palestine, or any other country, some of us will tremble with indignation at the sight of imperial injustice — and the cost of it all is never a factor, gruelling as it may often be.

I have been persecuted, vilified, plotted against at high level places of authority, falsely accused, and the sad thing is that this experience has been in the heartland of a renowned democracy, the perceived hub of tolerance.

To some I have represented that familiar rub — the paradox of tolerance, where some have seen me as a risk to this perceived tolerant society. But the Australian justice system must be applauded for the ultimate protection of victims of intolerance, hate, and extremism.

Some generally would be of the view that I fail the test for tolerance, because I write unpalatable stuff for their liking.

When I write against imperialist injustice my views have been seen as radicalised, if not intolerant of other people’s political values. I tolerate that thinking, much as I differ with it.

When I have written in defence of Zimbabwe’s land redistribution program my views have been seen as uncompassionate, as intolerant to the interests of the ousted white commercial farmers.

That is understandable, and I tolerate that criticism, much as I disagree with the views.

Sometimes my work has been derided as intolerant propaganda intended to further the interests of the ruling ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe.

Writing from the heart of Sydney, Australia, you are seen as stabbing the heart of your host for daring to challenge the foreign policy of Australia in regards to Zimbabwe.

Here is the logic. Australia is my host country of residence, and Zimbabwe is my motherland to who I remain a national and citizen.

Once you are seen as intolerant, rightly or wrongly, you then face the deemed remedy for the paradox of tolerance — that tolerance must not tolerate intolerance if it is to protect itself.

So when we want to sanitise our own intolerance, we define the views of those we will not tolerate as enemies of humanity, as extremists, devils, demons, and as a threat to humanity.

Our own state apparatus in Zimbabwe has sometimes used the same remedy, and there are always people seen as undeserving to the tolerance expected of a state to its citizens. Some have been labelled sell-outs, criminals, puppets, lapdogs, or enemies of the liberation legacy.

At times the people at the receiving end of this intolerance are petty political activists carrying out frivolous noise making gimmicks in city parks, or simply passing reckless opinions in public drinking places, or excitable preachers standing behind church pulpits.

Nathaniel Manheru once questioned this unwarranted overzealousness by some in our security power corridors, and advised that some things deserve no more than a good laugh, and they will go away.

Nobodies have many times been given undue national attention simply because there are people in the national security apparatus who are driven by volcanic intolerance.

But security by its very nature of necessity means there are things that cannot be tolerated, things that at law are deemed unacceptable.

From a security point of view tolerance is not this warm, woolly, feel good attitude of smiling at everything that goes around. Tolerance is a principle based on the philosophy that everyone must respect everyone else’s rights and principles, and that any behaviour does not threaten the security and rights of others.

This is the dilemma that gave us the August 1 2018 tragedy; and the January 14-16 2019 deadly crackdown on violent protesters was in the same context.

Guns and tear smoke canisters are weapons of intolerance, and cannot be used in a manner that is pleasing and satisfactory to the targeted person being disciplined. Proportionate force cannot be something determined by those at whom the force is targeted; but by those administering such force.

Our media leads ahead of its readers in the crusade of intolerance, and one just needs to read the Zimbabwean papers to get the point. Our papers run on editorial policies where rights and entitlements of one side of the political divide are totally disregarded and disrespected, simply because their views and interests are deemed intolerable.

The deprived rights and entitlements include the right of reply before a story is published. Almost every editor in Zimbabwe is guilty as charged on this one at the moment.

Tolerance, pluralism, and individual liberties are principles so central to the running of a good society, and also pillars to the principle of democracy.

We live in a country where intolerance reigns supreme from our political parties right into Parliament and other state institutions, not to mention the disastrous filter-down effect to the generality of the populace.

Right now we are at a point where to some of us anything that ED Mnangagwa thinks, suggests, does or is associated with is a deplorable failure by definition, regardless of merit, logic, rational or morality.

Equally Nelson Chamisa is to some of us a clown by definition, a puerile character, a bitter loser with nothing acceptable about him; regardless of how many people accept him as a credible national leader, how big the party he leads is, and how many votes he got in the last election.

We have seen our media celebrating egregious acts of intolerance, or at the best turning a blind eye to the menace.

We have seen how both ZANU-PF and the MDC handle factionalism and dissenting voices internally.

Both parties are well known for their ruthless summary disciplinarian measures, including instant lengthy suspensions and summary expulsions.

We are not even going to write about the intra-party violence that often receives partial coverage from our media, depending on who has been beaten up, and who has done the barbaric deed.

When the Vanguard despicably behaved in a violent manner at the funeral of Morgan Tsvangirai, we had on one hand those spinning the incident of violence to score political goals against Nelson Chamisa, and those on the other hand that chose to pretend the violence did not happen at all.

So we can shamelessly politic at the burial of someone as politically revered as was Morgan Tsvangirai; and we can drive all the way to Chimanimani to do political grandstanding over the dead bodies of flood victims — showcasing our political clout, and trying to pump up our profiles.

While tolerance is not a demand to license just anything whatever, least of all behaviour that threatens the existence of organisations, it must also be noted that there have been clear cases of unwarranted heavy handedness within our political parties, only traceable to mere intolerance.

We hear the right to contest a political leader at a party Congress that is due has been criminalised; and that people who wish to merely compete politically are intimidated, vilified, brutalised, or even expelled from political parties. That is sad.

Free speech and tolerance are fundamentals in an open society in which individual rights are respected and protected. It is hard to imagine any right that can be effective without free speech; for when one is silenced they cannot lay claim to any of their rights, or even seek remedy for the abuse of any such rights.

Of course a society in which free speech is essential is a society that must by necessity be tolerant.

Where free speech is not tempered with, frequently someone will be offended by someone else’s utterances, this being an inevitable concomitant of free speech itself.

I am not surprised at all when I read angry outburst against some of the things that I write. I write freely, and my views are bound to offend some people whose own views would probably equally offend me if those people were to express them to me.

There must be agreement in principle and in practice among members of the same society that they are all prepared to tolerate sentiments, opinions, attitudes, affiliations and views that are different from their own. It does not matter that these views may differ radically or offensively. For social cohesion to be possible such views must be tolerated.

Zimbabweans on social media specialise in insulting each other when it comes to political debate.

The level of intolerance mirrors the political environment on the ground. I sometimes often post provocative but incisive political topics for debate on my Facebook wall, but rarely do you get someone of a different view who is tolerant enough to engage in meaningful debate.

Instead of the perceived high intellectualism of Zimbabweans being evident in such debates, one is confronted with the most primitive of abusive language, as protagonists trade the most tasteless of insults. I am often a target of these graceless lowbrow attacks, but I have learnt over the years never to get insulted by someone with politically motivated anger.

It is very important to know that tolerance is hard work. It entails people putting up with what others do, even when those actions of others look strange, stupid or simply unfavourable. It involves recognising the right of others to be different, and allowing them a chance to openly express their views, for as long as they are not harming others.

It really does not matter I may seem odd, offensive, obnoxious, or disagreeable, tolerance entails the ability to put up with all that on the part of those offended, as it equally applies on my part.

Of course we as people can argue, try to persuade each other, mock each other, satirise each other, criticise each other, and so on and so forth, expressing our own freedom of speech that way, but we cannot forbid or prevent other people from expressing their views.

Freedom of speech is not in itself absolute, and tolerance does not mean limitless acceptance of anything that goes. When Boko Haram declares its intolerant views on the Nigerian society, it does not make sense for anyone to accord them the right to free speech.

When al-Shabab declared its murderous intentions to “turn Kenya red with blood,” such views cannot be acceptable to any society, and those expressing such views must always be stopped in the severest of ways possible.

We just had Brenton Tarrant, the Australian white supremacist terrorist who gun-massacred 50 innocent and defenceless worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, and we know that the views contained in his 87-page Manifesto cannot be tolerated as free speech. There is no second-guessing that Tarrant is a monster that deserves no respect or tolerance at all.

Radical views associated with terrorism today are sometimes nurtured in communities practicing the principles of tolerance, raising the question of how big the margin of tolerance should be stretched.

You come to this situation where in the name of defending the right of people to their views and opinions, society inadvertently allows unsavoury opinions to flourish, and to attract followers, endangering the same tolerant society in the process.

We heard in 2015 that a Nairobi Law School graduate just saw it feet to spray hundreds of bullets at defenceless students at a Kenyan university, and the psychopath had been freely allowed to develop his radical views within the Kenyan community that hosted him as a refugee.

The risk that tolerance can breed monsters is a real one, whether we are talking of common political thuggery or the more egregious scourge of terrorism.

Perhaps this is the price that tolerance itself exacts, and that we must pay.

Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!

Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in SYDNEY, Australia

Source : The Herald

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