By Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi
November 05, 2019
Like any other human value, tolerance needs to be
nurtured, supported and instilled in society as a common culture. The
assumption that the value system governing any society or nation is fixed or
unchanging is incorrect; it goes against God’s natural order in the universe,
which is governed by changing circumstances.
Like other values, without people who constantly
support, maintain and work to cultivate them in society, tolerance is not
immune to change and weakness, or even to being replaced by different values.
This explains why the UAE has, in recent years,
adopted many initiatives and laws that consolidate the value of tolerance in a
society that is inherently tolerant.
This was clearly expressed by His Highness Sheikh
Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of
Dubai, in an article published in March 2016, in which he explained the reasons
for appointing a Minister of Tolerance, he said: “Tolerance is not a
catchphrase, but a quality we must cherish and practice. It must be woven into
the fabric of our society to safeguard our future and maintain the progress we
Modern history is filled with examples of leaders and
figures who have become icons for spreading the values of tolerance and
coexistence in their societies and the world; they made tolerance an ‘element
of power’ and a ‘solid foundation’ for building tolerant and harmonious
These societies succeeded in making their way toward
development and progress; while other communities fell into vicious cycles of
violence and counter-violence, as a result of the prevailing attitude of
revenge, hatred and intolerance.
Naturally, I will refer only to a limited number of
these examples, which illustrate how one person’s belief in the value of
tolerance can change the reality of their society for the better, charting a
path to peace, development and stability.
In previous articles, I have discussed the crucial
role played by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in establishing a
culture of tolerance in UAE society. Nevertheless, we cannot talk about the
pioneers of tolerance in the region and world without mentioning this wise Arab
Sheikh Zayed was the embodiment of the value of
tolerance, in all his words and deeds, in the United Arab Emirates and beyond.
He became a symbol of national, Gulf, Arab and even global tolerance; whenever
pioneers of tolerance are mentioned, the name ‘Zayed The Generous’ is always
Another key example to highlight is the late South
African leader Nelson Mandela, whose name is associated with a long and painful
struggle to liberate his country from the abhorrent apartheid regime. Despite
the injustice and suffering he and the black majority endured at the hands of a
white governing minority, his approach of tolerance and reconciliation saw Mandela
build a stable and pluralistic political system to accommodate all in South
Nelson Mandela’s most important quality, which I
covered in some detail in my 2016 book, Eternal Imprints: Figures that Made
History and Others that Changed the Future of Their Countries, was his
unshakeable faith in the value of tolerance and its importance in building
nations; as a result, he is now considered one of history’s great figures.
Although Mandela was imprisoned for more than
twenty-seven years, during which he was subjected to various forms of injustice
and torture, when the South African people overthrew the apartheid regime, he
did not give in to impulses of revenge against his white jailers.
Instead, he allowed feelings of compassion and
tolerance to guide him and, as president of the country, pardoned those who
caused his torture and suffering. In addition, he did not exclude the white
minority that supported the apartheid regime; rather, he worked to build a
pioneering model of peaceful coexistence between different races in South
Africa, and this model ensured the African country progress and prosperity. For
his actions, Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, which made him a
symbol of tolerance around the world.
In India, the inspirational experience of Mahatma
Gandhi, who adopted the ‘nonviolent’ approach, stands out as a symbol of human
tolerance and coexistence, irrespective of affiliation or religion. Gandhi
fought for more than fifty years for India’s independence, upholding the principle
of “peaceful resistance” and rejecting violence and bloodshed, even in the face
of British rule of his country. In 1922, he led a civil disobedience movement
against British rule, which was very effective.
However, when anger spread and some Indian protesters
clashed with British forces resulting in violence, Gandhi quickly halted the
movement so as not to harm his peaceful struggle and principle of non-violence.
These actions ultimately ensured the realisation of his dream of Indian
independence from Britain.
Gandhi also advocated respecting the rights of
individuals, from all religions and sects, respecting racial and ethnic
differences, and rejecting any discrimination between them. During the period
of independence, instances of religious unrest in India increased as Pakistan
moved to secede, which was painful for Gandhi and something he considered to be
a national disaster.
He called for the renunciation of religious and
sectarian strife, and the restoration of national unity between Muslims and Hindus.
During his time in South Africa, from 1893 to 1914, he had seen how racial and
sectarian tendencies weakened the fabric of society; therefore, he defended the
rights of the Muslim minority in India, calling on the Hindu majority to
respect them. This sparked outrage from some Hindu extremists, one of whom
assassinated Gandhi in 1948, ending the journey of a leader who dedicated his
life to defending the values of tolerance and peace.
A more recent admirable example is Rwandan President
Paul Kagame, who led the Rwandans’ struggle to break free from the domination
of despotic racist thought, ending one of the worst instances of genocide in
modern times by adopting principles of amnesty and justice. Rwanda was
associated, in the minds of many, with the genocide that took place against the
ethnic Tutsi minority by the Hutu ethnic majority in April 1994.
The atrocity claimed more than one million lives in
just 100 days, leaving deep wounds in the minds of Rwandans that were not
expected to heal for decades. However, the policies of the Rwandan government
under Paul Kagame, after one of the most brutal genocides in modern history,
were truly impressive. The government launched what has been described as a
bold social engineering campaign, whereby Rwandans now define themselves by
their national identity as Rwandans, not by their race.
All references to racism were criminalised, and
Rwandans were forbidden to utter the words Tutsi and Hutu, distancing
themselves from ethnicity and abhorrent racial superiority. The government also
adopted a traditional community justice system called ‘Gacaca’, which allowed
society to prosecute perpetrators and accept pleas for forgiveness and pardon.
They also abolished the death penalty, so as not to deepen wounds by executing
thousands of murderers.
Sentences issued by these courts ruled that some
offenders had to carry out community service, while others were imprisoned,
depending on the gravity of crimes committed. These courts were officially
closed in 2012, after they presided over approximately 1.9 million cases,
allowing Rwanda to turn the page on the worst genocide in its history.
By upholding the values of tolerance and justice, and
devoting itself to the process of economic development, Rwanda has achieved
remarkable results. The Rwandans, led by Paul Kagame, chose the virtue of
tolerance over the mentality of revenge; they moved beyond genocide by relying
on the tolerance that filled their hearts and defined their actions. This was
their path to prosperity and progress, presenting a remarkable model of
tolerance and development for all humanity.
These examples, and the many others that cannot be
mentioned here, confirm several important facts. First, tolerance is a source
of power for any society, promoting unity, cohesion and harmony among its
people. With tolerance, countries such as South Africa and Rwanda emerged from
dark and bloodstained eras that could have lasted longer had the mentality of
revenge and violence continued to prevail.
Through tolerance, countries such as India achieved
independence from British occupation and walked the path of development and
progress. Furthermore, through tolerance, scattered groups were united as a
single nation, where harmony, peace, stability and cooperation thrive, as the experience
of the UAE confirms. This proves that the power of tolerance far outweighs the
power of weapons, military capabilities and other sources of power.
Second, people who promote tolerance, who uphold it
and instil it in their societies, are immortalised in the consciousness of
their people and in the memory of their nation. The whole world remembers them
with pride; they are the true makers of peace and stability in their countries
and throughout the world.
The third fact, which we draw from these and other
examples, is that there cannot be any development or progress without
If tolerance is the basis of security and stability,
and if security and development are two sides of the same coin, how can we
imagine development in countries and societies where violence, extremism and
Sanad Al Suwaidi is a UAE author and director-general of the Emirates Centre
for Strategic Studies and Research.
Original Headline: Tolerance is a source of power for any society
Source: The Gulf News