By Amna Ameer Abbasi
An analysis of the relationship between ethics and tolerance shows that both are motivated by and based on the fundamental idea of morality and how we perceive moral behavior. Morality falls in a rather grey area that cannot be objectively described with ample lucidity because for a topic pertaining to personal philosophy, there is a big risk of tainting it with our own beliefs. It is not possible to define ethics while keeping consideration for the beliefs of a bigger chunk of humanity. However, if not described, morality has certainly been defined by ethics. For laymen, ethics is the study of moral principles and tolerance is the ability to accept ideas and principles that one disagrees with or even dislikes. The two constructs are intertwined; where the line between morality and ethics blurs, intolerance and dogmatism creep in which leads to the downfall of a social institution.
Ethics aims to resolve moral ambiguity because morality is a vastly subjective phenomenon. The universal philosophy of ethics tells us that, for instance, stealing a person’s personal belongings is bad and punishable but it fails to bring light to a myriad of social issues that are perceived differently depending on a person’s culture, social customs they observe, the religion they follow, and the set of principles on which they were raised, for instance, Russian gatherings are incomplete without Vodka but the same substance is not only banned but its possession is punishable in some societies. So a person’s perception about ethics varies according to their idea about the ‘’source’’ of ethical principles. For some people, God and religion are the sources of ethics, and they accept the idea that there are real objective truths about morality in the universe that must be observed which paves the way for moral realism. Whereas for some people, ethics is the progeny of human conscience and intuition. They believe that basic moral truths of what is good and bad are self-evident to a person who directs their mind towards moral issues. Tolerance teaches us that no matter what our idea of morality or ethics is, we must be tolerant of other people’s ideas of ethics, personal beliefs, and philosophies about life. Instead of trying to “fix” them or act as moral police, we must let them be unless what they’re doing is a blatant violation of international judicial recommendations. Just as Voltaire said, “I do not like what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Pakistan as a society has been growing increasingly intolerant because our perception of ethics has been taking an extremist turn lately. For an Islamic republic, our source of ethics is Islam and Allah’s word in the Quran both of which are impartially composed and give us a sharp distinction between what is ethically permissible and what is not. Despite that our refusal to adhere to those principles and instead of viewing them from a lens of sectarianism motivated extremism has been responsible for a decline in our functioning as a healthy society dwelling on a wholesome balance of ethics and tolerance. The extremist groups in our state are not only increasingly becoming intolerant of people, ideas, opinions, and concepts that are different than theirs but they also aren’t afraid to show their disapproval through violent and sometimes, even deadly measures and demonstrations. The recent lynching of a Sri Lankan Buddhist man in Sialkot over false blasphemy allegations served as an eye-opener towards the treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan. Where we should think objectively and see with a rational eye, we stick to emotive outbursts and justify them in the name of religion. Such extremism and refusal to accept people and ideas different than ours stem from an insufficient and incomplete study of morality.
Ethics and Islam both tell us to respect each other’s religious beliefs and cultural practices and we are even expected to safeguard them, in addition, to merely tolerating them. This is only one and recent example of religious intolerance in our collective Pakistani society. There have been many other instances when minorities, including gender and sexual minorities like trans people, political minorities like feminists, and religious minorities like Christians and Hindus were made to feel like outcasts and unsafe in their homeland just for following a different or progressive set of beliefs.
Intolerance doesn’t suddenly emerge with the onset of bigger social issues, it starts small and creeps in slowly into the structure of society through the influx of extremist groups, insufficient educational exposure, the desire to be right, and to always do “right” even at the cost of taking away someone else’s autonomy, and being defensive, rigid, and egotistical about one’s beliefs instead of adopting a growth mindset. Pakistan is based on Islamic ideology and Islam is rightfully proclaimed as the religion of peace. No other religion emphasizes the importance of ethics and banishes intolerance as much as Islam does, so people who use religion as a justification of intolerance are doing nothing but proving themselves as examples of foolish endeavors.
Our country is a culturally, religiously, ethnically, and socially plural society and this diversity can be used to our advantage but some extremist elements want to abolish everything and everyone that show an inclination towards ideologies different than theirs. It is natural for one person’s opinions and beliefs to be different but that shouldn’t imply the existence of non-conformity to the larger and more popularly celebrated opinions in society. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression, and we can learn and grow better together if we learn to accept these differences instead of viewing them as a threat to singular, and sometimes even orthodox thought processes. An anonymous author aptly describes it:
“If a profound gulf separates my neighbor’s belief from mine, there is always the golden bridge of tolerance.”
Our world has been dynamic since the big bang. We started from a singularity and expanded into the ever-evolving universe that we know today so it is obvious even from the laws of nature that neither the universe nor its functions and elements were meant to be part of a singularity. We are meant to be dynamic and ever-changing and this change can only be brought when we learn to be accepting of radical ideas that challenge our age-old notions of normality, when we not only accept but celebrate people that are different, when we protect minorities threatened by extremism, and when we teach our children to be humanists first and nationals later. Ethics and tolerance go hand in hand together and are indispensable tools to enable societal harmony.
Amna Ameer Abbasi is an academic researcher and youth leader with more than six years of active volunteering experience. She is currently working as a freelance writer.