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I Am Intolerant of Intolerance and Proud of It

In the last few weeks you might have read about the group of Ultra Orthodox Jews who delayed a flight because they refused to sit next to women and the Muslim NFL player who’s team was penalized because he prayed in a style common in the Islamic faith.

Ribbet collageI take issues with both but for completely different reasons. The Muslim player should have never been penalized. Giving a quick shout out to God has been a common practice in the NFL and sports overall for as long as I can remember. It’s just usually done by followers of the clearly more acceptable Christian faith. Given that a little prayer time or celebration is and has always been acceptable in the NFL after a touchdown, it cannot be said he delayed the game or imposed his religion on anyone else or even inconvenienced anyone. Allowing him to practice his religion in this way MUST be allowed in any society that says it has religious freedom and every tolerant society must allow for religious freedom.

However, when it comes to the Ultra Orthodox Jews, my opinion seemingly does a 180 because not only do I think they should not have been allowed to do what they did, I’m fundamentally against their belief and will work to undermine it every chance I get, so deep is my intolerance of their intolerant beliefs. Their religious beliefs don’t allow them to be in close proximity to any woman they are not married or related to and pitched a fit when they got on a plane and found out that women existed outside of their control. According to reports, some asked nicely for women to move and some even offered cash. However, if their desires were not met, they began harassing the women and refused to sit.

Why the airline allowed this and didn’t kick them off given how they seem to be removing and arresting people for causing even the slightest of a disturbance these days, I can’t say. But I can say that there’s no way in hell a group of Muslims would have been allowed 1/100th the leeway to act a fool the way these men did, and I think these men should have been treated in equally as strict a manner. I’m all about someone being able to practice their religion and that includes religions I find outdated and stupid, which is most of them. However, their right to practice their belief cannot infringe on the rights of other people and that is doubly true when their millennia-old superstitions promote discrimination and intolerance. ¬†Furthermore, I have this exact same view of cultural practices that do the same.

I recently spent about ten weeks in India. Religious belief and culture there have in many instances become one and the end result has been that religious practices have become bedrock in Indian culture. Take the caste system, for example, which is still very much in place, no matter what anyone says about how India has changed. In this system families are relegated to certain occupations based only on their lineage. For some, this works out very well, for others, specifically the “untouchables,” it makes their life a living hell as they as they are all but physically forced do to the most awful jobs in the world like cleaning the Indian sewer system and cremating bodies.

india-railway-gap-yearSimilarly, this combination of cultural and religious beliefs has resulted in the worst treatment of women I’ve ever seen first hand. I was in India for about a month before it dawned on me that I hadn’t actually talked to a local woman outside of a business transaction the whole time I’d been there. (I’m not including the time a woman yelled at me to take my shoes off during a religious festival.) Once I realized this, I started to realize just how much deeper all this was. Women had been disappeared in India to an unimaginable degree. Everywhere I looked there were men and only men. I once took an 18 hour bus where easily a 1,000 people hopped on and off during the trip. No more than 10% of them were women. All those women were either traveling in large groups or clearly being escorted by a man. In both cases it was being done to protect them from the very real threats of violence women face there (this is closely related to the low view they are held in).

Normally when I travel, I try to be respectful of cultural practices and religious beliefs. This often means biting my tongue and showing respect to things I do not believe in and, quite frankly, do not respect. However, this no longer applies to cultural and religious practices that are discriminatory or intolerant. A person can believe whatever they want, but they should not expect me to support it or tell them it’s fine when it harms and demeans other people and a tolerant society should not have to go out of its way to accommodate their intolerant beliefs. In the case of the men on the plane, it was up to them to take care to make sure their outdated superstitions wouldn’t be interfered with, not general society and certainly not the poor women who had the misfortune of having to sit next to these clowns.

And while I’m fine with intolerant people being allowed to take it upon themselves to plan ahead to make sure their asinine views are conformed to, I will not help them do it and, in fact, I will try to undermine them if I get the chance and did so while in India. The first time I met an “untouchable,” I viewed it as my chance to deliver a big “screw you” to a belief system I despised by going out of my way to simply talk to a man who I wasn’t supposed to as an equal.

Sadly, I cannot say I did the say with women while there. My limited knowledge of Indian culture and specific religious beliefs caused me to refrain from going out of my way to talk to women for fear of unintentionally getting them into trouble by doing so. Giving in this way out of fear for their safety caused me endless frustration and anger and it boiled over on one of my last nights there. I was staying at a hostel full of Indians. All men of course. They invited me to sit with them, have a drink and talk. While I did not explain my reasoning, I declined and went to bed instead. I knew I was at my limit and would not be able to sit their politely and overlook the fact that half of humanity wasn’t there and that none of them seemed to give a rat’s ass about it outside of their desire to get laid, and these were the more educated and progressive men in India.

In looking back on it, I regret this. I wish I had been able to get my frustration and anger under control because talking about this topic with them might have given us all a chance learn and develop our understanding of each other and our beliefs. However, it was this experience that cemented the idea for me that I will not be tolerant of other people’s intolerance because the only way for them to exercise their belief is, like with the men on the plane, to offend, demean and hearse other people. Intolerant beliefs require society to bend for the holders of them and that’s why they are different than almost any other kind of belief that can simply be held in a person’s mind or do not require anyone else to adapt or change for them to be exercised, like with the Muslim NFL player.

Proof of this is that in me now officially stating my intolerance of intolerance, will require intolerant people bend to my belief that they should not shame, belittle, mistreat or harm other people because of their beliefs while in my presence. I will do everything in my power to make sure the environment surrounding me adapts to my intolerant belief at all times. So yes, I’m intolerant and proudly so, and anyone who encounters me, where ever I am in the world, will simply have to deal with it!

Brian M. Williams
Brian is the author of the recently published travel memoir "Stranger in a Stranger Land: My Six Years in Korea." (Click this profile for more information.) He's also a law school grad with Southern charm and Virginia roots. He recently returned to America after nearly seven years traveling and working abroad. He loves dive bars, international travel and foreign accents. He's particularly good at small talk and was the first person to notice there's no "I" in "team."

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