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Religious intolerance can be defined as the inability of a person or a group of persons to tolerate the beliefs and opinions which are contrary to their own. The American society today is one of the countries that have seen a steady increase in religious intolerance since the 9/11 terror attack. Issues that surround religious intolerance are complex. They are also very sensitive and have the potential to polarize a country along the religious divide. The founders and fathers of the United States had foreseen and had clauses in the constitution that separate the state and religion. The first amendment to the constitution states, in part, that “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of a religion.” In the words of Thomas Jefferson, the establishment clause was designed to create a “wall of separation between church and state.” This can be said to have been as a response to religious intolerance witnessed early colonies. That religious intolerance is a very sensitive social issue, a closer look at the factors fueling it in modern day America and the world in general need be explored.
America has long been viewed and hailed as the country where democracy has roots. The Jewish migration from Russia to America in the 1900s in search of religious and social freedom confirms this (Jeremy 2004). The composition of the American society today is to a great extent, a result of the democratic and religious freedom that has been established now for decades. The recent intent to burn the Koran by Bishop Terry Jones heightened what has been evident; that people are highly sensitive to religious confrontation. This intended single action by a few individuals drew international attention, raised questions of polarization, and how much we are divided on religious lines. The intended act by the Bishop drew wide condemnation from Christians and people from other religions. What the Bishop displayed can be entirely termed as personal religious intolerance which is not in sync with democracy. The very tenets that democratic states are built on, and their guiding principles should be reflected by matching social response.
Religious intolerance especially after the 9/11 led to the general belief that Islam supports terrorism. This is a case of a weak idea that has put Muslims against the predominantly Christian society. It is because of this that plans to build a mosque near ground zero in New York faced serious opposition. The mainly Christian community felt that this would be an indication of having lost the war against terrorism. This is clearly illustrates that a lot of work needs to be done if we are to free ourselves from religious intolerance. The government has to remain autonomous and respect the rights and freedom of each citizen. These rights include the right to worship, the right to protest and the right of speech. Faced with such a situation as was seen with the intended burning of the Koran, demonstration against any building of a mosque near ground zero and many other minor incidents that pop up now and then, the government has to tread carefully. The very purpose of the rights and freedom of an individual enshrine the belief that an individual should not be forced to submit to the decision or ways of the majority. The question of whether we are really doing enough to live up to the very principles that have been the source of our strength is to be answered.
Individuals or groups of persons that explicitly display their religious intolerance, at times could be egocentric (Bardes 2011). This can be attributed to the fact that mankind has always sought to be perceived and seen as the best in all conditions and their beliefs, institutions and culture are better than those that don’t follow their line of thought. Handling and dealing with ones ego is one way of reducing religious intolerance and is a road map to world peace and stability. Perpetrators of religious terrorism have exploited religion to recruit and promote their propaganda and activities. This can be drawn from the case of Al-Qaeda which has for more than a decade now been at the frontline of promoting their agenda that any America offensive, and the world’s at large, against the terror network is an assault against Islam. This approach has endeared the terror network to extremists and sympathizers who have been helpful in providing resources and support to the network. If therefore, we were to address our ego as a community and see each other from a different perspective, not as Christians, Muslims, Hindus or any other religion but as human beings the war against terror would be an easy fete.
It is assumed that a decrease in the amount of religious conservatism amongst religious leaders has fueled religious intolerance (Kenneth 2010). This has in effect has gone ahead to portray them as the main agents of intolerance. This is as well in sync with the argument that religious convictions of whatever kind promote an anti-democratic look. This has further led to hostility to other religious groups by fundamentalists and fueled competition for resources, social respect and adherents. If we can then effectively curb religious intolerance, we would have a less polarized society.