- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 6, 2005

Recent events in Europe — the bombings in London, the debate over deporting radical Imams, the question of whether the anti-terrorist fatwa is sincere — put the core values of security and tolerance in conflict. Because of the high emotions and political polarity forming around this moral question, it might best be contemplated in the abstract.

Imagine if you will then, the hypothetical land of Nod, where Tolerance is one of the supreme values. For centuries, people of Religions A through X (including atheists) have gotten along remarkably well. There have been times of friction. But compared to anywhere else in the world, religious conflicts in Nod have been trivial and tolerance of each other’s belief has been exemplary.

In recent years, though, immigration has brought Religion “Z” into Nod, and one of its supreme values is Intolerance. In nations where “Z” is the dominant religion, all other religions are prohibited or severely restricted.

In their houses of worship in Nod, “Z”-ist clergy angrily denounce Religions A through X and call for the destruction of Nod. Some “Z”-ists believe it is OK to kill in the name of “Z”-ism, and they start staging terrorist acts in Nod.

Because it is impossible to distinguish radical “Z”-ists from non-radical “Z”-ists, the most effective response to the terrorist attacks (and the first response of a less tolerant society) would be to prohibit or severely restrict the practice of “Z”-ism. At the very least this would mean to deport “Z”-ists who preach intolerance, monitor the activities in the “Z”-ist churches, and bar any further immigration by “Z”-ists.

But this poses a quandary for Nodians. To discriminate against a religion, even a religion that preaches intolerance, would violate their ideal of tolerance. Consequently, they are willing to endure some terrorist attacks rather than compromise their ideal. In other words, Nodians have a concept of acceptable losses for the sake of tolerance.

That’s the hypothetical situation, now here’s the hypothetical question: What would acceptable losses be in such a society?

If we presume Nod is a wealthy and populous country like the U.S., then we have an initial answer to our question. They could readily absorb 3,000 deaths and billions of dollars in property damage — the losses of September 11, 2001. In addition, they would accept a new multibillion-dollar tax burden to support the new security bureaucracy. And they would accept losses to their freedom associated with security measures at airports and other public facilities. Thus far, these losses in life, property, taxes, freedom and security, in support of ideal tolerance, are acceptable losses.

But if next year, “Z”-terrorists succeeded in exploding a nuclear device in a major Nod city, killing 50,000, would that mark the limit of tolerance? And what if the following year, they succeeded again, killing 200,000?

This is the question leaders, both in hypothetical Nod and in actual Western democracies, must answer. And it must be posed to those in media and politics who constantly lecture us about civil liberties. What are the acceptable losses in order to preserve ideal tolerance? What are the limits of tolerance?

Every ideology has its limitations, even democracy. In prewar Germany, the National Socialist Party won control of the government through democratic elections; once in power, of course, they abolished democracy. Thus when Germans reconstituted democracy after the war, one of their initial acts was to outlaw the National Socialist Party. They had to do this for democracy to survive, though nothing could be more undemocratic than outlawing a political party.

Hypothetically, at the point at which the losses become unacceptable, “Z”-tolerance will be curtailed.

Or maybe not.

In hypothetical Nod, we can project the situation out to the nth degree, where both the tolerant Nodians and intolerant “Z”-ists persist in their pure behavior. Let’s say the “Z”-ists are passionately committed to carry on their holy war, generation after generation for as long as it takes.

If the Nodian security bureaucracy is not 100 percent effective (and what bureaucracy is), eventually the “Z”-ists will succeed in one nuclear attack; and if Nodians maintain 100 percent “Z”-tolerance despite the nuclear losses, then the “Z”-ists will eventually succeed in another attack, and so on until the Nodian government collapses.

So the limit of tolerance in the ultimate case is reached when it is replaced by intolerance.

Of course, this is only hypothetical.

ROBERT SEIDENBERG

Alexandria, Va.

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