We must embrace diversity for inclusive prosperity
The space for tolerance is shrinking in most parts of the world. From major conflicts to the more subtle acts of discrimination, minority groups, refugees and marginalised communities are facing persecution and suppression in many forms, shapes and scales.
From turning away boats carrying desperate refugees—leaving them at the mercy of the unforgiving seas—to premeditated attacks on places of worship and violence against targeted religious and ethnic communities, the world is witnessing an alarming increase in conflicts in recent years. And most of these conflicts can be attributed to an all-pervasive, ever-present problem: intolerance.
Bangladesh is not immune to this social illness: in the last decade alone, there have been multiple cases of attacks on minority communities, with the most recent incident unfolding in October this year, marring the Durga Puja celebrations in the country.
In view of this situation, states and governments need to reflect on and identify the factors that are causing the rise in intolerance, and work towards minimising them.
Reduced access to resources due to climate change, rising authoritarianism and far-right ideologies, increasing fundamentalist sentiments, unchecked human rights abuses, and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic could be some of the key factors that are clouding people's empathy and judgement, and leading them towards a myopic worldview.
Extreme weather conditions, leading to droughts, salinity of cultivable land, land degradation, loss of productivity, frequent floods, and rising sea levels, among others, are making natural resources scarce. This is resulting in a number of factors that are triggering tension and creating scope for intolerance.
For instance, if agricultural land is impacted due to climate change in a region leading to limited productivity, the people in that area are going to bear the economic brunt of it. Many would lose their means of livelihood. There will also be food scarcity in the region due to the lack of agricultural production. Such scenarios lead to frustration, anger and hopelessness. The affected, deprived people might become more intolerant and hostile towards the others, and would be more disposed to engage in conflicts.
A Yale climate change communication blog titled "Does Climate Change Increase Risk of Conflict?" sheds further light on this: "Additionally, different groups are affected differently by climate change. Groups with pre-existing grievances—especially grievances related to ethnic discrimination or colonialist histories—are more likely to turn to violent conflict. Politically marginalised groups in lower socioeconomic brackets are less able to adapt to the effects of climate change and will thus have more grievances."
Not only the minority communities, but the majority might also become more prone to engaging in conflicts, as groups vie to establish control over lands and productive resources as these become scarce. It is likely that the majority would grow intolerant and exert pressure on the minority communities, leading to conflicts.
Similarly, the rise of the far-right nationalist ideas and authoritarianism are also directly resulting in intolerance. Authoritarianism by definition has very limited room for tolerance, as no diversion from obedience to authority is tolerated. These forms of government are non-pluralist in nature and have zero tolerance for dissent. Similarly, far-right ideologies—on the rise in many parts of the world—are also highly intolerant of diversity as the right-wing nationalists believe in the "purity" and "supremacy" of the communities they represent, and strongly emphasise hierarchical relationship between groups. They look down upon people belonging to other races and ethnicities, and if needed, resort to violence to suppress the voices of the minorities.
Because of the rise in such conservative, extreme political beliefs and their consumption by the people, democracy is becoming weak, human rights are becoming more prone to abuse and violation, and certain groups are playing the religion card to manipulate the suppressed populations to further breed intolerance and violence.
In a world where we talk about diversity and inclusion, the growing intolerance of various groups towards the minorities and marginalised communities bodes ominous portents for everyone. The spike in conflicts triggered by intolerance, leading to loss of lives and livelihoods, sends a very wrong message to humanity: that people are losing their human values, their capacity to empathise, and their mental ability to acknowledge, appreciate and embrace what is unique, what is different.
This increase in intolerance depicts a picture of a society that is moving towards anarchy and destruction, because without diversity, how can we evolve as a civilisation? How can we grow?
If we continue to subscribe to authoritarian, right-wing and fundamentalist ideas, we will never be able to harness tolerance. While external factors—such as climate change and the rise of fascism on a global scale—will try to take away from our ability to share and make our worldview one-dimensional, and while vested questers will try to take advantage of these circumstances by feeding the people extremist ideas, it will be unfortunate if we fall for these traps.
In democratic countries such as Bangladesh, India and the US, where tolerance is waning, the governments need to take this issue seriously and strengthen the democratic institutions, the statutory bodies, relevant public sector institutions and human rights organisations in order to combat this menace. By strengthening these bodies, the government will be empowering the diverse communities and reinforcing their rights. And this will also act as a warning for the groups that try to destabilise social equilibrium by instigating and exacerbating intolerance.
At the individual level, we must focus on the richness that diversity brings. We must champion the fact that diversity is an integral and indispensable part of our social fabric. We must respect diversity, and we need to allow diversity to flourish to facilitate a holistic growth of the human race. And in order to do all these, we must become more tolerant towards groups and communities that are different from us, that are unique. Let this be our realisation and commitment on the International Day for Tolerance.
Tasneem Tayeb is a columnist for The Daily Star. Her Twitter handle is @tasneem_tayeb