08/12/04 — Puzzle: Should the tolerant tolerate intolerance?

View Archive

Puzzle: Should the tolerant tolerate intolerance?

Some of our neighbors to the north like to think of Canada as a more perfect society than the United States.

They like their country’s socialized medicine, despite its waiting periods and its relative paucity of modern diagnostic machines. They defend their higher sales taxes.

And they regard editorials like this one as utterly chauvinistic Americanism. They are right about that.

What brings this to mind is a New York Times report on a conundrum that has Canadian liberals scratching their chins. Put simply, it goes something like this:

Can a supposedly free society tolerate, within its midst, a separate society when the separate group won’t give some of its members certain rights that the government ensures?

In the Ontario province, there was an effort to advance multiculturalism. Canadians like to be tolerant. A few years back, a law was passed in Ontario that was designed to show official tolerance of some various groups. The law said that religious leaders could settle certain types of civil matters within their own sects, as long as all involved agreed to waive governmental protections, and the right to appeal to the courts was maintained.

Now an organization called the Islamic Institute wants Muslim clergymen to arbitrate certain issues among Muslims according to Islamic laws called Sharia.

Under Sharia, Muslim women don’t have the same rights as men.

Under Canadian law, they do.

If a matter involving a woman were going to be decided by Sharia, the woman would first have to forego the rights that Canada grants to all other women. But would a Muslim woman, raised in isolation, havesufficient knowledge and education to understand what that meant?

Quite possibly, no. She could very well be incompetent.

The only way to protect such a person is through law.

There are, no doubt, many other situations in which a powerful majority within a sect could take advantage of others if civil laws were not applied equally throughout the population.

Multiculturalism is a good thing, but Ontario’s law takes it too far.

Published in Editorials on August 12, 2004 12:18 PM