Respect and Toleration in a Multicultural Society

Dr Lars Gule, Associate Professor, Oslo Metropolitan University visited the Markfield Institute of Higher Education on Wednesday 7th February 2018. He delievered a thought provoking seminar on “Respect” and “tolerance”. He argued that these are modern watchwords, often used as reinforcing synonyms and presented as British or Western values. But do the words have the same meaning? While tolerance and respect are necessarily connected, they have opposite meanings. The distinction is important if we are to have clear and concise conversations about important differences and divisions in a multicultural society.

In this presentation Dr. Gule discussed the concepts ‘respect’ and ‘toleration’. He defined the concepts and attempted to clarify what should be respected and why toleration is required by all of us. He illustrated the problems related to understanding what should we respect and what needs to be tolerated, and asksed about:
• Hijab?
• Niqab?
• Female circumcision?
• Male circumcision?
• Nudity – nude/topless sunbathing?
• Pornography?
• Prostitution?
• Cartoons and caricatures?

Where do we draw the line between respect and non-respect, and what should be tolerated and what is intolerable? Dr. Gule also clarified an important distinction between harm and violation on the one hand, and provocation, offences and hurt feelings on the other. While hurt feelings are unavoidable and something we must live with, we should never accept harm to others. At the basis of Dr. Gule’s approach was a defence of human dignity and human rights.