Muslims & America: What should “tolerance” mean in an online world?

 Anwar Al-Awlaki lecturing
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hat is the meaning of “tolerance” in the wake of the Ft. Hood shootings—and the reality of an online, 24-hour flow of global voices? How do we weigh the value of American free speech against speech that may help trigger such tragedies?
   
One strong argument in discussions this week says: Good ol’ American tolerance created the opportunity for tragedy in this case. Too much tolerance—in part due to sensitivities about the alleged shooter’s religion—allowed an unbalanced, troubled, and incompetent Army psychiatrist to continue to treat soldiers, putting him in a situation where he could wreck havoc.
   

In response, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced yesterday a far-reaching probe of the events leading up to the massacre, aimed at determining—in my words here: Could more teeth and less tolerance have prevented the killings?

But another thread in the discussion, one that we picked up this week, is intolerance of Muslims in America. Intolerance forces many Muslim Americans toward declarations that they are “100% American.” And, intolerance places Muslim American leaders, like Dr. Assaf, president of the American Arab Forum, to ask: Why are only Muslims required to defend the horrendous acts of co-religionists? Why is it that Christians aren’t asked the same questions when one of their own commits the same? (Scroll down to read Dr. Assaf’s remarks, if you missed them.)
     Yesterday, the New York Times profiled Anwar al-Awlaki—a radical, American-born imam who inspires and instigates terror—yet has been allowed to spread his message online in lectures and commentaries. Is this an instance of too much tolerance?
   

Tolerance is a virtue. But there are two kinds of tolerance. One is like a definition of liberal parenting that equates tolerance with permissiveness. Anything goes is this kind of parenting mantra.

Another kind of tolerance is the one that celebrate differences—and defends their expression—yet draws a line.
    I don’t believe that Muslim Americans should be called on the carpet, called to atone, or called to explain events like Ft. Hood.
   

At the same time, America has a right to defend itself, a right to self-preservation, that shouldn’t allow unbalanced psychiatrists (no matter what their religion) to practice, or religious leaders (no matter what their religion) to foment terrorism.

Do we need tolerance with teeth?

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