My turn: Intolerance is at root of world's problems

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Several years ago, I was in Cordoba (Cordova), Spain. I knew that it had been an old city under the control of the Muslim population at that time. I also knew that Christians and Jews were tolerated. Sure, the taxes upon the minorities were higher, but at least they were allowed to live their lives and practice their religious beliefs in peace.

One morning, I went to a small museum where there was a diorama, a display, in which there were recordings of those representatives, based upon their writings from that time, an Arab, Jew and Christian. The whole program was based on accurate historical evidence. It was an enlightening experience.

At the end of the program, the recordings of these thinkers, questioners and believers, were summed up. They had lived in this city in peace and acceptance. Their agreement was that although they had different beliefs, the problem was that people who claimed that their beliefs and customs were the only way was at the heart of their disagreements. According to their writings and statements, it was only when individuals claimed that their way was the only way, that there was conflict.

Today, I see the same problem. When people, Republicans, Democrats, governors, conservationists, developmentalists, churches, synagogues or mosques, say "My way is the only way," we are in trouble as a community. It can become the domination of the majority. It is a way for people to impose their beliefs, values and goals upon others under the threat that since they are in control, they will use their power to impose their will upon others who do no agree. The message is clear and simple, "My way or no way."

What makes life in Juneau attractive, what makes this a great place to live, is that people are willing to listen to others and consider their views and opinions. I think that it is more than just a geographical location that makes Juneau different as a state capital. It is a community of people open to new ideas. This is life; this is the real world.

Belief is a mental, psychological and religious phenomenon. What really counts is not beliefs, or words or doctrines, but what people do. Practice, behavior and daily life is the true "reality." As one of my Mexican friends told me, "Amor no es por palabras; es por hechos. Love is not just words; it is what you do."

I learned a lot about life, history and tolerance in Cordoba, Spain. I have experienced that dream in Juneau. I hope that we always continue to be a community of love, acceptance, tolerance and understanding. To me, this is what it means to be an American and live in Juneau.

• Wally Olson is a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Alaska Southeast. He lives in Auke Bay.

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