“The First Amnesty” – The New York Times

“America’s first illegal-alien amnesty wasn’t the biggest in our history, but it was the most influential.”

“Thanksgiving is a lovely story we tell ourselves, about kindness and tolerance and white people fitting in. The American story got richer and deeper over time, with many grave sins and slaughters, not least for indigenous peoples, but generally hewing to a spirit of growing inclusion and welcome for newcomers. How alien that all feels today, in the dawn of Donald Trump’s America.”

This may not be the most uplifting Thanksgiving message, but it is, nevertheless, fitting.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Source: The First Amnesty – The New York Times

“Get Used to It Europe: Homogenous States Are a Thing of the Past” | History News Network

Lawrence Davidson prompts European nations to accept the fact that homogeneous states are no longer realistic (if they ever were!). Therefore, “from every angle, ethical as well as historical, the way to approach the present refugee crisis is to allow, in a controlled but adequately responsive way, the inflow of those now running from the ravages of invasion and civil war. In so doing we should accept the demise of the homogeneous state. Whether it is Germany, France, Hungary, Israel or Burma, the concept is historically untenable and neither raises nor even maintains our civilizational standards. Rather it grinds them down into the dust of an inhumane xenophobia.”
I agree with Davidson that ideal vision of the nation-state of the past is a fantasy and that all European nations (I would add the U.S. as well) need to step up and help these refugees. However, it’s not enough just to accept the idea that nation-states must be multi-cultural. France, for example, has been a diverse society for some time now, but that hasn’t solved the problem of creating a harmonious society. The first difficulty will be to redefine what it means to be a member of a nation. Any definition that limits inclusion to those who have the right heritage (French ancestry, for example) or religion must be abandoned in favor a more inclusive definition (all citizens are members of the nation). This will not be easy, but diversity is a reality and it can be a benefit.
What’s the alternative? Any attempt to maintain uniformity within a nation can only come at great cost.  What Jefferson claimed in reference to religious uniformity is equally applicable when it comes to attempts to maintain uniformity more broadly: “is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature Introduce the bed of Procrustes then, and as there is danger that the large men may beat the small, make us all of a size, by lopping the former and stretching the latter. Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a Censor morum [moral censor] over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.”

History News Network | Get Used to It Europe: Homogenous States Are a Thing of the Past

The Book that Helped Bring Tolerance to Europe: “Ceremonies and Religious Customs of Various Nations” (1723)

In preparing for a lecture on the Enlightenment, I was reminded of a little known work that “Changed Europe.” (from the title of the book: The Book that Changed Europe) What makes Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Various Nations (1723) so special is its attempt to present all the world’s religions in an objective and fair way in a world that still largely believed that tolerance was a sin.

It was also a major intellectual achievement. It was written by the Huguenot (French Protestant) refugee in the relatively tolerant Dutch Republic. The project comprised seven volumes with more than 200 illustrations. The images rival the text as an intellectual achievement in its own right. (see two of the images below) Another Huguenot, Bernard Picart, designed all of the book’s illustrations.

It was a major victory for tolerance!

"Hindu deities, one holding recognisable European musical instruments."

“Hindu deities, one holding recognisable European musical instruments.”

“Marriage and divorce ceremonies of the natives of Canada. Picart used the European style rug and classical poses to make this religion seem less foreign to European readers.”

The Case for ‘American’ American History | Louise Mirrer

The president of the New-York Historical Society, Louise Mirrer, argues for a unified American history that incorporates diversity: “The case for teaching American American history has always been strong. But at a time when much of the world is in turmoil, that case is even more powerful. Many nations today are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to integrate different ethnic, religious and racial groups. That’s why it’s so important that our schools, colleges and museums should teach the unity of American history as well as the diversity. We must make sure that Americans honor their differences, but also know that they have a shared history — a history that is the indispensable basis for an inclusive, tolerant society.” I think this would be a more interesting and positive way to teach US history. What do you think?

The Case for ‘American’ American History | Louise Mirrer.

LBJ and Martin Luther King, Jr.

A Letter Concerning Muslim Toleration – NYTimes.com

Mustafa Akyol  argues in The New York Times that it is time for Muslims to have their own Letter Concerning Toleration. I couldn’t agree more! He points out that many Muslims support harsh punishments for “heresy,” “blasphemy,” and other practices that are deemed offenses against Islam. However, within Western Christendom it took more than Locke’s influential Letter. Locke was only one (albeit an important one) of hundreds who wrote passionately against intolerance, both before and after him. And it took years of bloodshed, violence, and oppression before the idea of toleration took hold, and then only begrudgingly at first. This is not to say that Muslims should not take up the cause of toleration, but to say that it is going to take more than a Muslim John Locke. It will take a determined movement over a long period of time. I hope some Muslims will take up the challenge! Thanks for the suggestion Akyol!

A Letter Concerning Muslim Toleration – NYTimes.com.

Locke A Letter Concerning Toleration

Voltaire’s 250-year-old book on tolerance climbs French best-seller lists after terror attacks | Star Tribune

I am happy to see a renewed interest in Voltaire’s Treatise on Toleration. Although the worst of religious violence in Europe had waned by the time of Voltaire was born, he witnessed plenty of religious oppression and discrimination. We need to relearn the lessons that Enlightenment thinkers learned from the religious violence that plagued Europe in the aftermath of the Reformation and Voltaire’s book is a great place to start. Unfortunately, those who most need to learn these lessons are probably not the ones reading Voltaire.

Voltaire: “It does not require great art, or magnificently trained eloquence, to prove that Christians should tolerate each other. I, however, am going further: I say that we should regard all men as our brothers. What? The Turk my brother? The Chinaman my brother? The Jew? The Siam? Yes, without doubt; are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same God?”

Voltaire’s 250-year-old book on tolerance climbs French best-seller lists after terror attacks | Star Tribune.