Tolerance and Submission

In preparation for my study abroad journey to Amsterdam this summer, I will be posting on topics relevant to the trip, specifically looking at Dutch culture and pragmatic tolerance. This marks the first post in a series of what I hope to be many.

A viewing of Submission, a short film written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and directed by Theo van Gogh, evokes many responses. The film, while not very artistically stimulating, details the story of a young Muslim woman who was married by her parents through arranged marriage to a man she felt no attachment to. She elaborates, in an inquisitive prayer to Allah, explaining how she had loved in secret prior to the marriage, and is now subject to beatings by her husband and rape by her uncle. While attributing her tolerance to the trust required by Islam, she cannot help but feel alone – upon seeking help from her parents, she is told not to challenge the honor of her relatives.

Critics of this film challenge it as provocative, polarizing, insulting, and misrepresentative of Islam. In fact, Theo van Gogh was murdered months after Submission’s release in 2004, and a letter pinned to his body expressed anger at Hirsi Ali’s views against Islam. While this film is surely clear in its feelings regarding the trust called for by the Qur’an, the film transcends Islam, highlighting the problem of domestic abuse and cultural excuses for oppressive societal structures – these are visible throughout society, and are not problems faced only in the Islamic world.

On the other hand, Andrew Stuttaford at the National Review attributes this murder to the Dutch’s tolerant practices:

Mass immigration, of course, played a part in creating the social pathologies that cost Van Gogh his life, but its effects were exacerbated by official Holland’s embrace of multiculturalism, a dogma that made integration impossible and alienation a certainty.

I don’t believe that tolerance carries the certain result of a polarized society. In order for a society to cultivate and be tolerant of a plurality of ideas, it must recognize the point at which one’s personal freedoms are encroached by another and intervene to allow for that system of pragmatic tolerance to thrive.