The Trouble With Tolerance

Stanley Fish in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Some years ago, just after Salman Rushdie was made the object of a fatwa, I found myself at an academic conference listening to a panel address the issues raised by his situation. A member of the audience rose and, without a trace of irony, gave voice to this question/accusation: “What’s the matter with those Iranians? Haven’t they ever heard of the First Amendment?” The empirical answer to the question was maybe yes, maybe no. Some individual Iranians and many members of the Iranian legal community would have heard of (and studied) the First Amendment, but even those who had read it could not have been counted on to affirm the assumptions informing it — the assumption that expression as an abstract category is to be valued over the content of what is expressed; the assumption that no content is to be either stigmatized or embraced in advance of its having been subjected to the test of rational scrutiny; the assumption that contents (ideas, ideologies, opinions, hypotheses) are equal before the law, and none is to be prohibited unless it is put into (dangerous) action; the assumption that religious pronouncements, even those that issue from revered authorities, are in no way privileged, exempt from criticism, or entitled to a place in the policy deliberations of the state; the assumption that the holding of views, however unpopular or even sacrilegious, cannot be a reason for the denial of rights, the withholding of privileges, or the distribution of rewards.

More here.