The Mufti and the General II

Over at openDemocracy, an expanded version of Ram’s piece here in 3QD:

[T]he general’s focus in the dialogue was to stop extremists from using violence to secure their goals. While he disagreed with their goals, his point to them was that they should use democratic political means. In effect he was saying: here are extremist, even intolerant people, who use violence to get their way; my job as a general is to get them to stop using violence, then hope that the (democratic) political system can find a way to accommodate them and politically blunt their extremism.

But this leaves open an important additional point about specific practices in communities that violate what might be considered as basic democratic and liberal values, including a commitment to equal rights. These practices can range from murder and paedophilia to discrimination on the basis of gender or caste. What happens when political actors (even if unarmed) seek to use the political system to advance these kinds of aims? What are the limits to tolerating extremists?

There is no single or simple answer, but there are elements that compose a pattern:

* there is such a limit, especially when the extremists’ aims include intolerance and an explicit rejection of others’ civic equality – whether based on race, gender, caste or class

* extremists, especially those who are intolerant of others, have no general right to be tolerated based on reciprocity, since they themselves do not tolerate others

* if tolerating extremists leads to the weakening of a democratic constitutional order, then extra care must be taken before the step is taken – though the default judgment should be to have confidence that a stable democratic structure (where it exists) will not be so weakened