Tolerance is the willingness and acceptance of the other; that which is different, strange, or foreign. To a large extent, we are different as people and different in outlook. But our diversity should be a source of enrichment not discord. And that is why tolerance is anchored on the twin foundations of acceptance and understanding.

Small as it is, The Gambia has a rich diversity of people, faiths and cultures. The information technology revolution has shrunk not only the world but states and made interaction ever more easier. With this should come better appreciation of other people and their cultures and greater level of tolerance and diversity.

However, sometimes when you read comments on the social and traditional media, you tend to think that “we are a continent, not a country”. The level of bigotry, intolerance, prejudice and lack of civility in public discourse is alarming. It is even more disturbing to note that even the educated, the well-travelled and supposedly politically conscious people are not just engaging in peddling this bigotry but fanning its flames.

The Gambia should set example as a country where everyone is treated equally and given equal opportunity and everyone is able to effectively utilise their talents and resources to improve their living standards. Intolerance breeds hatred, hatred leads to distrust, distrust causes disunity and the break up of societies leading to failed states.

Tolerance allows people of different backgrounds, religions and races to work and live together, and this breeds unity. In a tolerant country, every citizen remains loyal to his country and is willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the country. In countries where some communities are disenfranchised and prosecuted, the affection towards the country becomes replaced with enmity that can result in weakening the state. The people of a nation are the foundation on which it is supported, and if there are fractures and faults in the foundation, the nation becomes more vulnerable to collapse. “A house divided cannot stand.”

Where there is discrimination, there cannot be peace. Intolerance leads to infighting, violence and instability as different groups resort to force and aggression against each other or the state. Events in recent history across many countries have made us witness just how damaging intolerance can be to peace – people destroying each others’ places of worship, engaging in ethnic cleansing or entire nations becoming engulfed in civil wars. Peace can only come when people become free from hatred and are willing to understand each others’ differences.

Nothing good has ever come out of intolerance, yet even in these enlightened times it is still present. If, in a nation, instead of acceptance there is discrimination, that nation cannot flourish. No true progress can ever be achieved until mutual respect and empathy replace antagonism and bigotry.

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