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Last week, over 50 Muslim people were murdered in a terrorist attack on two mosques in New Zealand. The attack was the result of extremist white nationalist beliefs held by the shooter. This attack highlights the growing social intolerance of today’s world. Social intolerance is the unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behaviors that differ from one’s own. Social intolerance often occurs alongside these terrorist attacks where this unwillingness to accept has grown to the level of violence and oppression.

People today are way more critical of others, or at least more verbal about their criticisms. Criticism is not a bad thing per se, but when it is not constructive, people often cast it aside—sometimes, even when it is constructive. Being critical of others’ ideas, beliefs, views, or practices helps society to debate what is morally or ethically acceptable, what suspends common sense, and helps to identify intolerance. When criticism transitions from critical analysis to violent opposition, social intolerance is born.

In the case of the New Zealand mosque shootings, someone refused to accept the beliefs of Islam to the point that the person violently attacked and killed Muslim followers of Islam. Early settlements in America attempted to ban and exile people of the Catholic or Jewish faiths. The Ku Klux Klan lynched freedmen just because they were black. These are three examples of social intolerance. Social intolerance can be religious, racial, political or related to LGBT issues. Regardless of the type, social intolerance is always intolerable.

There is a major difference between tolerating and being intolerant. To tolerate something or someone simply requires accepting that a view, belief, behavior, or person exists. One can recognize a disagreement or opposition to a thing and still tolerate the said thing. Intolerance pushes this disagreement or opposition further, into the act of not accepting the thing in any way—a need to prove that the thing either does not exist or should not exist. Acceptance is not support. Acceptance is simply recognition.

The attack in New Zealand highlighted the state of extremism and intolerance in our world. People with extremist beliefs who are intolerant of others commit atrocious acts of terrorism. There is a difference between Islam and Islamic extremists, there is a difference between right/left wings and right/left wing extremism. Extremist beliefs are the reproductive cesspools of social intolerance. Holding a unpopular opinion or belief does not make someone an extremist or a bad person, but holding the unpopular opinion—or even a popular opinion—to the extent that one is willing to harm others in support of that opinion, creates a society and a world where no one is safe to hold any differing belief.