The defining value of Western politics is tolerance -- not that anyone is always tolerant, and not that other people are not also tolerant, but in order to have the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equal justice under law and multiple political parties. The demand that we be tolerant of that which we do not observe and do not believe and even/especially with which we do not agree is paramount. "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness," and "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" require tolerance. "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." The First Amendment's protection of a free press and freedom from prior government censorship is the definition of tolerance.
Think Nazis in Skokie or "Piss Christ."
Mostly the media gets it wrong, and increasingly, American institutions -- particularly university campuses -- get it even more wrong, elevating the protection of people's "feelings" over the need be open at least to hearing ideas that might be deeply repellent to you.
When the media get it right -
- and sometimes it does -- it is important to tell WHO the media are – and precisely WHAT accounts for getting it right.
Jews in France have been under attack. Most recently, a teacher in a Jewish day school in Marseille was stabbed by a young man inspired by Islamic State to decapitate him. It was the third knife attack on a Jew in Marseille since October. Marseille is the second-largest Jewish community in France; the Jews of France are the largest Jewish community of Europe. The victim, Benjamin Amsellem, said he believed it was his Jewish skullcap -- a kippah -- that made him a target.
As a result, Zvi Ammar, a Jewish community official, urged Jews to stop wearing skullcaps in public. "It was my duty," said Ammar. "My only goal was to preserve human life."
But the Italian newspaper Il Foglio has a different view, one more in keeping with a serious, intellectual defense of Western values. Putting a kippah inside the newspaper, Il Foglio wrote:
We believe the issue is quite clear then: can we accept to go from a tragic retreat to a dramatic surrender without lifting a finger? Without doing anything, without fighting, without protesting? Without sounding an alarm bell which should make us understand we cannot keep ignoring that the respect for certain religious identities (you know which ones) is making us cover under a veil, literally hide, other religious identities (you know which ones)? No, we cannot. A Jew who hides in fear of being recognized as a Jew is the perfect symbol of a world that forces the West to hide for fear of provoking a reaction among those who want to stab the West. Very well. We are doing our small part, and this year we will turn January 27th, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, into our and your "Wear a Kippah Day". The Jews shall not hide. The West shall not hide. We stand publicly behind it. If you want to do the same, send your picture to Il Foglio at the email address firstname.lastname@example.org: the kippah is on us.
The point is profound. We are, without protest, surrendering our formerly formidable demand for tolerance. If one religion wants members of OTHER religions to hide themselves -- not behind a veil but by appearing WITHOUT a veil, or a kippah or a cross or a turban -- that religion demands the surrender of others.
Il Foglio demands that we not surrender.
The question is not whether a Jew wears a kippah. It is whether others -- Jews and non-Jews -- insist that Jews have a RIGHT to wear a kippah -- and Christians a cross -- and whether non-Jews join Jews in wearing a kippah as a test of tolerance. Failure to do so would bode ill for Western civilization and its built-in requirement for tolerance.
Il Foglio has it exactly right. By providing the kippah, by asking readers to send "selfies" with their kippot, by holding Wear a Kippah Day, Il Foglio challenges its readers to express their support for tolerance.
Will you please wear a kippah today, January 27? Do it for Freedom of Religion for all of us. Send Il Foglio -- email@example.com -- your selfie!
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center.