Dealing with Difference

We live in a society that claims to enshrine tolerance.  But what does this actually mean?

Yesterday I went for lunch with a group of fascinating people.  One of them was a concentration camp survivor.  At the age of nine, weighing less than two stone, she was liberated from the camp. Needless to say, her whole life since then has been a process of recovery.  But one of the things that she says helped her most, was going to live in Germany after the war.  Everyone, she said, apologised to me. I hated them.  But it was impossible to maintain.  Either I lived with them and grew to love them or I had to move.

She stayed and became a very famous and well-loved singer.

Then there are events closer to home.  Well, my home at least.  After more than forty years, some of the so-called ‘peace walls’ of Belfast are being breached.  Built in various sites across the city to separate warring republicans and unionists, the walls have historically separated public spaces such as Alexandra Park, into Roman Catholic and Protestant zones. But for the first time, a gate in the fence at Alexandra Park will open between 9am and 3pm on weekdays.  It’s a small start, but a significant one. Local justice minister, David Ford, comments that it is a ‘sensitive and difficult issue that polarises opinion…but we must find some way of removing these structures over time and with agreement from the community if we are serious about building a shared future’.

And finally, there’s the scandal surrounding Frenchwoman and Elle fashion writer, Sophie Fontanel. (Source: The Sunday Times, 18.9.11). Featured on the front pages of newspapers, she has also been the lead item on the television news.  Why?  Because in a nation that celebrates eroticism, she has given up sex. The response, she says, has been overwhelming. ‘I’ve been called a latent lesbian and a neurotic man-hater.  But it’s not as if I’ve harmed anyone.  All I’ve said is that I can’t make love.  They can’t accept it.  They can’t bear it.  It is the worst insubordination of our epoch…These days you can shove a model naked on a sofa shoving her crotch in the camera but if you say I don’t want to make love you are disgusting.  Perhaps it’s the last taboo’.

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