[FOUNTAIN]Tolerance a distant goal

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[FOUNTAIN]Tolerance a distant goal

One day in 1762, in a town called Toulouse located in southern France, a young man from a Protestant family committed suicide. Marc Antoine killed himself when his dream of becoming a lawyer became impossible because he was a Protestant. The next day someone from the crowd that gathered upon hearing the news of his death shouted. “Antoine was murdered by his family when attempting to convert to Catholicism.”
In a region where the Catholic Church had greater influence than the Protestant, these words brought drastic results. All his family members, including his father, Jean Calas, were arrested and tortured. Even though no evidence was found that Marc Antoine was murdered and his family members proclaimed their innocence, the judges ordered death on the wheel for his father. The other family members were sentenced to deportation.
Sometime later, the philosopher Voltaire heard about the case. Angered, he began a campaign and distributed fliers criticizing the injustice of the judgment. Spurred by his effort, the public called for a re-examination of Calas’s case and a trial was finally held at an appellate court. Three years after Calas had been sentenced to death, he and his family were all found not guilty. During his campaign, Voltaire wrote his famous book “Traite sur la tolerance.” In it he wrote about the Calas case and religious fanaticism and prayed to God with the following: “You have not given us hearts to hate ourselves with, and hands to kill one another. Grant then that we may mutually aid each other to support the burden of a painful and transitory life.”
His philosophy of tolerance had a great effect in France. For example, when former French President Charles de Gaulle was advised to arrest Jean-Paul Sartre, who had harshly criticized the president while he was in office, he rejected the proposal saying “There is no law to restrict Voltaire.” Through many incidents similar to this, France formed the image of “a country of tolerance.”
Yesterday was the UN-designated “International Day for Tolerance.” The day was founded with the purpose of acknowledging each other despite differences of country and nation, religion and ideology, social position and class, and to respect each other and find a way to peacefully coexist. But is mankind heading down this path? As long as there are rampant terror attacks and countries that show no sign of remorse for their historical wrongdoings, it is hard to say we are headed that way. How about ourselves, Korea? If our leaders fail to show a leadership of unity and enjoy dividing people into groups, doesn’t “Tolerance Korea” seem a long way off?

by Lee Sang-il

The writer is a deputy international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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