Kitty Herweijer

Our Tolerance Has Turned Against Us—The Summer That Gave Me Sleepless Nights

I was born in 1990, one year after Francis Fukuyama published his article that later turned into a famous book: The End of History and the Last Man.

He states in his book that when the Cold War ended we entered a new world order — a world order where liberal values had prevailed. A world order where ideological wars had finally come to an end. He talks about “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

This book has marked the generation of the 80’s and 90’s in Western Europe; growing up in safety, the idea of the automatic guarantee of that safety and the protection of the liberties acquired by previous generations. Of course we still regularly see the misery of the world on the evening news and we read about horrible wars in the newspaper every day. But until very recently, this misery seemed very far away — unable to threaten the safety of our lives.

Wars — especially the likes of the World Wars we had seen in Europe — seemed like a thing of the past. They were associated with countries that were not as ‘developed’ as us and the imperialistic tendencies of the USA, something my left-wing friends would talk about in the most condescending way possible.

That naivety was able to disseminate throughout every corner of society. War is dirty and a strong army is viewed as provocative — something to be ashamed of. As a result, The Netherlands, like many other Western European countries, made severe cuts to the defense budget in the past twenty years, leaving us with incapable armies. No, here in Western Europe we did not need an army, we had accomplished a society based on rationality and mutual understanding — to live and to let live. Tolerance and multiculturalism gave us the feeling of ultimate eminence.

It seemed logical that every country would eventually follow our example. Globalization was making the world more interdependent every day and we were becoming comfortable with the role of cosmopolites. We had no reason to fear one another or fear any outsider — besides, who would want to harm countries with peaceful intentions? Who would want to harm us?

This summer the idealistic bubble of Western Europe was shattered for good.

On our way to our Asian vacation destination rebels in Ukraine shot us out of the air. The shock of this tragedy, besides the death of almost 200 Dutch people, was the idea that it could have been you on that plane.

Probably most of the passengers of flight MH17 paid little attention to the violence that emerged quickly in Ukraine in February. An item you might hear about on the morning news on the background while making breakfast or driving in your car to work; just another revolution in a chain of many, lacking the ability to impair our bubble.

The country was shocked when the harsh reality of the “outside world” kicked in and we were confronted with how fragile our security is in a world that in itself is becoming more and more insecure. And it was not just the downed plane that changed our views this summer.

ISIS is making its way throughout the Middle East and we are encountering people that sympathize with their barbaric tactics on our own continent. People we could have gone to high school with, that partook in the same education system as us and had the same opportunities are deciding to travel to Syria to fight Jihad. People that despite the Western background they grew up in do not seem to have any interest in our values of mutual understanding and tolerance.

James Foley and Steven Sotloff were beheaded by a Brit. For the first time, we looked into the eyes of people that would want to behead us if given the opportunity.

People that are disgusted by our liberal values, values that made us feel so outstanding. The wave of anti-Semitism that has once again flooded Europe, coupled with the lack of strong leadership that made this possible in the first place, shows us that our tolerance has turned against us. We have been too tolerant towards intolerance and are amazed, surprised and repulsed by how people were able to take advantage of our naivety.

Slowly, the generation that grew up with Fukuyama’s ideas is starting to realize that maybe nothing has changed. Maybe there was no such thing as a giant leap forward for humanity after the Cold War. We are still facing evil in the world today, evil that threatens us, evil that cannot be exterminated through dialogue and compromise.

In retrospect, it seems that the calm years that we grew up in were just a preamble to the next battle. Indifference to world affairs is no longer an option; we have been dragged down into it and it is making us realize how deceiving our bubble of the past twenty years has been.

For the first time me and many others around me sense a feeling of insecurity when we think about our future and especially the future of Europe. For the first time in my life I could not sleep because of the news and the images of brutal beheadings I saw this summer. For the first time I realized what a true privilege it is to be in a society where fear is not a part of daily life.

The bubble of my generation has been shattered for good by the events this summer but they also opened our eyes and made us realize that our security may never again be taken for granted. Many of the ideas that we grew up believing were naive and are incapable of structuring policies that are necessary to put up with the harsh reality we are facing today. It is time to get off of our high horse and to see the world as it is instead of focusing on what we want it to be. It is time to realize that sometimes it is necessary to take a stand and protect our values—whether we like it or not.

About the Author
Kitty Herweijer is a Dutch writer holding a bachelor degree in political science. She has lived in Israel, interning at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and is currently pursuing her graduate degree in Middle-Eastern studies at the University of Amsterdam.