Chapter 1: Understanding Intolerance and Prejudice

Between intolerance and prejudice, one gives rise to the other. The one that gives birth to the other continues to strengthen it to grow and to become sooner, dangerous life-threatening ideology that might be very difficult to be eliminated. Let’s say that there is no doubt that intolerance is an offspring of prejudice. People are more likely to tolerate what they understand, feel and see clearly. By this, they have to know these things very well and obviously perceive no ‘threat’ at all in or around them. Most times, intolerance starts as self-defense mechanism and then degenerate into selfishness, and later results into making life miserable or uncomfortable for others.

 

Definition of Prejudice

Prejudice could be regarded as an already conceived judgment we have in our minds even before our opinions about issues at hand or issues to be discussed are formed. Prejudice precedes one’s personal opinion and therefore has strong influence on it. The Online Wikipedia succinctly put it right by defining prejudice as, “prejudgment, or forming an opinion before becoming aware of the relevant facts of a case”.[1]

Prejudice and intolerance are two major key factors that always cause tensions in the society. Most times when these tensions are not properly managed, controlled or totally eliminated, they might give rise to violence and disruption of social order. There’s little or no doubt that any kind of violent behaviour is as a result of prejudice and/or intolerance.

 

The violent part of Intolerance

In Inaugural Lecture Series No. 5 of Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu, Rev. Dr. Augustine Oburota (2000) affirmed that “wars are also as a result of legitimizing violence. A high proportion of violent crimes originate from families where the use of violence is acceptable. Religions have been involved in violence, as can be seen in what we earlier termed ‘sacred violence’. Religious violence has continued to be part of world history, and it is the order of the day today, even in Nigeria.”[2]

Worthy to recall here is that when Rev. Dr. Oburota was writing this lecture, there were strong waves of adoption of Sharia Islamic laws across some states in the northern part of Nigeria. Many states in the northern Nigeria found adoption of Sharia Islamic law very urgent as if that was the only problem that faced the country, and which a lot of people especially the Christian minorities in the north viewed as trying to adopt a way of wiping out Christianity completely from northern Nigeria. Today, no one still doubt the negative effects of mixing religion with politics as it has produced insurgencies that up till today Nigeria is still battling to curtail the menace.

 

The Contributions of Politics in our Violent Culture

There’s no one who is familiar with Nigeria politics that would refuse to agree that the nation is totally being encircled by religious, regional and ethnic colourations to the extent that the best people do not get the right job in Nigerian government. From national to local government levels, people are being subjected to taking any kind of representations they were given without querying such decisions. Most often, those in authority in Nigeria are not those who merited the positions but just nothing more than mere bundles of representatives appointed or selected from across the country, even when those being selected don’t have any iota of knowledge of the positions they were appointed to work in or their basic responsibilities in such posts.

In Nigeria politics, it is called quota system and somehow, this infamous system found its way through the constitution of the country in the name of “Federal Character”. Whatever you might be thinking that Federal Character means might not be the real definition in Nigeria. Here, it primarily means that in every sector of governance in Nigeria and in every appointments, merit would not be the basis for selection of people rather, where the people originated from plays much more vital roles as it determines who gets whatever posts being offered. Though many have defended this “federal character” on the ground that left without it, the country which is mostly divided with politics of religion, region and ethnicity would continue to get certain group of people dominating in its politics and decision making, even when they might not be the best to handle such positions but because the person on top, who appointed them is either from their religion or region or ethnic group.

Let’s look critically now on the other hand. We all know by means of common sense that there is no way to justify or legitimize violence except that some people’s minds who advocate to such violence are looking for ways to legitimize the mayhems and violence they want to unleash on their perceived enemies. Maybe they are looking for escape route from the pricking of their consciences. They only resort to the idea that without violence, then life is not worth living and I don’t really know how some people arrived at such humiliating conclusion which has reduced men to mere wild animals that work exclusively with their survival instincts coated in violence instead of reasoning.

I agree with Oburota that the reason people resort to violence is because of our natural environments somehow disposed us to violence. He said that ‘to survive, people have to destroy acres and acres of both land and beautiful vegetation. We have to kill, cook, and eat. All these are obvious acts of violence, needed for survival’[3], but then, Oburota means that there are some violence (as he explained) that are needed because they are good in themselves and pave way for prosperity but yet do not hurt any human.

But there are some violence that are not needed because they are dangerous. Since the end might sometimes justifies the means, then we have to first undergo thorough investigation into the directions to which the end of every violence we campaigned for would eventually lead us. Violence in that direction might be considered to be good when it is fashioned into removing some bad obstructions or irrelevant obstacles on our ways to progress or to make justice to be felt or seems to be done.

Most often, what we thought we know or have experiences on, especially about things, persons or places, are nothing but products of our prejudices about them. We therefore have this erroneous feelings that we know, while in all sincerity, we know either so little or absolutely nothing about them. When we critically examine our consciences to find out why and how we formed our opinions or have the facts that made us to form our opinions about issues, we would discover that we actually did not make any unbiased thorough investigations into what we think we know or have formed opinions for or against. This kind of prejudice is rampant in communities where we have a lot of people with either shallow minds or ill-educated to understand others beyond their own egocentric interpretations of their behaviours. This is why proper education is conditio sine qua non for remedy.

There’s no doubt when we say that prejudices can adversely affect and influence our thoughts, actions, reactions and inactions about others, their lives, beliefs, cultures or their peculiar ways of life. To be a good judge in a court of law, we must remove all our robes of prejudices, and make use of undeniable evidences and circumstances surrounding the immediate situations at hand before arriving at any justifiable conclusion. The same should also be applied in courts of common sense and public opinions. But unfortunately, one rarely gets justice in these two courts owing to the fact that both court of common sense and that of public opinions are today not devoid of sentiments and external influences while passing out their verdicts. Prejudice blurs our minds and feeds us with false or negative information about situations and practically helps or even mandates us to form erroneous opinions. This becomes possible when we for no justifiable reason decide to close our minds against receiving any other alternative information about situation we are handling.

[1] Wikipedia, “Prejudice”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prejudice, 18/05/2015

[2] Augustine C.O. Oburota (2000), “Violence and the Social Order”, Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu (Inaugural Lecture Series No.5), p.20

[3] Ibid.

About Author /

Ugonna Johnbosco Ezeomedo (ojombo) is a philosopher, poet, educationist, web developer and social & political analyst. He lives in Awka – Nigeria. He loves working with computer and other creative works.

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