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International Day for Tolerance: A Q&A with Amos N. Guiora

The United Nations International Day for Tolerance is observed every year on the 16th of November in order to raise awareness of the need for tolerance in today’s society and to promote understanding of the negative effects of intolerance. In 1996 (following The UN Year for Tolerance in 1995), the UN General Assembly (by resolution 51/95) invited UN Member States to observe the International Day for Tolerance, “Stressing that one of the purposes of the United Nations, as set forth in the Charter, is the achievement of international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.” In honor of the International Day for Tolerance we sat down with seasoned author Professor Amos N. Guiora, to talk about tolerance, extremism, international law, and his new book Tolerating Intolerance: The Price of Protecting Extremism.

What is the most pressing issue for the role of tolerance in international law right now?

One of the most important issues is recognizing extremism, understanding the dangers it poses, and determining what measures can and should be implemented to minimize its harmful impact on individuals and society alike. Based on my extensive travels and interviews conducted with a wide-range of experts in different countries, I believe we need to undertake a comprehensive comparative analysis of extremism. Recently, I focused on extremism is six different countries — Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany — and how each address both domestic and international law with a particular emphasis on (the limits of) free speech.

How has thinking on addressing extremism evolved?

Over the course of my interviews with scholars, national security experts, policy experts, decision makers, people of faith, extremists and members of the media, I have found an increased understanding that society must address the question of “what are the limits that intolerance should be tolerated.” While there is, clearly and understandably, a lack of unanimity regarding the answer, the conversation needs to be frankly and candidly conducted.

time passing columns athens

How do you see the issue developing over the next few months/years?

My hope is that we engender discussion among different fields of study. In speaking with a broad cross-section of people, it became very clear that the core question — the limits of tolerating intolerance — cuts across many areas of study: in the academy, amongst decision makers, and for national security and law enforcement officials.

What are you reading about international law at the moment?

I’m reading a broad cross section of material related to my next writing project regarding the bystander in the death marches of the Holocaust. One of the issues I will be examining is whether the bystander fosters extremism. The project will examine the bystander through multiple perspectives including the law, morality, cultural-social realities of Germany and history.

What do you hope to see in the coming years from both the field and your academic work?

A direct contribution to addressing complex issues based on a sophisticated interdisciplinary approach.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to specialize in international law?

Try to understand the interaction between law and international relations/policy, and to understand the confluence of the two with a clear grasp of geopolitics.

If you weren’t a law academic what your alternative career be?

I always wanted to be a college football coach!

Amos Guiora is Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Center for Global Justice at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, the University of Utah, where he teaches Criminal Procedure, International Law, Global Perspectives on Counterterrorism and Religion and Terrorism. He is the author of Tolerating Intolerance: The Price of Protecting Extremism, Legitimate Target: Criteria-Based Approach to Targeted Killing, Freedom from Religion: Rights and National Security, and Constitutional Limits on Coercive Interrogation.

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Image credit: Old Greek columns in Athens – Passing Time Concept. © gregsi via iStockphoto.

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