International Day for Tolerance, Azerbaijan News, November 16th 2014

  1. On the main causes of intolerance in various parts of the world?

Intolerance is synonym to and leads as so often in history to fanaticism.  One can detect the roots of intolerance, and by extrapolation of fanaticism, in the hard wired cognitive patterns shared by humanity since the Pleistocene.

In Darwinian terms I’ll focus on two main factors :

1. if confronted with spare resources  the identification of an enemy as an obstacle to survival, its potential annihilation to assure survival brought intolerance and legitimised violence against it.

2. Survival also depended on our belonging to a community which led to tribal loyalty. Moreover being part of a group, of people adhering to an idea, the consequent emotional contagion (mob behaviour, bandwagon effect) gives communities a feeling of legitimacy whatever their respective behaviour might be.


Annihilation of the enemy happened in genocides throughout the centuries, throughout the world, a few notable examples are the well off Paris ‘s Catholic bourgeoisie who savagely murdered in the night of the St Barthélemy Protestants in 1572, Nazis and Jihadists. Their beliefs and  behaviours in terms of neuroscience are absolutely similar


Boualem Sansal, one of today’s most important Algerian writer, compares at length  in “The village of the German” life in some of the French suburbs to life under the Kapos in Nazi camps. 


According to the Freudo-Marxist philosopher Erich Fromm, in Hitlerian psychology, sadism was justified by being a defence against aggressions and anti-German conspiracy.  To be “a good German” you had to embrace the Nazis ideals otherwise you were “a bad German”, a social outcast: “the sadistic manifestations and the resource of an ideology gave them the feeling of being superior to the rest of humanity”. (1) 

The ideology, establishes that there is only one good, the adherence to this one “good”, an echo to nationalistic or religious pride is a simple means by which to manipulate the masses.  The herd mentality, the peer pressure, rooted in our evolutionary “comfort “of being part of a group, do the rest.

This is the problem, we have to raise Tolerance to the rank of an ideology.  In blunt and naïve terms this would translate in: to be a good human, you have to be a tolerant one.


Sartre wrote: “by treating the Jew as an inferior being, I assert that I am superior to him”. (2) This process is called in social psychology: dehumanization and Herbert Kelman, social psychologist, is one of the first who studied it in 1973 (3): he underlined three psycho-social processes which legitimise intolerance:

1st: the authorisation (makes reprehensible acts and or thoughts acceptable, even legitimates them, the individual is not responsible for his acts/thoughts.)

2nd: the power of habits legitimise actions (new habits as imposed by the Nazis and the Jihadists in celebration of an ideal or old ingrained thought patterns, often with historical roots, which are very often not even conscious and thus even more dangerous.)

3rd: the dehumanization: if one does not see the other as human, the principles of compassion do not apply. (4)


Studies on dehumanization only appeared in the 70’s and not much has been studied in view of the methods to counter it. 

Yet on a positive note, the combination of peer pressure submitted to an ideal under the leadership of a charismatic leader can led to a highly moral and wonderful result. This is, for example, how under the leadership of Martin Luther King segregation ended in the United States.


2.   Recently,discussions about the "Tolerance, multiculturalism, and interculturalism" have gained momentum. What is the reason for that in your opinion?


Economic integration and commercial as well as cultural globalisation have boomed leading to a fear of loss of cultural identity and thus political disintegration.  The unprecedented rise in nationalism worldwide, there are at to this date 64 countries involved in wars worldwide and 36 autonomous regions struggling for independence (5). 

If nationalism can be exacerbated by economic crises, sometimes it emerges anew, as in Asia where old historical feuds, buried for decades reappeared after years of prosperous economic cooperation. 

This rise in cultural claims explains the momentum that discussions about “tolerance, multiculturalism and interculturalism” have gained.

They are ways the main ways to fight intolerance: tolerance is accepting the other, without needing to agree with the other; multiculturalism, the respectful coexistence with the other, should reassert the legitimacy of all cultures, also, and very importantly so, within the family group. Interculturalism goes one step further:

only a few studies have been written on solutions to counter the dehumanization process.  One of this solution is “intergroup contact”, as only knowledge allows understanding.* Communication with the other is key.  The problems shared by most of the young recruits of ISIS

from Europe is that they feel culturally alienated in Europe.


3. The traditions of multiculturalism in multi-ethnic and multi confessional countries, such as Azerbaijan and Switzerland, represent historically proved realities. Would that offer a good practice for other countries as well?

Of course, Azerbaijan and its multicultural roots and its geopolitical situation: a European capital in an Islamic State as well as Switzerland, the country of peace and neutrality offer an excellent practice for other countries in promoting not just multiculturalism and the means to reach it  but the conscience of multiculturalism as a moral value.

Tanzania  would also offer good practice, its 44 millions inhabitants and…its 125 cultural groups. Moreover it is interesting to observe Tanzania as this country is less thriving economically then either Azerbaijan and Switzerland.

Martin Luther King had a dream. I presume the Baku International Multiculturalism Centre has one too.



1. “Eric Fromm. “Fear of liberty”, chap.6 The psychology of Nazism.

2.J-P SARTRE Anti-Semite and Jew / Réflexions sur la question juive (wr. 1944, pub. 1946)

3. H. C. Kelman, « Violence without Moral Restraint : Reflections on the Dehumanization of Victims and Victimizers », Varieties of Psychohistory, vol. 29,no 4,‎ 1976, p. 25-61

4. A. Bandura, « Moral Disengagement in the Perpetration of Inhumanities », Personnality and Social Psychology Review, vol. 3, no 3,‎ 1999, p. 193-209



*For the record: another solution is “multiple categorisation“: it has been demonstrated that coloured people if categorised by age, gender , religion etc… reduced the dehumanizing perceptions in Italy. (6)   The last is the promotion of a common destiny (7) this …in view of the ecological disaster our planet is facing, is doable.

(6) F. Albarello et M. Rubini, « Reducing dehumanization outcomes towards blacks: the role of multiple categorisation and of human identity », Eur. J. Soc. Psychol.vol. 42,‎ 2012, p. 875-882 

(7) Wikipedia Deshumanization