It’s a crowded world we live in. Six billion people crammed in to 30 per cent of the planet’s surface area, minus desolate wastelands like Antarctica and Canberra.
We are as different as we are prodigious. There are more than 7000 languages spoken, 832 in Papua New Guinea alone. Burping after a meal is supposedly good manners in China but don’t try that bit of multiculturalism at an Asutralian Sunday roast. Humanity is so diverse we can’t even agree on which game is called football.
You’d think surrounded by all this variation the xenophobes among us would let the small differences slide and instead concentrate their intolerance on people who were genuinely exotic.
As heartbreaking as Muslim/Hindu violence in India is, the conflict itself is unsurprising because as journalist Peter Popham wrote in 1998 “the two religions are about as different as two belief systems could be. Islam is monotheistic, proselytising, anti-idolatrous, fiercely doctrinal, with strong ideas about heresy. Hinduism is pantheistic, uninterested in converting unbelievers, an immense aggregation of different gods, rites, superstitions and beliefs.”
Compare this to the epic fail that is Israel and Palestine. The allegorical Jacob Ben Abraham has fought the proverbial Ya’qub bin Ibrahim for half a century both inspired by holy books that features a couple in a garden, a world destroying flood and an antipathy to bacon.
But not even the Middle East can compete with the sheer futility of the Christian Derby that subjected Norther Ireland to so much violence and bad public art in the 20th Century.
I use the sporting term “derby” deliberately because the only real difference between Catholics and Protestants are the uniforms, the coach and the refreshments served after the weekend’s exertions.
There are many stereotypes spring to mind when I say “hipster” but you can’t fault their commitment to tolerance and embracing new cultures.
They are the ones who scour their trendy suburbs for the latest Nepalese-Zimbabwean fusion restaurants and sign petitions for gay marriage.
To them, tolerance and multiculturalism are not a simple posture as changeable as a Facebook cover picture. They genuine values worth speaking out for.
Yet if another white person (and hipsters are almost always white) where to suggest something benign like watching Big Brother instead of Breaking Bad these latter-day Gandhis suddenly discover their inner Hitler.
“How can you watch that rubbish” they cry. “It’s crass and commercial and only mindless zombies would like it”.
To them tolerance is something you apply to other religions, ethnicities and sexualities but not those who may have a different taste in music, movies or (gasp!) politics.
How can they see the human behind the hijab but not the Holden Racing Team shirt? To me this is equally ridiculous as the the aforementioned problems in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.
But that notion seems to be hard wired into humanity. It’s the little differences that seem to irritate us the most.