Sept. 19, 2017 | Tolerance has aided the rise of the world’s great empires and intolerance has abetted their fall, said Erick Messias, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., associate dean for faculty affairs in the UAMS College of Medicine.
Messias’ Sept. 13 lunchtime lecture, which followed Day of Empire, a book by Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua, was the second in a series of events hosted by the UAMS Center for Diversity Affairs during September to highlight UAMS Diversity Month.
He walked an audience of UAMS faculty, staff and students through five of the most notable empires in world history— Persia, Rome, the Tang Dynasty in China, Mongol and Britain — and explained how diversity, tolerance and intolerance impacted them.
Open-minded and inclusive practices were evident during each of the empire’s ascension, said Messias, while narrow-mindedness and discrimination were prevalent during their decline.
There were the tenants of religious freedom and slavery abolition under Cyrus II of Persia, the expansion of citizenship under Claudius in Rome, and multiethnic battalions under Genghis Khan in the Mongolian empire, said Messias.
But, these empires inevitably met their doom as tolerance faded and gave way to prejudices and injustice, such as religious intolerance in the vast Mongol Empire or in Persia where Xerxes II’s policies mirrored nativism.
He highlighted other failed world powers that never rose to the highest level of prominence because of intolerance, including Spain’s actions toward Jews and Muslims in the late 15th century and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany in the 20th century.
“These are examples of how intolerance takes you down, intolerance makes you weak,” said Messias. “Intolerance, in the end, will defeat you.”
With the past as a reminder and guide, Messias said America had the opportunity to learn from past world powers.
“We face a choice of being isolationist and nativist and building walls,” said Messias. “Or, we can become truly plural, tolerant and diverse.”
To accomplish the latter, Messias said, it will take action, which is especially relevant in a democracy.
“We should never fall into the trap of believing that history is progressive, that history is going to progress to better and better places,” he said. “I think history will progress to better places if we do the right thing.”