THE BLOG

Five American Presidents Can Resurrect Tolerance -- If They Try

Bleary-eyed off a flight back to L.A. from China, I received a late-night call from from America's leading refugee advocate, Lionel Rosenblatt, recently retired from a 40-year career at the US State Department and later his NGO, Refugees International, where far less heralded than he should be, Lionel led both our government's and private refugee advocacy, relief and resettlement efforts in dozens of countries.

Lionel thinks that the US and The West will be set back decades as beacons of religious tolerance if the Florida Koran burning or any YouTube-driven copycat of it goes forward.

He demands input from those of us who have similarly spent decades helping refugees, disaster victims and aid-adverse governments and publics act and act now.

The consequences of inaction are decades more of large and small acts of terror and intolerance on all sides; of a public perhaps permanently turned inward and ugly; and, a reversal of what progress we have made over the past 30 or so years.

To have any chance of being taken seriously, the cause of generalized tolerance of differences in faith, gender, a buffet of human behavioral preferences, etc., needs the counsel of elders who have lived through promoting these seminal issues, sculpting advances through their own actions.

We need what Lionel Rosenblatt calls a "Mount Rushmore Moment" where all five US presidents jointly call for a return to "first principles" -- the very idea of a haven where differences in religious and other beliefs are tolerated and zealously protected. They need to emphatically state that burning of religious texts and what that represents cannot be allowed to happen; and, if it does, that our media will not aid and abet such acts of madness.

Groups of Presidents come together for global disasters like the Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Haitian earthquake -- and for funerals of world leaders we universally admire.

A potential disintegration of what America represents in the world is surely another moment worthy of such attention.