For more than two centuries, the United States has, to one degree or another, embraced the concept of religious tolerance. It is, insofar as most people are concerned, one of the core tenets of our nation: all faiths are accepted here, and our society offers a framework within which all religions may interact in friendship and tolerance.
The dichotomy of tolerance, though, is this: should intolerant views be tolerated because they are a part of one's religion?
This is a dichotomy that is always bubbling beneath the surface, but it seems to be coming ever-closer to the surface with each passing week. It seems more and more evident that the most outspoken members of Islamic faith not only reject this concept of tolerance, but they violently (in every sense of the word) oppose it. And by not speaking out against this sort of extremism, more moderate Muslims are allowing their faith to be expropriated and reshaped into a religion whose most fundamental elements create conflict between the Muslim faith and other religions... and even more problematical, the Muslim faith is so inherent in the Muslim idea of government and culture for these extremists that the conflict is both religious and cultural.
Historically, cultural groups have come to the United States to enjoy our way of life without havingv to sacrifice all elements of their prior culture. However, the militant Muslim movement not only actively rejects the core aspects of our culture, it wants to change those aspects so that they mirror Islamic fundamentalism. If Baptist or Catholic fundamentalists acted with such intolerance, they would be excoriated and vilified; for some reason, though, this same behavior is tolerated from Muslims, and those who speak out against it are considered intolerant because... well, because they won't tolerate intolerance!
We are on a path towards a cultural conflict the likes of which we have never seen, simply because we have never seen another group of people attempt to launch what is, at its heart, a cultural invasion of the United States. It's a cultural invasion because in that its core purpose is to replace the established US culture with elements of shariah law, little by little; and it succeeds at certain levels because our culture is so afraid of the hobgoblin of intolerance that we feel obligated to accept it.
I am not a religious person. However, I recognize the contributions that various religions have made to US culture, and I am amazed at the fact that Christian and Buddhist and Jewish and Bahai and Hindu and dozens upon dozens of other faiths have historically found common ground for peaceful co-existence here. Now an increasingly strident faction of Islam is allowing the entire faith to be redefined by their extremist views, and both religious and non-religious individuals are going to have to determine what lines must be drawn in order to preserve American culture.
And on the front line must be Muslims who reject intolerance. For if they aren't, then they're tacitly accepting this sort of intolerance and allowing it to become a central aspect of their faith. For many years, Dixie and the Confederate flag and other aspects of Southern culture and heritage were accepted as a part of cultural pride in this part of the country; however, those elements were expropriated by racially bigoted extremists who turned them into symbols of intolerance and hatred. Contemporary Islam is reaching the same turning point; how the Muslim majority stands up against it will determine the faith's future in our culture, and its hopes of dealing peacefully with other religions.