I remember very well a conversation with some of my friends while I was abroad. It was about restricting and limiting the freedom of the media and press in states that are under a dictatorship, including throwing journalists in jail if they ‘exceeded the limits’ or if they ‘crossed the red line.’ There was a consensus on the right of all journalists to freely write their point of view. Meanwhile, some of my friends believed that dictatorship governments also have the right to suppress journalists in order to prevent confusing public opinion, and hence, maintain the stability and security of the country.
When I disapprovingly asked them, “How does one adopt two opposite opinions at the same time?!,” they replied that this is the civilized way of thinking, which is to accept all opinions without excluding any, to accept all people, and never to condemn anyone. One of them asked me to sympathize with everyone, even a tyrant who killed hundreds of innocents! She added that I should find some excuses for everyone. “What type of excuse should I give for a tyrant?” I exclaimed. My friend said, “That he is ignorant, and doesn’t know the correct path, he is lost in his greed and selfishness and we should feel sorry for him!” I really couldn’t comprehend her opinion because I believe that everyone knows that killing an innocent is a horrendous crime. Again, she took me by surprise when she concluded that my ego caused me to hate and not to love, and I wondered what the role of my ego was in hating injustice and the agony of innocent people. My friend was confusing ego with conscience, for my ego could not have any role in hating someone who has never directly caused me any harm, but has harmed others who I have never encountered before.
Is the Truth Subjective?
At that point, I was accused of being intolerant, and not able to respect the views of others. Some of them concluded that this is a normal consequence of being raised since childhood to believe that good and evil don’t mix. From their point of view, I only saw things as being either black or white, and that I had no idea that there are many shades of gray!
I started to wonder, is it possible that one should not condemn the oppressor under the pretext of tolerance and acceptance of others? In my view, if you don’t have a firm opinion, then there will be no “other” or “opposite” opinion to tolerate and respect.
To be more definite, I asked them a straightforward question, which was, “Is justice based on absolute or relative measures?”
The Relativity Argument
They replied that justice is based on relative measures, and they supported their point of view by narrating a story of a group of blind men who were touching an elephant. The first blind man was holding the elephant's leg, and he said, "I think we are facing the trunk of a great tree." The second blind man disagreed. While touching the elephant's side he said, "I believe we are facing a great wall," The third blind man thought that his companions were totally wrong, and he shouted, "We are facing a large snake." He was holding the elephant’s trunk. Each blind man was convinced he was right and that the others were wrong, without ever realizing they were all touching the same elephant. From my friends’ point of view, this story reveals that there is no absolute truth, everything is relative, and certainly, embracing this view makes people more tolerant to their differences. Well, I have a different point of view that also supports tolerance, which is: no one has a monopoly on truth. However, this does not mean that there is no absolute truth. In the example mentioned above, certainly, the truth was not the tree, the great wall or the snake. The absolute truth was the presence of an elephant that the three persons failed to recognize because of their lack of sight. And any of them might have reached the truth if only they had exerted more effort. So this story does not refute the existence of an absolute truth that everyone should crave to find and embrace, but it proves it. People around the globe see the sun differently; some see it in full size, others see different parts of it, and some don’t even see it at all (because they may be in different locations). However, despite this, it is an absolute fact that the sun is present and complete.
I am not denying relativity but I am confirming the existence of absolute rules; workers on a building site should carry weights relative to their physical abilities; this is according to a universal law, which is never to abuse the weak.
Philosophers' Point of View
It is worth mentioning that refuting an absolute truth is not accepted by many philosophers. The head of the philosophy department at the American University in Cairo, Professor Walter Lami mentioned, “If there is always a relative truth that changes from one person to the other, then there is one single common truth. And that one single common truth is that there is always a relative truth that always changes from one person to another. This is called the self-refutation of relativism in philosophy.”
Certainly, ignoring absolute facts and claiming that everything is relative, leads to confusion. This view depicts our world as a world with a set of blurred rules that make it impossible to evaluate an event, action or an incident. If this was the case, no one would be charged or given credit, because right and wrong are relative. But a world created with such immense order and discipline couldn’t be in chaos, there must be absolute measures created by the Absolute, the Judge, the utterly Just.