Compromise, and Other Four Letter Words

A firestorm of debate has opened recently about the Obama administration’s handling of an interesting conundrum regarding birth control.  The debate purportedly posits the rights of free practice of religion with the rights of women to make choices regarding their health.  An interesting by-product of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, Obamacare) is a provision which would have forced employers to provide (purchase) health insurance for their employees which covered the costs of contraception, including “emergency contraception” (felt by many to be abortion-inducing pills).  Many faith-based employers took umbrage at their being forced to directly subsidize actions which they feel are morally reprehensible; however many of their own employees demand the right to make those choices for themselves rather than have them made by their employer.  While the shrill tones of the debate have been amplified by the current election year politics, the crux of the debate is made all the more interesting by the issues and cogent arguments it raises.

Many on the religious right, particularly in the Catholic church, see this issue as one of religious freedom.  Their religion takes a strict line on contraception, especially “emergency contraception”; though this strict stance is seldom shared by their adherents.  As such, they consider enabling such action through direct subsidy or purchase to be as morally unacceptable as engaging in the practice itself.  This is a point that I, for one, can understand.  Islam has similar rules regarding paying for, storing, gifting, or otherwise enabling the use of alcohol; and I would be just as dismayed if the federal government mandated that I had to participate in such tasks.  Clearly, the people in these institutions have a right to abide by their religion and stay true to their faith.

There is, however, another side to this story.  Each employee of each of these institutions (and every person in general) has a right to make personal decisions about their own healthcare, regardless of their faith or the faith of their employer.  This right is as close to sacrosanct in American culture as can be.   Decisions regarding contraception, even emergency contraception (by virtue of its status as a legal and accepted form of medical practice), should be left to an individual alone and availability of these culturally accepted healthcare options should not be determined by a persons employer, this is a central provision of PPACA (providing guidelines for acceptable basic health coverage).  Clearly, these individuals have a right to personal liberty in their healthcare choices.

The challenge of America is to reconcile these rights and freedoms which are seemingly in direct opposition to one another.  This has been the root of America’s greatness as well.  However, it will be impossible to do so without compromise.  Lately, compromise has unfortunately been related in political spheres to weakness, but truly the ability to compromise to find solutions for a such a vastly diverse nation is essential, and is a source of strength.  The unwillingness to compromise leads to an unwillingness to tolerate diversity, and this is a trend which leads to various forms of xenophobia which are evident in today’s political culture.

The PPACA was put into place partially to assure that employers were providing a certain degree of basic health insurance for their employees (the merits and drawbacks of the act can be debated ad nauseum, but we will currently consider it as it stands).  This basic insurance must include contraceptive care, as oral contraceptives have multiple potential uses besides the prevention of pregnancy (use in dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, and even as chemical castration for sex offenders).  So, if we take the PPACA at face value, how shall we endeavor to provide such care for employees of Catholic institutions, regardless of their religious affiliation?  A reasonable compromise must be obtained.

In order to prevent these institutions from disturbing their moral sensitivities, a compromise solution was arrived at, whereupon such care would be covered free of charge by the insurance companies (thus nominally not being subsidized or enabled by said employers) for employees of these institutions.   Obviously, the costs need to be borne somewhere; the one thing all Americans can agree on is that health insurers are not in the business of charity.  This cost would then be spread over the pool of employers, increasing the incremental cost of each customer of that insurance company slightly but equally.  Yes, this small increase spread over all customers can be considered indirectly subsidizing (to a much lesser extent) such care.  No, it is not perfect.  However it is an imminently reasonable attempt to compromise, and to find comfortable ground for both employees/patients and those financing their insurance premiums.

Those shrieking dismay at this latest attempt at compromise by the Obama administration are motivated at least as much by election year politics as by true concern for religious freedom.  After all, if freedom was truly their main concern, they would be concerned about freedom of those on both sides of the equation.  It is time to remove this issue from the grotesque distortions of the kaleidoscope of election year politics and view it as calm, rational adults.  Doing so would soon reveal that while Obama’s compromise is not perfect for all parties, no compromise ever is–by definition.  His attempts, however, are laudable and imminently reasonable.

A Sharia By Any Other Name…

“We have civil laws, but our civil laws have to comport with a higher law– God’s law.  As long as there is discordance between the two, there will be agitation. [And] Not just any god, but the God of [our prophets]”

A quick multiple choice for the reader.  The words above were spoken by:

A) Osama bin Laden

B) Aiman al-Zawahiri

C) Mullah Omar

D) Rick Santorum

For those of you who answered Rick Santorum, you are correct.  And these are not just words from many years ago spoken by a young, brash idealist who didn’t know he’d someday be running for president, these words were spoken by him on Thanksgiving Day 2011, in the heat of a presidential campaign.  (for the sake of accuracy, the words “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” were what he said instead of “our prophet”, I left that part out for suspense)

Mr. Santorum has mounted a suprisingly successful bid for the presidency of our nation.  However, his underlying themes are contradictory.  Like most insurgent bids, his message preys on our basest instincts instead of the “better angels of our nature.”

Mr. Santorum is evidently blind to the hypocrisy that his candidacy entails.  He fights tirelessly against the implementation of Sharia law (something that he has yet to produce the slightest shred of evidence as actually occurring), because “Sharia law is not just a religious code. It is also a governmental code. It happens to be both religious in nature an origin, but it is a civil code.” (March 2011) In his view, thus, the separation of church and state is imperative as long as it does not include his church, which should be the basis for the state’s laws (otherwise uprising would be warranted in his view).

This fundamental hypocrisy is evident through other veins of his campaign as well.  Mr. Santorum is a major supporter of individual liberty, especially berating governmental efforts to interfere with an individual’s choice to purchase healthcare or not (does that make him “pro-choice”?).  He argues, at least credibly, that the government has no right to interfere with the choices an individual makes about how to spend money.  He then turns around and supports a ban on individuals who are receiving welfare from going to strip clubs.  While he rails about government involvement in individual healthcare decisions, he was one of the first to sign on to the contemptible actions of Congress in intervening in the Terri Schiavo case, and to limit contraception and abortion choices to women.

I highlight Mr. Santorum, not because he has a realistic path to the presidency, but as a particularly egregious example of the culture wars that the Republicans have chosen to base their 2012 campaign upon.  None of the current or past candidates are immune, though Mr. Romney and Mr. Paul have fallen less into demagoguery than some of their peers in this regard.  While the economic policies of the current Republican party focus on smaller government with less government intrusion into one’s private life and choices, their social policies almost completely focus on morality legislation, with missives against contraception, abortion, gay marriage (actually, often sodomy in general), pornography and Muslims.

The Republican candidates need to take a moment from their (necessary) base-pandering to understand a fundamental truth (one they should hold dear being in charge of congress).  Since every government action involves expenditure of money, it is fundamentally impossible for the government to be larger morally, but smaller fiscally.  To a large extent, morality stems from religion in American (we are unique in that regard), so it is fundamentally un-American to legislate morality, as it is impossible to do so without legislating religion.

Over the past decade or more, the Republican party has sought out the support of Christian Fundamentalists/Extremists as a necessary voting bloc.  Perhaps this made sense in the short term (running against a tremendously popular but morally questionable president).  However, their long term interests may have been better served by adopting a strict secularist, governmental-minimalist stance as a foil to the traditionally over-reaching Democrats.  At least this way, the voters would have a real choice.  As it stands, the American public is forced between two ideologies which both want to intrude on our lives tremendously, albeit in different ways.

All-American

For many generations, Islam lived under the surface of the American psyche.  It was long recognized as a presence in the United States, but it was content to ignore and be ignored.  Its adherents were never  singled out simply because there was no need to know who was Muslim and who was not.  This was America so why should it matter, after all?

All of that changed on the fateful morning of September 11, 2001.  There were other terrorist incidents before that day, and there were others after.  But none rival the events of that day in their sheer grotesqueness.  Islam suddenly became equated with terrorism, murder, and general “otherness”.  Numerous discussions ensued about whether the Muslim faith was even fundamentally compatible with Western Civilization.  With rare exceptions, these discussions were spearheaded by non-Muslims and ignored the fact that for many generations Muslims had already proven by example that their faith was compatible with the “West” by living and thriving here.

During those crucial days, the American Muslim community had a responsibility to stand up and lead those discussions as the most qualified people to do so.  Out of fear of retaliation and ostracization, we shirked that responsibility and let that narrative be driven by others with their own agendas.

No longer.  I am honored to be a contributing author to a  new book entitled All American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim (White Cloud Press, 2012).  This work is the follow up to the wildly successful I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim.  The book, like its predecessor, is a collection of essays by real Muslims who have real, practical stories which incontestably demonstrate by experience that being Muslim is compatible with being American.  The best part about it is that each of these authors has shown this in a different way.  That is, there is not just one way to be Muslim and American; the areas of intersection are so vast, there are in fact many ways.

My own essay deals with my extensive positive interactions with the Jewish people.  I am honored and humbled to be included in the same book with the likes of Congressman Keith Ellison,  accomplished author Wajahat Ali, and prominent blogger (and dear friend) Aziz Poonawala.  But mostly, I feel gratified that my voice is being heard and hopefully helping to drive the discussion to more realistic ground.

The book can (and most definitely, should) be pre-ordered on Amazon to ensure availability.