Wednesday, 26 May 2010

a religious perspective on the tax burden

i was asked to write something last week regarding the tax changes in the recent budget, and a religious perspective on the resulting shift of the tax burden from those at the top to those at the bottom. so i wrote the piece below, and thought i'd put it up here for posterity.

one of the most basic islamic values is that of community. every muslim person has a series of responsibilities towards other people in society. the highest level of responsibility is to immediate family members - spouse, children, parents, siblings. then there is the responsibility towards extended family members, towards neighbours, and towards friends. then a there is a level of responsibility towards more distant members of society - the poor, the wayfarer (ie travellers who are far from home and in need of help), the sick, the elderly.

a muslim person can't opt out of these responsibilities - can't in the sense of "wouldn't be a good muslim if you did". to the extent that seclusion from society (eg like catholic nuns, or like hindu and buddhist ascetics) is not allowed. we are part of society and are required to fulfill our responsibilities to the best of our ability.

part of a successful society, then, is a concern for those who are less well off. for example, a muslims who goes to bed with their stomach full while their neighbour is hungry is not a good muslim. we should be on well enough terms with our neighbours that we know what state they are in.

another value that is extremely important for us is charity. that's why we're required to give 2.5% of our savings to charity. for those who have no money, teaching someone to read is charity. moving an obstacle from the road which might harm others is charity. even a friendly smile to a stranger is charity.

our economic system is underpinned by the values of community and charity. that is why interest and profiteering are forbidden. hoarding of wealth is also forbidden - we are urged to spend our wealth and be generous with it. the theory is that you spend now, and if the day comes when you are in need, then other members of the community will spend on you as you spent on them in your time of plenty.

by spending, i don't mean just on consumer goods. spending includes money going towards key infrastructure (hospitals, schools, etc) and includes money lent to others in need. forgiveness of loans is a considered to be one of the highest acts of worship.

islam approves of trade and entrepreneurial activity, and to be successful in business is considered a good thing. however, there are two key factors. the earning of wealth should not involve any exploitation such as unfair wages to employees, harm to the environement, cheating of any kind. second, once the wealth is earned, a muslim will have to account for every cent. the focus of a muslim's life should not be the accumulation of material possession, but should be on acts of worship which includes the sharing of that wealth with others. our attitude should be that our wealth is not something we own by right, but rather is something we hold on trust.

when it comes to the modern world, the implementation of islamic values would mean that muslims don't begrudge paying their taxes. it's part of the spending on infrastructure and on the needy that is required of us. and of course, islamic values would require that the wealthy should pay more and the poor should pay less. in fact, in islam there is a level under which the poor are not required to give.

in a time of recession, with cuts to social services and a budget deficit, i can not see how it would be consistent with islamic values to cut income taxes for the rich while increasing the burden on the poor who are already suffering disproportionately. it goes against all values of compassion, community and charity that are integral to the muslim character.

given that a lot of the very wealthy in this country have earnt their wealth through profiteering, it is immoral to increase their level of wealth while cutting core services like home help for the weak and elderly, or ACC funded counselling for the sexually abused.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

the best response

whew, had quite a bit more of a break than i intended. the trouble with not blogging regularly is that it's hard to get back into when you stop. and i've been distracted by a little obsession which will hopefully be over soon.

in the meantime, they had this thing called "draw Muhammad day" - well i'm assuming it's happened already. can't really be bothered to find out. this is supposed to be some great message about freedom of speech or something, i guess. more like the freedom to be offensive and expecting that the people you are being offensive to should shut up and take it instead of using their freedom of expression to express their displeasure.

ok, i know i'm being deliberately obtuse. the day was supposedly directed at that lunatic fringe that decides to make death threats when someone says something offensive. i also think it's stupid to make death threats when someone says (or draws or writes) something offensive. not only because you've just made a martyr of the person who was being offensive and thereby encouraged people to be more offensive to you, but more because it's bad morals. unethical if you will. and pretty much goes against what Muhammad stood for.

if we look at the life of Muhammad, he was subjected to various and quite severe insults once he started preaching the message of islam. for example having the guts of a camel (or some such) thrown over him while he was bowed down in prostration, praying. one lovely person would be sure to scatter thorns on the path that he normally took home. another person made a habit of throwing rubbish out her window at him, every time he walked past her place. in other words, pretty much every day.

now let's look at his response to these rather extreme forms of hatred. in regards to the rubbish-thrower, it so happened that for a couple of days, when he walked passed her home, no rubbish was thrown. so he went to visit her, saying that he was concerned for her health. it turned out that she was indeed ill, and his concern immediately won her over.

in regards to the other stuff, Muhammad was pretty much hounded out of mecca, narrowly escaping an assassination attempt and with a price on his head. a number of his followers had been tortured and killed, and all had suffered from a trade boycott lasting three years. as many fled the city to save their lives, their property had been stolen. it so happened that about 8 years later, he was in a position to lead an army into the city and take it over. he did so with virtually no bloodshed. he had the opportunity at that time to take revenge on the people who had behaved so badly towards him and his followers. but he didn't do that. instead he provided protection for all people in the city.

and of course this is the example that muslims should use to inspire their response to this particular day. CAIR put it nicely:

Instead of reacting negatively to the bigoted call to support "Draw Muhammad Day," American Muslims -- and Muslims worldwide -- should use that and every other day as an opportunity to reach out to people of other faiths and beliefs to build bridges of understanding and respect.

The best and most productive response to bigoted campaigns like "Draw Muhammad Day" is more communication, not less communication -- including not restricting the free flow of ideas with measure like banning Facebook.

Research has shown that anti-Islam prejudice goes down when people interact with ordinary Muslims and have greater knowledge of Islam.

Therefore, the best reaction to those who would mock the Prophet Muhammad (or the religious symbols of any faith) might be a mosque open house for the local interfaith community, a community service activity organized by Muslims and involving people of other faiths, or a newspaper commentary describing the life, legacy and personal character of the prophet, which is the opposite of the calumny some people fabricate about him. This should be of concern to all decent and objective people.

We will all benefit if each of us -- whether Muslim, Jew, Christian, Buddhist, or Hindu -- exhibits the common human decency required by our respective faiths.

very nicely put, and by far the best way to deal with it all.

but i do have one thing to say to those who participated. i don't get it. you're annoyed at a small group of people who behave stupidly when you use your right to freedom of expression. so your response is to insult every single member, all 1.4 billion, of that group, just to show that you can. the vast majority of whom have done you no harm, have made no complaint about your drawings and who are quite happy to ignore you. that's really the best response you can think of? nope, still don't get it.

back to the spirit of the CAIR piece, here is the wiki link to michael hart's book on the top 100 most influential people in history, wherein you'll find the wiki link to the life of Muhammad.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

in which i gush, just a little

so here's the link to my appearance on back benches last night. it was a great experience. i watched the show regularly last year, not so much this year. i'm a big fan of wallace chapman, who has a lovely way of managing the discussions so they stay focussed, without any real nastiness. he's a genuine nice guy, as much in person as he appears to be on screen.

also lovely to meet damian christie, who i "knew" from reading his blog & from watching the show. it was so much easier for me to say what i needed to say, knowing i had an interviewer who was sympathetic and not looking for a "get". this is why publicly funded television is so much better than commercial - it's much about letting people speak, more about the interviewee than the interviewer, which means that any issue is covered in much more depth. i mean, it's just refreshing to actually be able to finish an answer without having the interviewer interrupt.

the women working behind the scenes were also lovely, and supportive. really helps when you're feeling a bit nervous.

the best part was having my most favourite of MPs, charles chauvel and grant roberson, participating. these are two of the most genuine guys i know, heaps of integrity and a passion for the work they do. if only the rest of parliament was like these two, the country would be a wonderful place.

i have to admit that on this particular issue (though not on the others that were discussed on the night), i was really impressed with hekia parata. her contribution was really positive.

so on the whole, a very nice evening.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

very sad

i'm not in the mood for writing today. a lot of depressing stuff happening, including the tragedy with the korean family in christchurch. now the father has also committed suicide, and the whole thing raises questions around settlement support and the role of immigration nz in all of this.

i guess we'll have to wait for the coroner's report to get details of the background. migration is never an easy business, and it's especially hard to do when you're on your own with kids and no support network around you. add to that issues with language and the inability to find a job, and it's a pretty nasty mix.


as a pick-me-up, i found this gem of a young donny osmond and michael jackson appearing together at an awards ceremony. very cute:

and in case you're interested, i'm planning to be on back benches tomorrow night to talk about - what else - banning the burqa. more sigh. think i need to watch that clip again!

Monday, 10 May 2010

meeting on workplace rights

i had a bit of a quieter weekend this time, with only 3 meetings. one of these was for the ethnic women's network, and we had sonya church from the young worker's resource centre come along and talk to the women about workplace rights.

poor sonya had trouble getting a word in, with the women so keen to discuss the issues that were important to them. it was a lively meeting, and their stories of discrimination and frustration were really quite sad. it's clear that the law can not protect them effectively, especially when the consequences of making a complaint can be pretty drastic.

there was a definite difference between the women who were educated and in professional work as compared to those in unskilled work. the discrimination in job interviews seemed to be a common feature, but once they had got the job, the professional women seemed to be better able to deal with workplace issues. there's a real power imbalance for women in lower skilled jobs, and because many of them work for small businesses, there's no union representation either.

while sonya was telling us about employment contracts and negotiating the terms, the practical reality for some of these women was that the contract basically went out the window when they got to work. and because it was so hard for them to get a job and they desperately needed to keep it, they felt that there was no choice but to work under the conditions they were given.

it's really hard to know how to empower these women to feel stronger in their work places, and especially when we have a government that is determined to reduce work place rights. just last week the law that enforced work breaks was repealed. i don't think there is the political will in this government to improve the working lives of these women, and that is heartbreaking.

i've had a couple of posts up at the hand mirror last week, one about research comparing the well-being of mothers across different countries, another one on the performance of women and minorities in the uk elections, and another about how sad it is to watch the process of turning natural talent into a commercialised product on american idol.

Monday, 3 May 2010

out of words...

so i've been busy fighting battles over at the hand mirror lately, so haven't had much time to blog here. i've had several posts up over the last few days, the last couple being the most substantial. there was one i wrote last week but went up on sunday, further expanding my thoughts on the burqa and other things, and another i've put up tonight about the movie "the blind side" which i watched over the weekend.

i was doing some other interesting things over the weekend. unfortunately i missed the march against mining, because i was attending an "access to justice" forum organised by the office of ethnic affairs. we heard from manukau district court judge ajit singh, who was a fount of wisdom and experience, and then i attended a workshop where we had some interesting discussions around marriage, and family court issues. i hope to write about some of that during the week, if i have the energy.

on sunday, i had the privilege of listening to charles chauvel on climate change policy. yet again he showed how extremely talented he is, as he covered what happened at copenhagen and what's to be expected next. compared to what some other countries are doing and what all countries should be doing, nz's effort is rather pathetic.

so i'm all out of words just now. hope to have more later.