By Lawrence Davidson
I live in a university town just west of the city of Philadelphia Pennsylvania (PA). Both the town and the university share the same name, hence West Chester University (WCU). WCU is a publicly owned institution and part of the PA System of Higher Education (PAASHE). In all, this system serves about120,000 students. Despite a heavy reliance on PASSHE to help educate the youth of PA and surrounding states, the entire system has recently come under mortal threat (as has all of public education of what ever level in the state). The threat comes from the PA government itself, which is now in the hands of Republican pseudo conservative extremists.
On March 8th PA s recently elected governor Tom Corbett delivered his budget addressto a like-minded state legislature. In it he called for a 50% reduction in PASSHE funding. If enacted, of course, this would decimate the state public higher education system. Governor Corbett said that such draconian cuts were necessary to close the state admittedly large deficit. We just dont have the money to carry on as we use to, he implied. But when the state Republicans are asked why we dont have the money, they just mumble something about a recession that they themselves created.
The fact is that, despite Governor Corbetts claims to the contrary, PA, and other states like Wisconsin as well, do have the money to eliminate their deficits, balance their budgets, and fund their social services such as education. All they need to do is utilize the time honored, traditional method of raising revenue known as taxes and particularly corporate taxes. The real problem is not lack of money, but rather the lack of will to collect it and direct it to community needs. It is an attitudinal problem, shared by a large number of Americans, that has become a political problem.
Here is how Governor Corbett expressed this attitude. "To the people of Pennsylvania, the taxpayers who sent us here…its your money."I am afraid that, in practice, this is not entirely true. For instance, I have a marked aversion to sharing my personal resources with a federal government that uses it to wage wars in the Middle East, often based on bald faced lies, that cost hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of innocent lives. But, what does Governor Corbett think would happen if I withheld those resources from the IRS accompanied because, after all, it is my money? The IRS would proceed to force me to pay up. In this sense the nation-state has declared that a citizen's personal wealth is not quite just his or her money. By tradition and law, by virtue of a social contract, if you will, part of it must be given back to the community of which we are apart.
Somehow the radical Republicans who now control the states of PA, Wisconsin, etc., as well as the plurality of voters who put them in office, have lost their sense of obligation to address the needs of the larger community in which they live. It is the old Maggie Thatcher, there is no such thing as society nonsense. We are now controlled by governors who never left the 1980s and thus just about the only thing they are willing to pay taxes for is police, the courts and waging war.
Let us now briefly pursue an aside. As Governor Corbett was espousing his version of economic selfishness in Harrisburg PA, his fellow Republican Party radical Congressman (R-LI NY) Peter King was holding hearingsin Washington DC. King is the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and is presently using that perch in a McCarthyite fashion to assert the alleged disloyalty of Muslim American citizens. It appears that Representative King wants to bring those costly wars in the Middle East back to the home front and its vulnerable subgroup of Muslims. Where Corbett would have us believe that we are near destitute of funds when the problem is really greed and the gross misdirection of resources, King would have us believe that we are being destroyed from within and must spend yet more billions to protect us against ourselves.
Is there a way of connecting, in a way that promotes learning, the taxophobia of Corbett and Islamophobia of King? Yes, there is, and that connection comes through a consideration of the Muslim approach to economics. Peter Kings Islamophobia not only hides from us from our own countrys role in producing anti-Americanism in the Muslim world, but also prevents us from considering the positive things Islam might teach us right here at home–aspects of which can serve as a corrective for Tom Corbett s taxophobia.
At the core of Islam's teachings on economics is the notion that the wealth that an individual (or a business) possesses is not just his, her or its money. You possess those resources by the grace of God and so you are commanded to return a portion of it to the community. For a Muslim this is a religious obligation, but you do not have to be a believer in any religion to see its important implications. What wealth we possess is accumulated within the context of a societal existence. This is particularly true for business which cannot stand apart from its customer base. Indeed, apart from our communities none of us would have any material wealth, as we understand it. So it not just our money after all, and therefore we owe something back to the community (something other than the funds for waging war on false pretenses).
You do not have to be an advocate of Sharia law to learn useful things from the Muslim experience any more than you need to be an advocate of Cannon law to learn useful things from the Catholic experience. And one can repeat this assertion almost as many times as there are religious traditions. All you have to do is shed your phobias and approach the world in a open minded way. But it is obvious that some of us, perhaps due to our conditioning, cannot do this. And the rest of us have made the mistake of putting a number of such narrow minded people in power.