Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Arizona's Intolerance, GOP's Bigotry and Liberals' Hypocrisies

I am often asked why is it that I don't write about issues and problems relating to USA. I usually don't feel like writing about them because US is very good at a vibrant discussion. Also, say on Ukraine, can I add to what Anne Applebaum writes? Today, having witnessed a good deal of debate on a shameful bill in Arizona I do feel that I need to write because I think some issues have been swept under the carpet or glossed over.

Arizona state legislature has passed bill SB1062, called in short as 'Freedom of religion' bill. The bill awaits Governor Jan Brewer's, Republican, signature. The bill was spearheaded by state GOP. Republican presidential nominees John McCain, senior senator from Arizona and Mitt Romney have called on the governor to veto the bill. Megacorp Apple has issued a warning that the governor should veto the bill. NFL has threatened to cancel next year's Super Bowl in Arizona costing the state many millions.

The bill gives the freedom to business owners to refuse service to customers if they thought such service, depending on who the customer is, would violate the owners' religious beliefs. If a gay or lesbian couple entered a store the store owner could refuse service to them on grounds of his/her religious belief. This, the bill's sponsors say, protects the religious freedom of business owners. And, forcing the owners to serve everyone would violate the personal religious freedom of a business owner.

A lot of ire, deservedly, is directed at GOP and Republicans in general for this bigotry. This is a shameful bill. Afro-American TV anchor Van Jones said on CNN that not too long ago considered blacks to be inferior based on their own interpretation of the Bible. Jones asked, a supporter of the bill, if such discrimination too should be protected as freedom of religion. The guest nonchalantly pointed to the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to US constitution to say that it cannot be done because discriminating on the basis of race was illegal but there is no such amendment to protect against sexual discrimination.

Liberals are chortling over GOP's moment of harakiri. That's sheer hypocrisy. As part of Obamacare all employers were mandated to provide free birth control to women employees. Catholics who run a lot of hospitals and schools rose up in uproar saying that they, as Catholic employers, cannot go against their religious tenets and pay for employees birth control. Catholic hospitals also don't perform abortion. In Catholic Ireland abortions were such a strict no-no that an Indian Hindu woman was allowed to die by the hospital during childbirth rather than perform abortion. In an election year Obama buckled and declared, pompously, that Catholic employers need not provide birth control options to their employees. The erstwhile constitutional law professor finagled a loophole. Obama said the insurance companies, not the employers, will provide birth control options at no cost to the employees or the employers. This is utter nonsense. And of course insurance companies passed on the cost into the premiums. I'd have supported Obama if he had stood his ground and said "your religious beliefs are yours to keep but you cannot impose it on an employee who works for you". Surprisingly this has never been brought out by anybody.

I am a capitalist and even a libertarian to a great extent but I cannot support legislation like this saying "oh well employers and business owners who discriminate will lose customers and that, automatically, will weed them out in the market place". Thats idyllic laissez faire libertarianism. Many times employees and customers will not have a choice. Ayn Rand and Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights legislation on the grounds that the government should not interfere and that free market will weed out racist businesses. That will work in theory not in practice.

Few years back Somali Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis refused to take passengers from airport if the passengers were found carrying alcohol. Not many Christians were too happy with that. Cabbies refusing a passenger have had their licenses suspend and fines imposed. The cabbies went to court against the fines but lost the case. Interestingly its only Somali Muslim cabbies who acted thus. An Iranian Muslim told Washington Post that he would service anyone. Somalia is home to very radicalized Islam. I am sure Arizonans who cheer religious freedom would be quick to condemn the Somali Muslim cabbies because they are Muslims. The Christian right loves to talk of religious freedom when it is theirs.

America's founding fathers revolutionized the world with the doctrine of separation of church and state. However, America remains a very religious country that still tears itself apart on the question of abortion and sex. Oftentimes public policy is driven by religious feelings. Its a shame that American Presidents preside over 'National prayer day'. I don't have anything against Presidents being believers but that belongs in his personal life. As constitutional head a President has no business presiding over any prayer. I am ok with something like George Bush holding a multi-faith prayer service after 9/11. Thats a President using a cultural binding force during a time of great national calamity and its not institutionalized unlike the Prayer day.

This bill again puts the GOP in a harsh light. If the GOP has any dreams of winning the White House any time soon they need to put bigotries behind them. Many republicans are decent egalitarians but this fringe element, the vocal minority, is bringing disrepute. Unless the lunatic fringe is curbed the GOP will send itself into oblivion.

The only real champion in this ugly mess is Capitalism. The threat of withdrawing big business from Arizona is what is really giving the governor a pause to think. Businesses are in the fore front today to foster diversity, racially, ethnically and sexually. Companies realize that diversity, of all types, is key to a vibrant and therefore successful organization. A less talked about angle is the role of capitalism in bringing down walls of bigotry. Slavery and racism were never about capitalism or labor rather it was about a people's bigotry. Slave holding agrarian south was defeated by relatively more capitalist industrialized prosperous North. Apple which is on the verge of opening a new Sapphire glass factory creating 2000 jobs. Apple CEO is gay and he has warned Arizona that passing the bill will make it difficult for Apple, an inclusive company, to operate in Arizona. I'd love to hear liberals cheer the power of a big corporation.

National Book Award winning author Andrew Solomon wrote critically acclaimed book "Far from the tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity". The book deals with how parents come to terms with mentally disabled children and accept them for what they are. Solomon said his experiences as being a gay son, the different one, gave him perspectives that he would not have had if he had been heterosexual.


1. 'Some Muslim cabbies refuse fares carrying alcohol' -- Washington Post
2. 'If you drink some cabbies won't drive' - CNN -
3. Apple warns Arizona Governor
4. Arizona Bill SB1062


Arjun said...

That's some faux outrage there. Difficult to be critical about the real hypocrisies, exceptionalism and double standards in foreign policy of a country which you love so much - I empathise. You are much more passionate and entertaining in your tirades about Jeyamohan, Hindutva, Raja Please go back to writing about them.

Raja M said...

In this post, Aravindan makes a number of good points, e.g., condemning the bigotry of the GOP, hypocrisy of the Christian right, and in the end a passionate reference to greater understanding.

However, like many of Aravindan’s articles, the tone of the article leaves much to be desired, and is filled with false equivalencies, generalizations, getting to pre-determined conclusions not supported by facts, and plain factual inaccuracies – all of which Aravindan repeatedly claims to abhor in Tamil writers.

As the comments section is too limited, a somewhat expanded critique is at:

I have reproduced the text of the Aravindan’s article, with my comments interleaved, and the references at the end. Writing comprehensive and thorough articles takes time, care and intellectual rigor. Most blog posts do not meet this standard.

This is just a good faith effort to nudge those who seek to claim moral high ground to live up to the standard with which they evaluate others.