Tag Archives: Rebuttal

A Reality Check on the “Distortion of Islam”: A Rebuttal to The Student Life

The Student Life recently published an article, “On the Distortion of Islam and the Muslim World,” in which the author discourages the use of the name ISIS/ISIL since this “gang of fools is neither Islamic nor a state.” Not only does the author claim that Islam is not to blame for the atrocities committed in its name, but he goes on to state that ISIS/ISIL is not an Islamic group at all, an assertion which flies in the face of reality.

ISIS started as a splinter group of al-Qaeda, one of the most infamous Islamic extremist groups in the world. The stated goal of ISIS/ISIL is to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate. The areas it controls are ruled under strict Sharia law, and it threatens the non-Muslims in those areas with death if they do not convert to Islam. Its flag features the seal of Muhammad, underneath the words “There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of God” written in Arabic. Strictly speaking, ISIS/ISIL is an Islamic group since it bases everything it does off of its interpretation of Islam and the Qur’an.

Yet, the author claims that because “hundreds of Imams, leaders in the Muslim faith, have disavowed them and pleaded that they not be linked with their religion,” ISIS/ISIL is not an Islamic group. The author fails to acknowledge, however, that there are hundreds of Imams who either support or are active members of ISIS/ISIL. But even if we ignore this fact, the author’s argument here still makes no sense. He states that we should “give the word of these Imams the respect we would give Pope Francis,” but allowing these Imams to claim ISIS/ISIL isn’t Muslim is akin to letting Pope Francis claim that Catholics didn’t instigate the Spanish Inquisition. We shouldn’t allow these Imams to disassociate Islam from its more radical factions any more than we should allow the Pope to separate Catholicism from the atrocities committed in its name in the past.

The author believes that referring to ISIS/ISIL as an Islamic group gives people a bad impression of the religion as a whole. This is a valid concern, but the way to prevent it is not to be disingenuous about the religious affiliation of the group, but rather to acknowledge it while being proactive in educating people so they know that the views of ISIS/ISIL are not representative of all of Islam.

Furthermore, the author goes on to claim that, despite the common view that Islam creates hostile environments for women, LGBTQ people, and non-Muslims, it is a more of problem of culture, rather than religion. However, the idea that you can separate Islam from the culture of many countries in the Middle East is simply absurd.

There are still 10 countries in which homosexual acts are punishable by death: Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates. And there are vast cultural differences between. For example, look at the differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and between Nigeria and Qatar. The major common thread between these nations is that they all have Muslim majorities. These are not all Arab cultures, as the author tries to claim. Admittedly, if you look at the list of countries in which homosexuality is a non-capital offense, there are a number of non-Muslim countries included, but Muslim countries are still overrepresented, as countries with a Muslim majority make up about one-fourth of the world as a whole, yet over forty percent of the countries in which homosexuality is illegal. Moreover, the fact that other cultures are intolerant of homosexuality does not preclude the idea that Islam itself contributes to homophobia. To claim that these backwards views are completely independent of Islam in countries in which Islam is the predominant cultural influence is naive at best and dishonest at worst.

The record of treatment of women in communities with Muslim majorities has not been much better, from the severe curtailing of women’s rights in Iran after the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini to the honor killings of the Egyptian women suspected of inappropriate relations with men. Although the men responsible were later arrested, the killing is not the only one of its kind and is indicative of a culture with a backwards and repressive view of women.

Finally, the author states that “culture, not religion, dictates these norms and gender roles, which will change, if they are meant to, at their own pace and in their own time.” This is, perhaps, the most disheartening sentence in the entire article. The phrase “if they are meant to” seems to suggest that these backwards practices don’t necessarily need to change, and that they shouldn’t be open to criticism from those outside of the cultures practicing them. The author seems unconcerned by the fact that these injustices are affecting real people and destroying real lives. I’m sure that the woman being stoned to death for riding in a car with a man who wasn’t her husband is comforted by the author’s reassurance that her country will join the 21st century in its own time. I’m sure the gay couple who is in jail for daring to kiss in public would much rather have cultural change come about organically in twenty years rather than see Islam questioned. We rightfully criticize Christianity’s contribution to homophobia in the United States, so why shouldn’t we criticize Islam for doing the same in the Middle East?

All of this is not to say that Islam can singlehandedly lead someone down the path of intolerance. The fact that most of these countries have poor, relatively uneducated populations, combined with a religion whose holy book does—to a certain extent—advocate intolerance, creates a perfect storm. Although it is not the sole contributor, Islam has played a part in creating the oppressive cultures which exist in much of the Middle East and North Africa. Islam is neither the first nor the only belief system to engender intolerance, but it is the one that is in the world’s spotlight at the moment, and it is not wrong to discuss or question it.

When the majority of Egyptians, Indonesians, Moroccans, Pakistanis, and Palestinians say that they support strict Sharia law, we need to acknowledge that Islamic fundamentalism is not only more common than we might care to admit, but it is also a significant factor in enforcing extreme social conservatism in a significant portion of the world. To suggest that we shouldn’t criticize and encourage the abandonment of these backwards and oppressive cultural practices, and instead should patiently wait for the people committing honor killings and putting gay people in jail to stop doing so in their own time, is insulting to every single person in a Muslim country who suffers as a direct result of the backwards social standards fostered by Islam.

___________________________
Image Source: Wikipedia

A Free Market Defense of Plan B Vending Machines

By Chris Gaarder and Hannah Oh

Here at the Claremont Independent, we aim to kindle meaningful discussion by introducing less commonly held views on a variety of campus issues. In his latest opinion piece, Harry Arnold ‘17 expresses his views on the promotion of Pomona’s Plan B vending machine and its negative moral and social implications. However, we argue that, from an economic standpoint, there is a strong free market case to be made in defense of vending machines that sell Plan B, among other medical supplies, on America’s college campuses.

Plan B is a prime example of the near-infinite problems bedeviling our nation’s health care market, particularly when it comes to drug policy. Medical vending machines exemplify the positive changes occurring in America’s healthcare landscape in spite of federal policy.

On the whole, drugs are far too expensive and inaccessible for the average consumer. Part of this is due to the elaborate regulations and bureaucratic red tape promulgated by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The high cost of getting a new drug approved by the FDA is outrageous. Forbes has determined that it costs, on average, $350 million to get a new drug through the FDA to the market. Who pays for that? It isn’t the drug companies. Instead, the cost is shifted onto consumers directly, or indirectly through higher insurance premiums and taxes to cover those on government-provided health insurance programs.

When Plan B first came out as an over-the-counter drug, it cost up to $90 and averaged around $50. How were those prices set? It’s hard to tell due to our country’s historical lack of price transparency and competition for medical goods and services. When you go to your pharmacist or your doctor, you pay whatever price they set. And the system is built against allowing consumers to shop around. With all the distortions and opacity in the healthcare market, these prices are often arbitrary and highly inflated. Some people don’t mind paying a higher price, but most price-conscious consumers would prefer to pay less.

Today we are in the midst of one of the first major shifts of market forces into healthcare. If allowed to continue, it could prove to be the best thing that ever happened to healthcare, and Corporate America is leading the way.

In recent years, big-box retail corporations have realized that there is serious money to be made in providing health care services and products, ranging from simple flu shots to a wide range of prescription drugs. Target, for example, utilizes its immense purchasing power, operating efficiency, and tight profit margin to deliver the same drugs as pharmacies and hospitals at a much lower price.

Transparent store prices breed competition on factors including price, quality, and convenience. Unlike with pharmacies and hospitals, consumers who buy drugs at chain stores, such as Target, Rite-Aid, or WalMart, are able to easily compare among the various providers to find the best price. On college campuses, vending machines provide yet another source of competition for over-the-counter drugs.

IMG_0526Vending machines for Plan B are an innovative way to provide around-the-clock access and competitive pricing. With vending machines, no direct intermediary is necessary for purchase. You simply insert money and receive your desired product, at any time of day (especially important given the time-sensitive nature of Plan B). Vending machines also provide college students a level of convenience similar to what big box retailers provide real-world consumers. Convenience is valuable itself, a non-monetary form of competition.

By providing emergency contraception via vending machines, colleges are more efficiently meeting student demand. The Pomona College administration did not invent the Plan B vending machine: the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) played an integral role in introducing the concept and formalizing the final proposal. The desire for a vending machine that distributes Plan B arose from students concerned that the drug is not available at night or over the weekend. Student Health Services, the only Plan B provider on campus, is closed during those times. To address this shortcoming, Pomona students initiated a viable solution that won widespread support.

Students at Claremont McKenna College are only now engaging in a meaningful discussion about Pomona’s policy change, and that’s because of Harry’s article. His article promotes one of the many perspectives that exist among right-leaning students. His is more conservative, ours more libertarian.

The Claremont Independent staff remains divided on this issue, but we hope that, in any case, we are able to spark a thoughtful dialogue on campus, perhaps beyond Plan B, vending machines, and Skittles, that sheds further light on the morality of commoditizing emergency contraception, the social consequences of our college hookup culture, and the economic fundamentals behind improving student access.

The Scripps Silence: A Rebuttal to the Scripps Voice

The Scripps Voice, the official student newspaper of Scripps College, came out in support of the college’s decision to suppress the voices of those on campus with whom it disagrees.

George Will

In its Oct. 16 issue, the newspaper featured a breathtakingly laudatory editorial in response to the Scripps administration’s decision to disinvite conservative columnist George Will from speaking on campus over a June 6 column that he wrote about sexual assault.

“The Scripps Voice stands behind – and applauds – the College’s decision,” the editorial reads.

The newspaper makes several arguments regarding why the college was justified in rescinding Will’s invitation to speak.

First, the editorial claims that “sexual assault is a bipartisan issue” about which there is no room for reasonable disagreement. On its face, there is some truth to this argument. Sexual assault is absolutely not a political question in the same way that, for instance, abortion is. Conservatives and liberals generally disagree about whether abortion is an inherently evil act, whereas both sides believe that sexual assault is always wrong.

But Will clearly was not arguing about the moral merits and detriments of the actual act of sexual assault in his column. Rather, he wrote about which acts deserve to be given the very serious label of “sexual assault,” which cultural institutions (or lack thereof) sexual assault is most prevalent under, and what our judicial response to sexual assault should be. These are questions surely up for political debate and discussion – ones about which conservative and liberal principles and philosophy are generally in disagreement.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 4.42.43 PMThus, Will was disinvited from speaking on campus because of his conservative views toward the issue sexual assault – in a guest lecture series designed to promote conservative views on campus – because the Scripps College administration personally disagreed with those political views.

It should also be instructional that only liberals and progressives are using the “sexual assault is a bipartisan issue” line. Where are the conservatives making the supposedly bipartisan argument that there is no room to disagree about political questions tangentially related to sexual assault?

Second, the editorial argues that allowing Will to speak after writing such a column would be harmful to the Scripps community, as it would trigger the past traumas of sexual assault survivors.

Yet, the Voice fails to mention that the only reason they are writing about Will’s column is because the Scripps administration chose to disinvite him from speaking on campus. Many people on this campus – perhaps among them survivors of sexual assault – only read Will’s initial column because of the political brouhaha that ensued after the disinvitation was revealed.

scripps sealWill’s column would not have been required reading had he simply been allowed to come and speak on campus, nor would attendance at the talk have been mandatory, and it is very likely that the only mention of sexual assault would have been during the Q&A session. It can be argued that the Scripps administration did more to trigger past traumas by rescinding Will’s invitation than they would have by letting him speak. (Of course, in its defense, the administration was probably counting on nobody finding out about the disinvitation.)

Third, and most fallaciously, the editorial argues that, because Will’s First Amendment rights were not violated by the disinvitation, he was not really “censored.”

Aside from the fact that no one is claiming that Will’s First Amendment rights were violated, this is a very dubious argument – and a bit of a troubling one coming from a newspaper with the word “voice” in its name. Perhaps it is best rebutted by a simple thought experiment.

Hypothetically speaking, were the Scripps administration to, say, take a stack of the most recent edition of the Scripps Voice and throw it into the trash, perhaps because it disagreed with one of the articles, would the Scripps Voice claim that they had been censored?

One need not think long on this question, because that is exactly what the newspaper claimed to have happened last year, when it intentionally left its Feb. 17 issue’s front cover blank in order to protest “student censorship” on campus.

It is ridiculous to think that political censorship can only exist within the sphere of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Just because it is not an American governmental entity doing the censoring does not mean that one has not been censored.

Finally, while the arguments raised by the Scripps Voice are far from persuasive, they are also straw men.

The real question up for debate here is not whether George Will expressed a conservative point of view, if what he wrote was insensitive, or if Scripps technically “censored” him by rescinding his invitation from campus, but whether the university can fulfill its primary purpose of creating critical thinkers and responsible citizens by presenting only one side of any given argument.

Is the modern-day university doing its students a disservice by shielding them from opinions about which they may disagree and that they may find hurtful? Can the academy properly function while only presenting certain acceptable points of view for debate and discussion?

You won’t find out by reading the Scripps Voice.

The Farce of Two CMCs: A Rebuttal to The Student Life

In today’s knowledge-based economy, higher education has become increasingly important in influencing social and economic prosperity. Unfortunately, education is an opportunity that is still not afforded to many. In an effort to alleviate this problem, colleges have tried to implement policies such as affirmative action to increase racial diversity. To increase socio-economic diversity, they have used tools such as Pell Grants and need blind admissions. In the TSL’s “A Tale of Two CMCs,” Carlos Ballesteros argues that CMC has actively sought to exclude low-income minority students from the student body. Ballesteros points out that, as international student admission numbers have risen, the admission of low-income minority students has fallen. This is relevant since CMC does not offer any financial aid to international students outside of merit scholarships, implying that international students have financial means that many others do not. He also states that, as this change has occurred, the college has simultaneously ended relations with Quest Bridge and Posse (two highly selective scholarship programs for low-income minorities). This, Ballesteros argues, supports his belief that CMC is cynically replacing low-income students with wealthy international students. There are, however, two problems in his analysis.

At the beginning of the article, Ballesteros tries to establish an implausible causal link in the general correlation between the rise of international students and decrease in low-income students; however, as we are told so many times in our statistics classes, correlation does not signify causation. A more plausible hypothesis could be that the overall number of low-income students applying to CMC has decreased in the aftermath of the Great Recession. According to the College Board’s college guidance outlines, many first generation students are not very knowledgeable about the college application process and/or are pressured to enter the workforce earlier. Keeping this in mind, due to the Great Recession and the slow recovery afterward, many low-income students probably entered the workforce instead of going to college, or opted for a more practical, skill-based education at a larger state school. Furthermore, research has shown that low-income students are less likely to apply to college in general (Fitzgerald and Delaney 2002; McDonough 1997; McDonough 1998), and are also less likely to enroll at more elite colleges (Bowen and Bok 1998; Hurtado et al. 1997)

Ballesteros also fails to give a full picture of economic diversity by limiting the scope of argument to the number of Pell grant recipients,. This is because Pell grants are fundamentally limited in their ability to measure economic diversity. Pell Grants are granted based on financial need versus cost of the school, and up to $50,000 in income. The maximum amount of funds that a student can receive through Pell grants amounts to exactly $5730. This equates to approximately 13% of CMC’s $45,000 tuition. Considering that this is such a small portion of CMC’s tuition, it is conceivable that falling Pell grant rates might actually mean that many low-income students are simply pursuing better scholarship options. Ballesteros’ argument also presupposes that the decreasing numbers of Pell grant recipients enrolled at CMC automatically implies a decrease in “economic diversity.” However, as David Leonhardt of Upshot says, “A college that enrolls many students from families making $75,000 a year may be somewhat more economically diverse than a college with an identical share of Pell recipients but fewer middle-income students.” Therefore, a better, more accurate measure of economic diversity would be calculating the number of students in each income bracket.

Additionally, Ballesteros critiques CMC’s decision to end partnerships with Questbridge and Posse as another example of CMC replacing low-income students with international ones. For those who do not know, Questbridge and Posse are full scholarship programs for low-income, high-achieving students and only partner with 35 and 51 colleges, respectively (which is a very small percentage of the 3500+ degree granting institutions in the US). Questbridge and Posse, while great programs, are also highly competitive. According to statistics from the Questbridge website, in 2013 there were 12,818 applicants to the Questbridge program. Of those applying, only 440 became finalists who were offered admission and college match scholarships. If considered a finalist, Questbridge will match the student to a partner school that they believe is a good fit for them. Many low-income students believe that Questbridge and other related programs are the only way to pay for college, but, in fact, if these students applied to many of the partner schools independently, they would have a better chance of attending that school. This is because many colleges, like CMC, offer 100% of demonstrated need. By ending their partnership with Questbridge and Posse, CMC (whose admissions are need-blind) allows low-income students to apply directly to the school they wish to attend and have a better chance to receive the money they need to attend college.

Finally, the author proposes that one solution to alleviating the decreasing number of low-income students enrolled in CMC is an income-based affirmative action policy as a solution that, like race-based affirmative action, only treats the symptoms of a broken education system. Educational equality goes beyond equating the number of students admitted in one demographic to students admitted of another demographic. The author’s entire argument falsely rests upon the assumption that the only diversity international kids bring is in the different currencies they carry. I would like to point out that, regardless of socio-economic background, international students come from an entirely different country. They bring different perspectives and experiences, which no American, regardless of socio-economic background or race could replicate. Surely, need-blind admissions policy, which CMC has, coupled with educational system reform, is a more equitable solution.

Defining Libertarianism: A Rebuttal to the “Claremont Port Side”

In his May 2 article, “An Ideology at Odds with Itself,” David Leathers of the Claremont Port Side argues that people who claim to be “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” – namely, Libertarians – hold an inconsistent set of beliefs. On Leathers’ account, socially liberal causes like free birth control and higher education student loan subsidies cut against the grain of fiscal conservatism and require higher taxes; however, Leathers’ account rests on a misunderstanding of what Libertarians mean when they identify as “socially liberal” and fails to recognize how a fiscal conservative might consistently claim to be socially liberal.

The traditional distinction between fiscal conservatives and liberals rests on the distinction between negative and positive rights. Where fiscal conservatives typically favor negative rights of non-interference, liberals generally favor a more expanded role of taxation and government in redistributing wealth so as to ensure substantive equality of opportunity. The fiscal conservative stance has its philosophical roots in the libertarianism of Robert Nozick, who famously argues, “Taxation of earnings from labor is on a par with forced labor…taking the earnings of n hours labor is like taking n hours from the person; it is like forcing the person to work n hours for another’s purpose.” On this view, redistributive taxation is unjust because it is tantamount to coercion.

In an obvious sense, Libertarians would be committed to negative liberties like marijuana legalization, gay marriage, and freedom to choose, but not policies which require taxation, for instance the Affordable Care Act. Yet, as Leathers notes in a recent email interview with the Claremont Independent, “Sure, you can be ‘socially liberal and fiscally conservative’ if you only endorse a narrow swath of negative rights, but in 2013, socially progressive causes encompass much more than just ‘negative liberties’ like the right of gay couples to marry.”

To a certain extent, Leathers is right. Even self-styled Libertarians typically recognize the necessity of redistributive initiatives such as the public school system and some level of state-sponsored medical insurance. Fiscal conservatives typically justify their commitment to these sorts of policies with reference to equality of opportunity. However, liberals can just as easily justify a commitment to a more expansive set of redistributive policies by appealing to the same principles. As Leathers explains, his commitment to liberal initiatives like the ACA and government-sponsored higher education is founded in a belief “that we should elect a government that helps to create equality of opportunity for each citizen.”

Who’s right? Most reasonable people think that a system of total redistribution is unjust. If I work, I ought to be entitled to keep my wages. But yet, as Leathers correctly points out, “a rich person who gets sick is more likely to recover than a poor person without health insurance. This rich person can return to work and support their family. The poor person cannot…the cycle continues.” On both my Libertarian view and Leathers’ liberal perspective, the need for fair equality of opportunity overrides the Nozickian principle that taxes are unjust.

The question now becomes, “To what degree does a concern for equality of opportunity dictate a policy of redistributive taxation?” This question is a thorny philosophical problem. Leathers agrees that “it is impossible to tell when there really is ‘equality of opportunity,’” but suggests that “this is the direction our country needs to head.”

I disagree. Leathers’ account blurs the distinction between equality of opportunity and substantive equality. Leathers suggests that “giving each kid a free college education would be a major component” of ensuring equality of opportunity. But this kind of substantive educational equality is conceptually distinct from the kind of equality of opportunity I, as a Libertarian, espouse. A policy of government-funded free college education for every child seems, superficially, to ensure an equal level of economic opportunity to college graduates entering the workforce. But there’s a conflation of terms at play here: the economic opportunity Leathers appeals to is, in fact, a masquerading form of substantive equality of outcome.

Equal opportunity in the Libertarian sense of the term is grounded in exactly the kind of negative rights that delineate Libertarian views from liberal perspectives. A person’s opportunity is equal to another’s if that person is not deliberately coerced in a manner that restricts her capacity to freely act upon her ends. Provided a person is not deliberately excluded, in spite of her merits, from attending college, that person’s opportunity to attend college is exactly equal to any other person’s.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule: Libertarians could defend a publicly funded education system through high school since children aren’t fully developed moral agents and ought not to be held responsible for their parents’ financial situation. Somewhat differently, Libertarians could defend a system of baseline health insurance as a policy that accords with the general will of the people: most people intuitively think that everyone ought to have access to a decent minimum of healthcare even if, like me, they aren’t aware of a compelling moral argument for why this is the case.

But it is clear Leathers’ argument in favor of equalizing economic opportunity does not fit into this Libertarian conception. Perhaps if everyone attends college the least-well-off will learn enough to earn higher wages and make their lives substantively better. But compressing the range of economic outcomes is only just if one is committed to substantive equality. “Substantive equality of opportunity” sounds appealing, but isn’t conceptually distinct from “substantive equality of outcome.’”

Libertarians, conservatives, and liberals alike must reconcile themselves to a hard truth: although human persons are worthy of equal moral concern, with respect to their natural capacity to lead healthy, prosperous lives, human beings are radically unequal. By virtue of the birth lottery some people wind up with high IQs and are born to wealthy families. Economic outcomes are generally much better for Claremont College students than high school dropouts. But what’s the alternative? Liberal guilt over the fact that one is well-off in life is philosophically bankrupt: a commitment to justice only requires a commitment to negative rights of non-interference. Life isn’t fair.

Where does this leave us? Libertarians are committed to negative liberties like marijuana legalization, gay marriage, and the freedom to choose, which are grounded in the principle of non-interference, but not broadly redistributive policies like the Affordable Care Act. This is the sense in which Libertarians mean they are “socially liberal.” After all, as Leathers points out in his article, the key issue for fiscal conservatives who claim to be socially liberal is gay marriage. Leathers might be right in suggesting that “social liberalism moved far beyond traditional ‘negative rights’ a long time ago,” but that merely means that “socially liberal” is a misnomer for Libertarians like myself, not that our ideologies are internally inconsistent.

I would suggest, then, that the real debate David Leathers and I should be having is a philosophical one. Liberals like Leathers are committed to the idea that a respect for human dignity requires more than a commitment not to infringe upon the rights of others, whereas Libertarians like me disagree. It may be the case that we as human beings are morally obliged to minimize the suffering of others through redistributive policies, and so ought to be liberals. But that’s an open question. For now, it suffices to say that it’s perfectly consistent to deny the primacy of that obligation.