Record shows Islam, democracy are not incompatible
Arguments about the "incompatibility" of Islam and democracy have been prevalent in the media and academic journals. Such arguments often rest on the belief that Islam has very little support for democratic principles, or that Muslims themselves do not want to support a democratic system. Theory, and the recent protests in Muslim-majority countries like Tunisia and Egypt, rebut these arguments.
Islam does in fact have a number of concepts that suggest compatibility with democracy. For example, regarding the establishment of a political system in Islam, Mohammed, whom Muslims view as the final messenger of God, never specifically dictated what type of government must exist. Some have suggested that he specifically refrained from choosing his successor in order to allow individuals to choose their own leader. Others have argued that through Islamic notions of ijma (consensus within a community), shura (consultation between leaders and their citizens) and bay'a (citizen support or allegiance to a leader), an expectation is required of leaders to not only have the support of citizens, but also that they take the opinion of their citizens seriously.
In terms of statistics, Alfred Stepan of Columbia University points out that over half of the world's Muslims live in democracies. The largest Muslim-majority country in the world, Indonesia, which has a population of over 202 million Muslims, is a democracy.
The protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Albania have demonstrated that Muslims within these states are calling for various political changes and/or increased accountability. And for those who suggest that the protests are calls for an "Islamic state," in all of these situations an Islamist presence or "reason" for the protests have been minimal to nonexistent.
It is a mistake to believe that Islam is theoretically opposed to principles of democracy, just as it is a mistake to assume that Muslims living in authoritarian regimes are satisfied with the current leadership.
Fait Muedini, St. Petersburg
Improving city life
With the elections coming up in a month, I hope that the voters of Tampa will care enough to get out and cast ballots.
Last week I heard City Council candidate Kelly Benjamin speak of his vision for Tampa. I was fired up when he spoke of a city built around people, not cars.
I would like to see the development of bus routes and the facilitation of daily needs shops so people can take the bus and pick up a few necessities on the way home. This is the way it is in large cities, and it's a lovely way of life.
Green industries are becoming more and more necessary and therefore profitable. Green jobs are good for employment and reducing pollution.
These and other feasible steps will enable Tampa to grow into a great city.
Elizabeth Mitchell, Tampa
Florida Retirement System
Fix the tax system
If one believes all the sound bites from the politicians, you would think that the Florida Retirement System is in dire straits. The fact is, it is one of the most sound pension systems in the United States. Now the governor and Legislature want to basically gut it.
It was the Florida Legislature that changed the vesting from 10 years to six years — not government employees. It was the Florida Legislature that changed it from a contributory pension to a noncontributory system — not government employees.
In spite of the Legislature, it is still fiscally sound. As the stock market improves, the pension fund only gets better. Changing vesting from six to 10 years is fine since it rewards the long-term employee. Making it contributory for state employees is financially devastating to many, as no state employee has had a pay increase in five years.
It would be nice if the governor and Legislature would work on a real problem: reforming our tax system, specifically the sales tax. Florida can't afford all those special interest exemptions. Why do we continue to subsidize professional sports teams every year with tax dollars and then cut Medicaid? Why do we give exemptions to owners of race horses (no tax on their feed) and yet the rest of us have to pay tax on the food for our pets? The list goes on and on.
Randy Eisenberg, Valrico
Reform with fairness
For several years now, the knee-jerk reaction of the Legislature to balance the budget has been to deny state employees increases despite the fact that we are the lowest-paid state employees in the country and have not had even a cost-of-living increase since 2006.
We provide a valuable service to our state. There are ways we can streamline, and we have been actively doing this for many years without a mandate from the governor. But rather than do the hard work, state leaders' immediate reaction is to affect Florida employees.
I agree that we probably do need to contribute to our pension. But do it fairly. Honor the system we have been working under for those employees currently employed, and change the rules for new employees.
Diane M. Drake, Tampa
Outsourcing to blame
The outsourcing of jobs and services has affected more American families than any one terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Blame for our depression and unemployment was directed at Wall Street, banks and credit card companies because of borrowing delinquencies. No matter how unethical or ethical the debts were, they would have been systematically paid off if the debtors' jobs were not sent out of this country.
The powers in our capital even give tax breaks to outsourcing companies. This is like giving Al Capone a tax break so he can continue his life of crime and bootlegging.
Sidney B. Roth, Clearwater
Time to talk gun control | Jan. 30, editorial
Murders are down
The FBI reports that despite sales from a booming gun market, murders in the country have been down over the past several years. Background checks and concealed-carry licenses have skyrocketed because law-abiding citizens want to protect their families.
A report on MSNBC.com confirms "everything gun rights groups have been saying for years, that more armed citizens does not equate to increased violence, and actually coincides with a reduction in homicides."
Charles H. Haas, Clearwater