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Monday, January 03, 2005

Oil-rich nations fail to deliver when calamity strikes Muslims

By John Farmer
The tsunami that struck South Asia last week has cast an unflattering light on the Muslim world and the mindless hatred it fosters towards the West.

Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation on the globe, was also by far the greatest victim of the earthquake and tsunami that convulsed the Indian Ocean basin. Of the tens of thousands of fatalities, Indonesia suffered at least 90,000 deaths. It, in a sense, was truly an Islamic tragedy.

So where in its hour of need did the Islamic world turn for relief? To the hated West, of course.

While America was ponying up some $350 million and the nations of Western Europe pledged sums approaching $200 million by the last count, what were the oil-rich Muslim nations of the Middle East doing for their religious brethren? Not a whole hell of a lot. Kuwait, which owes its very existence to Western help when Saddam Hussein tried to swallow it whole and today is fat with $45-a-barrel oil profits, dug down deep but could initially find only a paltry $2 million in aid money.

Kuwait is typical. Qatar, which reportedly has offered some $35 million, is the exception. The super-rich Saudis could come up with only $10 million, and the rest of the Arab world has been slow to react, and niggardly with what help they have found it in their hearts to offer, if any.

It's all part of a piece in the Muslim world. From Egypt to Pakistan and in all Muslim nations in between, it has been politically easier to finger the West, and especially the United States, for the Muslim plight than to look inward at their own faults and failings. Their treatment of the Palestinians offers but one example.

The plight of the Palestinians cries out for help. But most of the help they get comes not from their wealthy Arab neighbors, but from the West and from international agencies. What the Palestinians primarily get from their Arab neighbors are subsidies to the families of suicide bombers and a lot of hot-air hatred for Israelis and Americans. The Saudis, for example, have for decades poured millions of dollars into the funding of Wahhabi mosques and schools and clerics who preach jihad against infidels, a k a Westerners in general and Americans in particular.

Will that change now with the huge Western and, more particularly, American participation in the tsunami rescue effort? Not likely. It's not in the Muslim mind-set to acknowledge Western good will or good intentions. The Serbian slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo, for example, was halted only by Western intervention, led by the American military; the Muslim Middle East was impotent to stop the genocide. But did that get the West or Washington any applause? We're still waiting.

So deep are the feelings of inferiority that afflict the Muslim societies of the Middle East (especially in the face of Israeli success) that they cannot accept responsibility for their own failings. Better to blame America and the West than to question the backwardness they endure in the name of Islamic or religious rigidity. One would hope that their helplessness in the face of the tsunami suffering of their co-religionists in South Asia would open the eyes of Middle East Muslims to their own inadequacy. But don't bet on it. It's easier to blame the rich Americans for being too slow with help.

George W. Bush has taken few hits even here at home for his tardy reaction to the crisis. It's true that Bush wasn't quick off the mark (he never is, really), but on this score he's taking a bum rap. Everyone was slow to react, largely because first estimates of the casualty rate were low, as few as 20,000. Only after a day or two did the world begin to grasp the dimensions of the tragedy.

And the scale of American aid is hardly measured by the $350 million Bush has offered. Two Navy battle groups, whose operations cost American taxpayers millions of dollars per day, have been dispatched to the stricken regions with supplies and thousands of personnel. Equally important is the fleet of American helicopters made available to ferry water and food to remote areas of Sri Lanka and especially the isolated islands of Indonesia. As the days go by and the rescue mission mounts, the role of the American military in aiding the Muslims of South Asia will only grow in size and scope.

This, as even the most radical of Middle East Muslims must realize privately, is a job only the American Superpower can handle. Whether they'll credit American generosity, however, or continue to see us as the "Great Satan," is another matter.