The Asian Tsumani catastrophe was one of he greatest human tragedies of our times. As history will be written primarily by the powerful and those that control mass media, various angles will emerge…
One of the more ‘controversial' talked about issues was the nature of aid and in particular the so-called ‘stinginess and slow response' of the Muslim world and oil rich states like Saudi Arabia and middle east nations. Many news items dedicated time to the so-called ‘stinginess' of Arabs and Muslims. I happened to be on the Hajj and the tsunami was a traumatic moment for us all, especially countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India who regularly send hundreds of thousands of Hajjees-so the pain and suffering was close and palpable. I also followed the news closely especially the daily Arab News which gave fairly good coverage……
When the tsunami news broke on 26 December and the early 2 days later, no one knew the scale of the disaster and not one country acted. In fact the US's first contributing was just $ 10mil. and then upped up over the days. As the full horror of the tragedy become known after a week, only then did the UN convene a major conference and major powers US/EU/Japan took the lead. It was interesting to observe how first world north aid was given prominence over others in the south….
As many nations in the Western north began briskly raising monies through formal, informal channels and the internet, many news network and internet groups began questioning the slow and stingy response of Muslim Gulf States and their small and slow contributions. Khaled Almaeena editor of Arab News presented an excellent response and political context on why muslims and Arabs were initially ‘slow' in raising monies for tsunami victims. Imagine if you were a Saudi and Arab and in the last 3 years since 9-11 as citizens you were hounded by the West and all your charities are constatnly accused of funding terrorism – naturally you would be hesitant. The fact is that most Saudis, and Muslim citizens were unsure how to respond… If you had any doubts about the stinginess, then take comfort. When citizens got permission a week later by the Saudi government, the Saudi Broadcast corporation (SBC) gave had a public fundraising by way of a major live telethon was and local Saudis and expatriate citizens raised a whopping $80 million in just one night! This was more than any other nation- and just one night. The Riyadh stadium was a buzz with ordinary citizens across the spectrum pledging money, children donating savings and women donating their gold jewellery for tsunami victims.
Major corporations like Saudi Oger (which owns 60% of Cell C) pledged over $40 million riyals in one night. Even King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah gave $ 10 million and$ 5 million dollars respectively. The very next day, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) made $500 million dollars immediately available for tsunami relief effort- more than any other Aid institution in the world!
1. Non coverage of Muslim generosity of Tsunami relief effort.
But! strangely enough this item hardly ever got coverage and made any news headlines on CNN,BBC, and local SA news. Instead the Australian concert that raised a much lower figure of $12 million dollars and US corporations like Cisco and Microsoft who gave much less then Saudi Oger got full time and prime coverage on BBC and other news networks… do not get me wrong. I am no apologist for the Saudi govt and we all know is totally dependent on the west for its security,political direction, industrial and commercial goods. So the ummah has a long long and in fact we must continuous to have the right to criticise any Muslim government without fear of reprisal or even loss of ‘dawah dollars'.
However, at the same time we must give credit where its due and the relief monies given and the general must be acknowledged. It is true that in Islam when the right hand gives the left hand should not know. But when Islam is systematically maligned and its social responsibility downplayed, then we are duty bound to correct the lies and falsehoods. Its only when we operate forms this principled basis can we reform the ummah and path of progress.
However, it was too late as the mainstream view throughout the tsunami coverage was that Muslims/Arabs were seen as being stingy while this was very untrue.. It is much easier for citizens in western democracies to get to organise rallies and community fundraisers and donate online- as they live in free societies. By contrast, in the Muslim world where societies are closed and all forms of basic social organising, community and , political expression activism, it is much more difficult to organise fundraisers.. In these difficult conditions and with the ever present accusation of ‘Muslim charities funding terror', one can be proud that Muslims indeed played a generous and stoic role. There is no doubt that major western news agencies and networks marginalized and downplayed the Muslim and third world contribution to the Tsunami. We now do our homework and the role of our press is now to monitor the aid and ensure that the aid goes it goes to the right people- and not bureaucrats, businessmen and politicians. Any suggestions?
2. Post Tsunami's Realpolitik, Geopolitics and Underdevelopment
The good side reality is that the Tsumani crisis has seen given humanity an opportunity to show global solidarity of all human citizens- north south east of west! Whether it was UK citizens who raised 100 million pounds, Germans and Scandinavian raised over $500 million dollars and Saudi citizens raising a whopping $ 80 million dollars in just one night, and south African once again displaying their generosity, humans acted our of sympathy.
The dark side and disappointment, apart form the sheer horror of the natural tragedy itself, some insight not the political mechanisations of major and regional powers. Let us briefly assess the behaviour of major powers and global institutions playing their politics.Firstly, we must get the real perspective on Aid, trade, and ‘development' . The figure of about $ 4 billion of ‘Aid money' is pittance. In the great daily injustice of our times, the major powers suck in over $ 200 billion dollars of interest on third world debt each year! (I.e. the poor subsidising the rich!)So a few billion they gave in Aid was merely pocket change. In fact the very monies Indonesia is now getting in Aid from the west is probably its very own money as it has been paying the west all along in interest on its debt! (Indonesia pays $ 5 billion dollars a year to the IMF in interest, much it debts owned by the brutal Suharto dictatorship!) In fact the Tsunami victim countries would need billions of dollars over the next decades to rebuild all their destroyed infrastructure. The danger is that the same old cycle of new World Bank loans going to large US/European constructions firms who will again get lucrative contracts, built large projects and again plunge these poor countries in debt. The very same corporates like Bechtel, ABB, Halliburton who are now doing business in Iraq et al are probably drawing up business plans on the funeral pyres of tsunami victims!
While the full scale of the horror was unfolding, Bush was playing cowboy on his ranch in Crawford and the Blair on family holiday in Egypt. They did not cut short their holiday plans….
3. A brief Geo-political grid analysis of Tsunami
The USA seized the Tsunami moment to re-assert its hegemony in SE Asia In fact it saw an opportunity to show the world that it can give relief to the worlds most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia. Critiques like George Monbiot pointed out that US ‘compassion' is a double edged sword- Whilst the US marines who were just a few weeks ago butchering civilians in Fallujah , they now try and show the world they are compassionate by providing food in Asia. What hypocrisy!
Australian interest is that it is the closest neighbour to Indonesia and as a gung-ho member of he US led invasion of Iraq, the tsunami gave it a wonderful opportunity to show it 'does care for Muslims and the third world'. As most of its aid went to charities like the missionary World Vision, even the Indonesians were becoming suspicious. Its citizens however played a commendable role. The UK also gave generous aid but most of its effort were first to rescue its own citizens. India's response was most interesting as it was the only country to officially turn down all aid and in the spirit of Asian ‘solidarity and self-reliance, India itself gave aid to other countries affected by the tsunami. Pakistan played a generous role by offering all countries aid. Japan actually provided the most aid- over $ 500 million dollars and for the first time since world war 2,deployed active troops in the region. China provided monetary, technical aid and an army of doctors and aid workers. Its interesting to note all these regional powers were engaged in very sophisticated power plays and politics of influence….
Although the tsunami and the political manoeuvrings were sad and disturbing, the light at the end of the tunnel was that global citizens- from whatever country, nation, religion, class, gender were united in their humanity and generosity and love. In fact the tsunami was a turning point in that global citizen's developed a new solidarity and moral epicentre that trumped politicians and united humanity. Mother had and will always have the last say… Ends