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Friends in need

In the face of the greatest tragedies, the Muslim ummah remains silent, while western charities and public spring into motion

 

Anees Jillani

It is said that a friend in need is a friend indeed. The tsunami struck in the morning and a Japanese team of doctors and nurses were on their way to Indonesia and Thailand by that evening. The same day, Australia's Foreign Minister promised to send seven million dollars (increased to $30 million at the time of writing). India, itself a tsunami victim, sent over a dozen helicopters the same evening. The British, German and some other European governments followed suit. Canada has donated more than $30 million and USA pledged $360 million.

But where on earth has the Ummah gone? The President of Pakistan made a brief reference to the disaster in his recent speech and the government declared support of $100,000. This, from the world's seventh nuclear power, with missiles capable of reaching targets thousands of miles away, for a disaster of this magnitude to neighbouring countries that are also South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) members, from the current SAARC Chair. Surely, we can do better than this. The least we could do is to send troops to rescue victims and help restoration efforts.

But then, our response has always been pathetic. During the Bam earthquake in Iran, it took our army medical team almost three weeks to reach the place, although Bam is situated just across Balochistan and the British with their sniffing dogs were there within 24 hours. When will we stop playing `plot-plot' in our defence housing societies and wake up to our responsibilities in the world community? Or is our job confined to issuing identical condolence statements issued within minutes, drafted by a section officer. Why does the media even report these statements. Or is our job and for that matter the whole of ummah confined to simply exporting jihad? And where are the tabligis - who should concentrate more on the humanitarian aspects of life than the length of their pyjamas.

But why single out Pakistan, when the oil rich Arab countries appear unmoved? Among the richest countries in the world, they have donated relatively meagre amounts -- Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE have together pledged $22 million.

It is at times like these that one cannot help saluting Westerners. I was in North Carolina one Christmas Eve when a local television channel on its six o'clock news showed a homeless family shivering without adequate clothes. By ten o'clock, the same channel made a fervent appeal to stop sending stuff for this family - the TV channel already had two rooms full to the roof with warm clothing and food items donated within four hours by local residents.

Whether Rwanda, Bosnia, Afghanistan or the tsunami, it is only the West and Japan who respond. Our job is confined to raising objections and demanding more. We hold out our begging bowl and are willing to accept aid and grants from any country of the world to conduct our immunisation programmes and to run our schools properly, but have the nerve to conduct nuclear tests and undertake missile launches with our own money.

Bosnian women were being raped for months and the entire Islamic world watched in silence. It was only the West that eventually came to their rescue. Afghanistan bled for more than ten years after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops while the West adopted a hands-off policy, particularly after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. All we could give Afghanistan was more land mines and sub-machine guns to fight each other. We did not bother to build a single school, hospital or bridge during the five years of Taliban rule.

The British public, in the past four days, has donated 25 million pounds to help the tsunami victims. The West has proven time and again that it responds to human needs anywhere in the world regardless of colour, nationality or religion. Our concern is confined to fellow Muslims but most times even that is confined to simple condolence messages; as for the rest, behead them because they are not going to heaven anyway. 

The writer is a freelance contributer.

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