Tsunami Aid: Unlikely to Win Hearts and Minds

Colin Powell hopes that the aid the United States is giving to countries hit by the tsunami will turn the tide of anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world: “If people will look at our actions and look at the subsequent results of those actions, and we see a democracy in Afghanistan and hopefully one in Iraq as well, people will judge us by what we end up accomplishing, and the anti-American feeling that we have seen in various parts of the world over the past year and a half will start to dissipate.”

Unfortunately, the South African Mufti Ebrahim Desai has made a statement that, had Powell known of it, might have diminished his confidence in the effect of the aid. The questioner asked (spelling as in the original): “The west is often criticised by Muslims for many reasons??¢â???¬ ¦But shouldnt the west also recieve praise because??¢â???¬ ¦they r usually the first to send aid when theres a flood??¢â???¬ ¦so should we appreciate their efforts or not?”

Desai’s answer was brief: “In simple the Kuffaar [unbelievers] can never be trusted for any possible good they do. They have their own interest at heart.”

One man’s opinion? Sure. But it is an opinion with deep roots in Islamic tradition, and it would therefore be na???? ¯ve to dismiss it. The Qur’an contains a warning against those who turn “in friendship to the Unbelievers” and says that if Muslims had really believed in Allah, they never would they have taken unbelievers “for friends and protectors” (5:80-81). It also tells Muslims that “never will the Jews or the Christians be satisfied with thee unless thou follow their form of religion” (2:120).

These are words that Powell should consider carefully. They lead them to regard the relief efforts not as a sign of American goodwill, but as part of a larger plan to subvert Islam. Statements by Muslim leaders blaming the disaster on the area Muslims’ non-observance of Islam should likewise cause ears to perk up at State. “God is angry with Aceh people, because most of them do not do what is written in the Qur’an and the Hadith,” said Indonesian imam Cut Bukhaini. “I hope this will lead all Muslims in Aceh to do what is in the Qur’an and its teachings. If we do so, God will be merciful and compassionate.”

It’s a recurring phenomenon of Islamic history: when disaster of any kind strikes, it is all too frequently interpreted as having been caused by a failure on the part of the people to be Islamic enough. So the result is a renewed fervor, and new miseries for non-Muslims inside and often also outside the Islamic state in question. It is beginning to look as if the tsunami may be another occasion of this. There is nothing wrong with focusing and reforming one’s actions in the face of the reality of death; the potential problem here is that when the Muslims “wake up,” as they are being called to do now in Indonesia, they will direct their attentions not only to matters of individual piety, but to that other Muslim obligation, jihad.

After Mt. Tambora erupted in 1815, killing 100,000, a Christian Science Monitor report notes that “imams on the northwest coast of Java preached that the eruption was a sign of Allah’s displeasure at infidel rule, and urged a violent jihad, according to Sartono Kartodirdjo, an Indonesian historian.”

Likewise, after the eruption of Mt. Krakatoa in 1883, according to historian Simon Winchester, “the Dutch made this superhuman effort to bring relief to the area because they were aware of the significance of the event and that the Muslim clerics were quickly making political capital from the event.” But the relief changed no hearts: Muslims mounted a violent assassination campaign against Dutch officials.

Does this mean that the U.S. shouldn’t aid the tsunami victims? No. But if Colin Powell expects that we will win hearts and minds by doing so, he is manifesting the same myopia about jihad and Islam that led State to underestimate and dismiss the Ayatollah Khomeini, to treat jihad terrorism as a matter for criminal law enforcement, and to make scores of other blunders that could have been avoided if anyone had been willing to throw off their politically correct blinders long enough to face the realities of the situation. U.S. officials should be prepared for the very real possibility that the tsunami aid, paradoxically enough, will only increase resentment and hatred of America — and not allow themselves to be blindsided.