PETER BERGEN, in his Op-Ed contribution to the New York Times ( Brothers in Alms), wonder why Muslims are not helping fellow Muslims in crisis.
January 8, 2005, New York Times
By PETER BERGEN
AROUND the Islamic world it is common currency that Muslims
are perpetual victims of Western and Zionist conspiracies.
The bill of particulars includes the handling of prisoners
at Guant·namo Bay, Israel's inequitable treatment of the
Palestinians, and the deaths of thousands of civilians in
Iraq - as a result first of United Nations sanctions after
the Persian Gulf war, and more recently of the American
occupation. The most articulate spokesman of such views is,
of course, Osama bin Laden.
Yet when Muslims are suffering, it is usually the West, and
often the United States, that takes the lead in helping.
For instance, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in
1979, Washington mounted its largest covert aid program
since Vietnam to help the Afghan resistance; when Somalis
were starving in the early 1990's, President George H. W.
Bush sent 25,000 American troops to help relief efforts;
when Serbs were massacring Bosnian Muslims in the
mid-1990's President Bill Clinton (belatedly) directed the
United States Air Force to bomb Serbian positions, which
led to the Dayton accords.
More recently, it was the United States that overthrew the
tyrannical government of the Taliban, a regime recognized
only by three Muslim countries: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and
the United Arab Emirates. Other than Turkey, no Muslim
nation has sent troops to Afghanistan to help stabilize the
poorest country in the Islamic world (a few Muslim states,
including Jordan, offered token deployments but were turned
Now the same pattern - action by Western countries and
inertia from Muslim states - can be seen in the efforts to
provide relief for those hardest hit by the Indian Ocean
tsunami. While 100,000 of the victims are from Aceh, the
most Islamic of Indonesia's provinces, Muslim countries are
contributing a relative pittance. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is
contributing the most: a paltry $30 million, about the same
as what Netherlands is giving and less than one-tenth of
the United States contribution. And no Arab governments
participated in the conference in Jakarta on Thursday where
major donors and aid organizations conferred over
This anemic effort on the part of the richest countries is
emblematic of a wider political problem in the Islamic
world. For all of the invocations by Muslim leaders of the
ummah, or the global community of believers, they typically
do little to help their fellow Muslims in times of crisis.
Arab leaders and their toothless talking shops like the
Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference
are excellent at denouncing problems in Palestine and Iraq,
but most stood silent as a million died in the war between
Iraq and Iran during the 1980's. When President Hafez
al-Assad of Syria massacred some 20,000 people after an
Islamist uprising in the city of Hama in 1982, there were
no expressions of outrage from the Islamic Conference.
Egypt routinely tortures political prisoners, untroubled by
fears that other Arab leaders will seriously condemn such
Perhaps the generosity of Western countries will spur
Islamic states to recognize that invocations of religious
Muslim solidarity will do little to feed the millions of
Muslims who remain acutely vulnerable to disease and
starvation in the aftermath of this enormous natural
There have been a few positive signs in recent days.
Spurred by criticism, Saudi state-run television organized
a telethon this week that raised private pledges of more
than $75 million, and the Islamic Development Bank has
pledged $500 million.
Much remains to be done, however. The Persian Gulf
countries that are reaping a bonanza from record oil prices
should send a meaningful percentage of those windfall
profits to their fellow Muslims devastated by the tsunami,
rather than lining the pockets of their ruling families.
After all, zakat, the giving of charity, is one of the five
pillars of Islam.
Peter Bergen is a fellow of the New America Foundation and
an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University's School
of Advanced International Studies.