Amid charges that the United States was slow or stingy in its response to the South Asia tsunami disaster, radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh shot back that predominantly Muslim nations aren’t doing any better.
According to an Internet report, Limbaugh compared the $350 million in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />U.S. government aid to $10 million first put forth by Saudi Arabia. “That’s like an afternoon shopping spree in Paris for a member of the Saudi royal family,” noted Limbaugh. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Oil-rich Qatar gave $10 million, The United Arab Emirates $2.6 million, Kuwait $2 million, Libya $2 million and Turkey $1.25 million. Iran kicked in $627,000, a small fraction of what that country is spending for a nuclear-weapons program, the report alleged.
The conservative American isn’t the first to suggest that the Muslim world is doing too little, especially since many victims of the tragedy were also Muslims.
A Kuwaiti newspaper, Al Qabas, said its country deserves its reputation for stinginess. More than half of Kuwait’s labor force is made up of workers from India, Sri Lanka and other countries affected by the catastrophe. They are largely responsible for Kuwait’s economic strength, the newspaper charged, but few Kuwaitis seemed to care.
Stung by the charge, Kuwait’s government increased its contribution to tsunami relief from $2 million to $10 million. But the debate over Muslim charity spilled over into other countries as well.
Radio Free Europe said almost nobody agrees with the premise raised in the editorial. Inoyat Banglawala, press secretary of the Muslim Council of the United Kingdom, said many governments and private charities were initially slow to respond with aid pledges but followed up with more as the full scale of the tragedy became known.
That is what happened in the U.S. President Bush initially pledged $35 million dollars from the world’s largest economy. After public pressure, America upped its commitment tenfold.
Saudi Arabia has since tripled its official aid pledge to $30 million, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Saudi Arabia’s ruling royal family also ordered a telethon on state-controlled television to raise money for the victims. The Thursday telethon raised $44.5 million in its first 10 hours, including a $5.3 million donation from King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz
Muslim charities have been especially active in aid appeals.
Muslim Aid, Britain’s largest Muslim charity, allocated about $190,000 the day after the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami. By week’s end, that figure had grown to nearly $2 million.
Islamic Relief U.S.A. and ICNA Relief sought both monetary donations and volunteers for emergency rescue teams on a Web site.
One factor hindering donations in some Arab lands appeared to be a widespread belief that vacationers were swept away as a form of judgment on immoral or un-Islamic lifestyles, observed an article in the Washington Times.
“We know that at these resorts, which unfortunately exist in Islamic and other countries in South Asia, and especially at Christmas, fornication and sexual perversion of all kinds are rampant,” one cleric, Sheik Fawzan Al-Fawzan, was quoted as saying. “The fact that it happened at this particular time is a sign from Allah.”
Other factors cited were a lack of communication in non-democratic nations, where governments are not as responsive to the public, and reluctance in Arab culture to publicize donations for fear of sounding boastful.
The Independent Media Center used Limbaugh’s own figures to demonstrate that when adjusted as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product–the output of goods and services produced within a country–the U.S. is neither the least nor the most generous.
The $350 million in U.S. aid is .0033654 percent of a GDP of $10.4 trillion. That puts America ahead of Turkey and Iran but behind Saudi Arabia, Libya, UAE and Kuwait. Qatar’s $10 million gift is nearly .06 percent of the country’s GDP of $17.2 billion, topping the center’s “generosity” list.
While Rush Limbaugh criticized Arab states for lack of generosity, his brother, David Limbaugh, also a conservative commentator, accused the left of using tragedy for political purposes by saying the U.S. isn’t doing enough in tsunami relief.
“I suppose reasonable people can haggle over the comparative benevolence of helping to democratize and rebuild a nation such as Iraq and funneling relief monies to disaster victims,” Limbaugh wrote in is column Jan. 4. “But the fact that we are forced by leftist critics to dwell on such distracting issues is telling. Why should President Bush and Secretary Powell be pressured to spend their valuable time–part of which they could be spending on this very tragedy–justifying their decency and proving the altruism of this nation?”
“Is the Left so shackled by its own bitterness that it is compelled to dedicate more of its energy to finding fault with President Bush and the United States than in furtherance of the constructive causes for which it mouths support? If there is any shame to be assigned in this episode, it does not belong to President Bush, Secretary Powell or the United States of America.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.