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Tsunami Bridges the Divide

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Another excellent article on bridging the differences between peoples in the face of great diversity and calamity in spirte of the hurdles some try to erect. Underneath, people are the same everywhere. Peace

 

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Forget the misinterpretations, tsunami bridges the divide

By Abdullah Al Madani, Special to Gulf News | 09/01/2005 |

 

At the time when millions in the world were lighting candles, performing prayers or launching relief efforts for the victims of the December 26, 2004 Asian tsunami, a few Arab/Muslim figures and websites were busy debating the disaster's cause and consequences from religious or ideological perspectives.

 

For example, a leading member of the Islamic political current in Jordan had nothing to comment but to state that the disaster was a punishment from God for regimes cooperating with the West in targeting Jihadi groups, arguing that supporting these groups and embracing true Islam would be the only solution to avoid such disastrous events in the future. But he did not explain why the tsunami hit millions of poor, innocent people, who had nothing to do with politics and targeted, in particular, areas known for Muslim insurgencies such as the Indonesian region of Aceh and Thailand's southern provinces.

 

Not far from this opinion, a prominent Saudi cleric had come out with a theory stating that the fact that the tsunami coincided with the celebration of Christmas indicated that God wanted to punish the "Christian crusaders" - who, according to him, use the occasion to host wild, sinful parties. The cleric probably does not know that the great majority of people in tsunami-stricken countries are not Christians.

 

In response to a Malaysian seeking a fatwa on whether it was permissible for Muslims in this extraordinary catastrophic situation to send their Zakat (alms) to non-Muslim victims of the tsunami, an African national professor of jurisprudence at the Malaysia-based International Islamic University opposed the idea. He said that only in the case of the donor being assured that recipients would convert to Islam it might be permissible. What a shameful trade!

 

An Islamic website hastened to correctly brief its visitors on tsunami's history and cause and the method developed to accurately predict it. But this was followed by a map of the Arabian Peninsula with the words "What a miracle" at the top. The covert conclusion here is that the peninsula, unlike other regions, is immune to natural disasters because it hosts Islam's holiest shrines. But has not it been suffering from another form of disaster in recent years, represented by terrorist attacks?

 

Besides, some Arab and Muslim individuals have resorted to conspiracy theories to explain the tsunami. To them, it was a result of Washington secretly conducting massive nuclear tests underneath the Indian Ocean with the aim of hurting rising Asian powers and making it more difficult for them to compete with the United States.

 

Largest relief operation

 

The good news, however, is that the international community, including many Muslim and Arab governments, organisations, and groups, are increasingly showing solidarity with the tsunami-stricken countries through what is described as the largest relief operation in history. Besides, many liberal Arab and Muslim individuals have strongly and indiscriminately voiced their sympathy towards all Asian victims, making the aforementioned ill-judgements worthless.

 

Another good development is that the tsunami tragedy seems to be bridging the divide among ethnic groups in Asia, something that could pave the way for peace and stability in the continent. Examples can be derived from Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand. In Sri Lanka, a country that has been torn for the last 20 years by a civil war between the Tamil minority and the Sinhalese majority, Tamil Tiger rebels and the Colombo government now cooperate with each other in relief works.

 

In an unprecedented move, notorious rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran sent his condolences to the Sinhalese, calling them "our brethren in the south", and urged his militants to cooperate with government forces. In return, President Chandrika Kumaratunga ordered her government and army to work side by side with the rebels, who had acknowledged suffering massive losses, rather than attack or arrest them.

 

In Indonesia, Muslim rebels belonging to the Free Aceh Movement, a group that has been at war with Jakarta since the late 1970s, appear to have lost a lot of cadre and equipment, making them seek cooperation with the government.

 

Jakarta, which had virtually sealed off Aceh to foreigners, opened the region up to foreign civil and military relief operations for the first time.

 

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono hoped that the disaster and the consequent ceasefire declaration by the government would bring the two parties closer and convince the Acehnese guerrillas to lay down their weapons.

 

And in predominantly Buddhist Thailand, where only Muslim southern provinces have been severely hit by the tsunami, government and non-government organisations hastened to collect funds and operate unprecedented relief campaigns. With this, observers believe that tensions between Thai Muslims and central authorities that have worsened in recent months due to Bangkok's security measures against separatist rebels could disappear. Moreover, with humanitarian assistance flowing to devastated countries from the neighbouring Asian states, bilateral and collective relations are expected to strengthen.

 

Malaysia's solidarity with Thailand, for example, could eliminate recent differences between the two neighbours in the background of Bangkok's accusation of Kuala Lumpur being linked to the Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand. Similarly, India's efforts to help badly-affected Sri Lanka despite its own suffering from the tsunami created a greater confidence-building opportunity for the two states, whose relations have been up and down due to the Tamil problem and Colombo's suspicions of New Delhi's regional aspirations. Without negating the dreadful loss of life and hardships that have and will be incurred by many hundreds of thousands, the tsunami has generated what is called earthquake diplomacy, something that could have a profound positive effect on peace and stability in Asia.

 

Let us not forget that it was earthquake diplomacy that led to détente between Turkey and Greece. The August and October 1999 earthquakes in the Turkish Marmara region and Athens, respectively, sparked a wave of solidarity between the two nations. This created a new climate in their bilateral relations that ultimately ended centuries of hostility and mistrust.

 

Abdullah Al Madani is a Bahrain-based Gulf researcher and writer on Asian affairs. He can be contacted at aelmadani[at]gulfnews

 

© Al Nisr Publishing LLC - Gulf News Online | contact editor[at]gulfnews

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PropellerAds

Nice article, shows the hypocrisy in people these days, especially in the Middle East, this ignorance bits us back.

 

Glad to see that cooperation between the rebels and their enemies, hopefully it will ease things between them.

 

Thanks for the article.

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