Friday, December 23, 2005

The Real Acts of God

Monday will mark the first anniversary of the great Asian tsunami that killed an estimated 300,000 people from Thailand to east Africa. It was the worst, but not the only, natural catastrophe to decimate broad areas of that hemisphere. Early this past autumn, a powerful earthquake struck northeastern Pakistan, killing at least 87,000 and leaving hundreds of thousands of others vulnerable to a harsh winter.
These twin disasters had at least two things in common. Each struck a predominately Muslim area of the world and the first and most generous responder in each case was the Christian world.
I can't know what proportion of Muslim clerics preached that earthquakes, tsunamis or hurricanes represent Allah's vengeance wreaked upon an impious world. But we do know that many did.
It's similar to what happens when a disaster strikes this country. The media will run to Jerry Falwell or Al Gore's old buddy, Fred Phelps, of fame, who can usually be relied upon to blame American decadence for provoking God's punishment in the form of a tragedy, natural or man-made.
Environmentalists invoke their own weird faith to explain things, but it doesn't get enough airtime. The media are very protective of those who think as they do.
While the tragedies themselves may have satisfied these hateful clerics' fondest dreams, the aftermath was their worst nightmare. First and most generous on the scene after both catastrophes were representatives of Christian nations that the clerics had taught their adherents to hate. Americans, Britains, Australians, Canadians, Japanese and continental Europeans poured money and personnel into the affected regions distributing food, water, blankets and shelter. What most victims saw from their fulminating Muslim brothers was - nothing.
Imagine the contrast. Here on one side the victims of these disasters have their own imams telling them that their misery is Allah's doing, while on the other hand, their suffering is being ameliorated by supposed infidels.
And, it's having an effect. While polls are generally loathed in this corner of the paper, one did catch my eye this past week. According to A. C. Nielson, America's standing in the Muslim world has soared. Since May, Pakistanis who think favorably of the United States has doubled to 46%. Meanwhile, those holding unfavorable views have declined just as dramatically, to 28%. In Indonesia, 65% of Muslims have a more favorable opinion of the United States since last year's tsunami.
Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden's standing has suffered, as 73% believe that his style of terrorist attacks on civilians are never justified. His disapproval numbers have nearly doubled among Pakistanis.
And perhaps equally as informative are the anecdotes. In Pakistan, the new favorite toy among the children is the Chinook helicopter painted in US colors. The huge, heavy lift two rotor Chinook has become the workhorse of the earthquake relief effort. We happened to have quite a few of them next door in Afghanistan.
An imam was all but booed and hissed out of his mosque by his flock when he launched into one of those clichéd anti-US rants that had come to pass for sermons in the Muslim world.
Clearly we are winning the war on both fronts - on the battlefield and in the hearts of those we touch. John Murtha, John Dean and all their acolytes are fools.
But expediency is not the reason we should give assistance where it is needed, regardless of faith. We should do it just because it's the right thing to do. What the heck! We even fed the Soviet Union when their public policy was our burial. But it's nice to know that we do reap tangible rewards when we sow kindness.
While we must forever remain vigilant and are fully justified in defending ourselves against those who intend us the gravest harm, we should drain the swamp these vermin breed in and refill it with charity and wherever possible, democracy.
I personally do not approve of referring to such natural tragedies as earthquakes, hurricane and tsunamis as "acts of God," as it implies a sort of vindictiveness that I do not believe that the God I pray to intends. The real acts of God in these events are the unconditional generosity that animates us to send so much to people whose most prominent spokesmen advocate our extermination. In the end, it does both sides good.
Merry Christmas.


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