One-fifth of a nation under water. Twenty million people displaced. Eight million in need of water, shelter, or other emergency help. At least sixteen hundred killed. Millions facing years of destitution. A natural disaster of cataclysmic proportions, with unimaginable human suffering. But are the floods in Pakistan dominating our news? No. With a few exceptions (such as PBS, which has led with the Pakistan disaster day after day), our news is dominated by a dispute over where a future religious center should be located in Manhattan.
By late last week American individuals had contributed only $50,000 in private relief aid for Pakistan. At a comparable point after the Haiti earthquake, American individuals had given $34 million. Granted, the Haitian death toll was much higher and Haiti is much closer geographically than Pakistan, but Pakistan is of great strategic importance. It is the world’s second largest Muslim nation. It has nuclear weapons. The stability of its government is crucial for our own security. Its territory is used by al Qaida and other extremist groups that employ terrorist methods against American and other Western targets.
What links the two stories: the muted American reaction to the floods in Pakistan and the dispute over the mosque?
In both cases there is the danger that Muslims will see a pattern of disrespect. They could see Americans as not caring about Muslims suffering in Pakistan, and as not respecting the wishes of Muslims as to where they want to build an Islamic center. Both of these perceptions of disrespect are great recruiting tools for al Qaida.
If Americans really cared about the “war on terrorism,” really cared about depriving al Qaeda of propaganda victories, then Americans of all faiths would show Muslims respect. They would not treat the Muslim religion as suspect. They would not say that a Muslim house of worship near Ground Zero somehow sullies hallowed ground. And they would open their hearts and their pocketbooks to the millions of Muslims in Pakistan who face enormous suffering.
(Photo: Church Times, UK)