Mark Steyn: Coalition of the giving
10 January 2005
WE have Agence France Presse to thank for both the most striking headline and photograph of the tsunami devastation. The headline was "Tsunami Devastates DiCaprio", and for a moment I couldn't quite place the island: DiCaprio? One of the lesser known Maldives? Wasn't there an old Gracie Fields song – "'Twas on the isle DiCaprio that I found you?" Has Kofi Annan been flown over the devastated DiCaprio so he can marvel rhetorically: "Where have all the people gone?"
Well, they're his agent and hairdresser and they've gone to lunch. The devastated DiCaprio turned out to be Leonardo of that ilk, making a few observations on the catastrophe during a promotional visit to Rome. And in his own way he was indeed devastated. He's believed to have given $US1 million ($1.32 million) to disaster relief, as has Sandra Bullock. Michael Schumacher has given $US10 million.
For purposes of comparison, Herr Schumacher's donation is the same as that of oil-rich Kuwait. As for even oil-richer Iran, its Government has earmarked $US627,000 for disaster relief.
For purposes of further comparison, that's barely a twentieth of what was raised at the Sydney Opera House concert this weekend. Today's all-star cricket match between a World XI and an Asian XI at the MCG will do more for the beleaguered Muslims of Banda Aceh than Libya, Syria and Egypt combined.
In fairness to the Saudis, they've just upped their pledge to $US30 million. But for purposes of one final comparison, consider this: a single Saudi telethon in 2002 managed to raise $US56 million. That was for widows and orphans of Palestinian suicide bombers, those deceased as well as those yet to blow. It seems nothing gets the wealthy elite of Riyadh and Jeddah adding the zeroes to the cheques like self-detonating on an Israeli bus.
As for the most striking photograph of this disaster, it's by AFP's Jimin Lai. I haven't seen it in any of the papers, oddly enough. It shows a tsunami-devastated village in Galle on the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka: a couple of rescuers are carrying away a body while, behind them, smack dab in the centre of the picture, a young man looks on. He's wearing an Osama bin Laden T-shirt.
I gave up worrying "Why do they hate us?" on the evening of September 11, 2001. But, if I were that Osodden bin Loser guy watching the infidels truck in water, food, medical supplies and emergency clothing for villagers whose jihad-chic T-shirt collection was washed out to sea, I might ask myself a more pertinent question: "Why do they like us?"
The path of the tsunamis tracked the arc of the Muslim world, from Sumatra to Somalia; the most devastated country is the world's most populous Muslim nation, and the most devastated part of that country is the one province living under the strictures of sharia.
But, as usual, when disaster strikes it's the Great Satan and his various Little Satans who leap to respond. In the decade before September 11, the US military functioned, more or less exclusively, as a Muslim rapid reaction force – coming to the aid of Kuwaiti Muslims, Bosnian Muslims, Somali Muslims and Albanian Muslims. Since then, with the help of its Anglo-Australian allies, it's liberated 50 million Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.
That's not how the West's anti-war movements see it. I found myself behind a car the other day bearing the bumper sticker, "War Is Costly. Peace Is Priceless" – which is standard progressive generic autopilot boilerplate, that somehow waging war and doing good are mutually exclusive. But you can't help noticing that when disaster strikes, it's the warmongers who are also the compassion-mongers. Of the top six donor nations to tsunami relief, four are members of George W. Bush's reviled "coalition of the willing".
What was it the Romans said? "If you seek peace, prepare for war." It's truer than they know. It's because Australia's prepared for war that it can do all the feelgood humanitarian stuff – such as landing 10 army engineers in Banda Aceh to attach a mobile filtration system to the decrepit mains pipes and thereby not merely restore the water supply but improve it.
But it goes beyond that, beyond even John Howard's spectacular billion-dollar pledge. Most citizens in the West look at the tsunami's victims and recognise our common humanity. When a chap is pulled down from a tree to survey the wreckage of his home and learn of the loss of his family, we see him first as our fellow man – a man in need. And if, afterwards, we happen to spot the sopping Osama T-shirt, we tactfully agree to overlook it – which is why I haven't seen that Sri Lankan AFP photo in any Western newspapers.
By contrast, Muslim leaders divide the world into the Dar al-Islam and everybody else. Yet the deaths of 100,000 members of the club in Banda Aceh alone isn't enough to catch the eye of the big shots in the Arab world. The Arab world's principal contribution these past two weeks has been the usual paranoia: "Was it caused by American, Israeli and Indian nuclear testing?" wondered Mahmoud Bakri in the Egyptian weekly Al Usbu. "The three most recent tests appeared to be genuine American and Israeli preparations to act together with India to test a way to liquidate humanity."
Colin Powell was foolish to suggest that, in its response to this crisis, the Muslim world would come to appreciate the true nature of the US. Fat chance. "It's OK that aid from the US is here," said Hilmy Bakar Almascaty, spokesman for the Islamic Defender Front. "But if they open bars, sell alcohol or open prostitution centres, then we will fight them." Almascaty also warned the Australian charity Youth Off the Streets that its plan to open homes for 35,000 Indonesian orphans was all very well, but on no account was it to try converting Muslim children. Jeez, man, would it kill you once in a while just to send a box of chocolates and a card saying "Thank you, you infidel sons of whores and pigs", and leave it at that?
But one day the smarter lads in the Osama T-shirts will begin to wonder what they're getting in return for their glorification of a multimillionaire whose followers these days spend most of their time killing Muslims – in Iraq, in Turkey, in Saudi Arabia, even in Indonesia. With friends like that, who needs tsunamis?
It shouldn't be necessary to point out the good deeds of Australia and its allies these past two weeks. But it is, because of the grand panjandrums of Western self-loathing. Peter Jennings, the smug Canadian who anchors America's ABC News (which is broadcast on Sky News Australia at 10.30am AEST), reported the other day that "in the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf, citizens are being urged to do more . . . Ironically, the controls on Muslim charities after 9/11 may be keeping contributions down."
Ah, yes. If it weren't for the US cracking down on Saudi money-laundering to terrorists, Sumatrans would be able to wallpaper their new homes with Arab cheques. Maybe it's time for the western self-loathers – Jennings, The Guardian, Melbourne Age cartoonist Bruce Petty – to ask themselves: Why do we hate us?
Mark Steyn is a columnist with Britain's Telegraph group and a regular contributor to The Australian's Opinion page.