Column | World’s reaction to humanitarian crises falls short

January 15, 2014 

The humanitarian crisis in Syria appears to be far worse than that created in Iraq, through the war of choice and deception by the leaders of the United States and the United Kingdom in the previous decade.

At that time, hospitals were destroyed or became otherwise nonfunctional, doctors were killed or self-exiled (often to Syria), and others hiding in cellars or under rubble, with medical attention for Iraqis nonexistent.

We have seen a shameful performance by other Arab states — with the exception of Kuwait —in providing humanitarian relief in Syria.

This speaks to the necessity for our nation to put pressure on other well-off countries to shoulder their fair share of the burden of humanitarian relief efforts around the world.

I recall that when the Banda Aceh tsunami took place in Indonesia, the United States was welcomed with open arms to send aid — and then it was just as abruptly invited to leave, because the United States wasn’t an Islamic nation. That would not have been so bad, except that further aid was not forthcoming from Islamic nations.

At the time, I was interested in the students from that part of the world attempting to collect money (from Americans) to aid tsunami victims.

I told them that I would contribute in a big way, but only in a specific sense, namely, by providing transportation for any contingent of these students to travel to Washington to petition the Saudi Arabian ambassador to commit to the idea that Saudi Arabia must share in the responsibility for aiding other Islamic countries in times of need.

You can guess where that idea flew. Right out the window.

The lame excuse was that under Islamic tradition, all charity is strictly a private matter, so the idea of a government revealing how much, if any, aid is given to anyone else is against Sharia law.

Interestingly, there are two organizations that should be mentioned in this light.

One is Islamic Relief USA, the other Muslim Aid, centered in the United Kingdom. That is, neither is located in an Islamic nation.

I have not found any reference to their helping out in Syria, though they appear to be somewhat active in Southeast Asia. But they seem not to be bound in charitable efforts by Sharia law.

In this regard, it is interesting that Ky. Sen. Rand Paul and other tea-party legislators have energetically opposed the United States giving aid to any Islamic nation, which they regard as our enemies. This is too drastic.

Like many of their initiatives, this is like taking an ax to perform a delicate surgery.

But for the moment, certainly the time has come for wealthy Islamic nations to become involved in international humanitarian efforts.

But more in the way of international shame within Western societies are two intriguing points.

A couple of years ago, I was collaborating with a very brilliant and well-informed colleague from Newfoundland, Canada, who at one point was focused on reading and listening to news accounts about the Iranian buildup of its nuclear capabilities. He then stated to me that the U.S. should act very quickly in limiting or destroying these efforts.

My immediate reply to him was sufficient, I believe, namely: “I think it’s time for the Canadians to act quickly, on behalf of the world in this crisis.”

What is this, that other nations are content to simply sit back on their duffs while expecting the United States to jump in and save the situation?

While the following remedy to this situation may be fraught with complexity, is it not reasonable that a nation such as Canada, which strongly feels that something should be done but doesn’t have the capacity to mount an effort by itself, might enter into an agreement to at least help shoulder the financial burden of such an enterprise as the U.S. otherwise sends its sons and daughters to shed their blood?

As things now stand, all that the U.S. gets in return for taking its stands is a big lot of adverse criticism from nations that rightly should be a part of such efforts.

I recently had the pleasure of traveling by automobile along the northern shore of Lake Ontario, in Canada. This area is extremely beautiful, with picturesque towns and villages throughout.

I could only feel profound sadness that the corresponding region, less than 50 miles away — the southern shore region of Lake Ontario in the United States — looks in many cases as if a neutron bomb had gone off, with many communities being in dire straits.

There are probably many reasons for this great contrast, but one of them, certainly, has to be that while Canada has concentrated upon quality of life, the U.S. has gone off to war, in many cases to fight for interests that were common with those of Canada.

Every year, a list of the best nations in the world in which to to live appears in a variety of news magazines. The results of polls vary in regard to which countries are best, depending upon the emphasis placed upon various indicators. But in almost all such polls (for instance, see Newsweek, Aug. 18, 2010) the best countries include Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Canada.

The question that has to be raised is: What are they doing to relieve the catastrophic humanitarian problems in Syria? (And Darfur, Congo and Somalia similarly, or Eritrea, Rwanda, Biafra ... and many others in earlier times.)

In speaking with a Danish woman — a brilliant scientist and a wonderful person —about this, she informed me that Denmark was too tiny a country to make any significant difference.

I responded: Hello! Is it beyond those nations to develop the idea of a coalition for international charity?

Call it the International League for Humanity, for example, with pro rata involvement of the wealthier non-aligned nations.

It seems clear that the time is now for the United States to take a stand toward making international humanitarian relief become truly international.

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