Friday, 13 August 2010

The Crescent, the Cross and the State: healthy competition?

I am not certain whether the Islamist spin machine wrote about Christian charities allegedly abducting children from earthquake struck Haiti. Or squeal about claims that Christian missionaries in many parts of the world 'bribe' the poor with meals in order to convert to Christianity.
Nevertheless, Islamist charities operating in flood affected areas of Pakistan are being portrayed as a renewed threat to the state by the mainstream media. Similar reporting was spurred by the October 2005 earthquake. At the time, President Musharraf faced stern calls from sections of the international community to ban several Islamist charities working in the earthquake zones. He resisted.
I might be wrong but charitable work is normally associated with religious devotion. It is a positive aspect of almost every religion, Islam and Christianity included. There must be many of Christian charities doing good work all over the world. (I myself entered the world at Karachi's Holy Family Hospital. A hospital established in 1948 by the Medical Mission Sisters, a Roman Catholic religious order for women based in the United Stated.)
Islamic charities too have a place in the world, not just in Muslim countries. Compassion and kindness, like art and science, knows no artificially constructed borders.
A canal on the Indus River, in more normal times

For people made destitute by the flooding of the Indus River, any help is worthwhile. Most families are more concerned with rebuilding their lives, less interested in determining whether the cash came from a Christian charity (many are active in Pakistan), a multilateral organization, the Pakistan government or an Islamic charity. Pakistani Rupees have no ideological colour per se.
For commentators to harp on about Islamic charities allegedly associated with this or that 'terrorist' group focuses on details at the expense of the real issue.
Firstly, why is the Pakistan government infrastructure unable to provide sufficient relief to the affected areas, thus creating a breach which 'dubious' charities eagerly fill? Secondly, if these charities are indeed associated with 'anti-state' elements then where do they receive their funding?
The long term solution lies in improving the Pakistani state's machinery to respond to disasters and, simultaneously, implementing preventive policies such as sustainable water management measures; and, of course, in regulating charities through a robust, enforceable legal framework.
A 'Red Crescent' stamp issued by Turkey in 1928

For the international media to focus on the work of religious charities is an insult to the people affected by the tragedy. Viewing personal tragedy through an ideological prism only furthers a 'Clash of Civilizations' mentality.
Few will argue that a flag flying the Crescent or the Cross looks best guiding an army of charitable workers – not inspiring soldiers marching off to war. The volunteers of East London's Christian Mission, known today as the Salvation Army, know this fact only too well.

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