Thursday, September 29, 2011

Do Muslims Really Care About Somalia?

If they do, here's how they can save the country from famine.


A young, rail-thin, and gaunt Somali woman, cradling her starving child in her arms, looks straight into the camera. Her eyes are dead; she has seen too much suffering. "Where are the Muslim countries?" she asks. "We are dying."
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The image is haunting, and her words keep coming back, though they were broadcast on the BBC a few weeks ago now. Her plea is real. The richest Muslims in the world live just across the waters in the Gulf states, where billions of dollars are spent on indoor skiing facilities, artificial islands to host luxury hotels and water parks, and frolicking in yachts and faux European villas. There is never a dearth of funds for magnificent mosques, but when it comes to alleviating the mass starvation of a people, Muslims are coming up short.
The only head of state or government to have visited Somalia since the famine began is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As if to emphasize the need to show support, he brought along his wife and his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Erdogan also demonstrated that instability is no excuse for not aiding Somalis; he presided over the reopening of Turkey's Mogadishu embassy after two decades of its being shuttered. Other Muslim leaders, however, are conspicuous by their absence, ignoring the Quranic command to show charity and compassion to the poor and needy.
Erdogan has also put his money where his mouth is. In contrast with Saudi Arabia ($50 million), Kuwait ($41.4 million), and the United Arab Emirates ($40 million through a recent telethon), Turkey has raised $300 million and secured an additional $350 million in pledges from countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Even traditionally generous countries like the United States have been lukewarm in their assistance (about $130 million). This money, and more, needs to be sent without delay, as the United Nations requires $1 billion for the most immediate needs. With seasonal rains approaching, more funds will be needed as aid groups struggle to fight disease in addition to starvation.
Although this Somali woman may ask where the Muslims are, we can ask where the world is. Are we deaf to this mother's cry and blind to her dying child? Despite a steady stream of international media reports reflecting the direness of the situation -- the U.N. estimates that some 750,000 Somalis will face death in the coming months -- the world's response has been woefully inadequate. In the United States, media attention has waned substantially.
Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun chair of Islamic studies at American University and author of Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam. Frankie Martin is an Ibn Khaldun chair research fellow at American University's School of International Service.

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