Where Is the Jihad Against the Tsunamis?

Where Is the Jihad Against the Tsunamis?
By Mona Eltahawy

I am waiting for the tape from Osama Bin Laden. It has been a week now since the earthquake and tsunamis that struck Asia, killing more than 100,000 people and leaving millions homeless, heartbroken and at risk of disease. It is the worst natural disaster since 1900.

But still no tape from Osama Bin Laden despite the fact that over the past year he has been acting like an unelected leader, offering his opinion on world events and commenting on Muslim issues. In April, he offered a truce to Europeans if they withdraw troops from Muslim nations. In May, he called for jihad, against the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq and anyone who cooperates with it. At the end of October, just days before the US elections, he told Americans that George Bush had deceived them and the United States could face more attacks like Sept. 11.

He had so much to say in December that he released two recordings. On Dec. 16, he blessed the group that stormed the U.S. consulate in Jeddah and in his latest tape, on December 27, he urged Iraqis to boycott January parliamentary polls and said anyone who takes part would be an “infidel.” In his latest tape, he also praised attacks in Iraq by al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and he even had time to brand leading Palestinian presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas an “apostate” and denounced forthcoming presidential elections as blasphemous.

So in the midst of this new image in which he offers declarations and advice rather than warnings and promises of attacks, I am surprised that Osama Bin Laden has still not told us his opinion of the tragedy that struck Asia.

His silence is even more surprising considering that the worst hit country is Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. More than 80,000 people have died there. Thousands more Muslims died in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Malaysia. And yet Osama is silent.

The day after the earthquake and tsunamis hit south and southeast Asia, al-Jazeera broadcast excerpts from Osama’s latest recording for the world. Osama said “Jihad in Iraq is a duty and shirking it is baseless. Take advantages of this rare opportunity to carry out this grand duty… those who fail to do so are committing a grave sin.” Imagine that instead of Iraq that he had said Indonesia and imagine his use of “jihad” referred to reconstruction and rebuilding instead of death and destruction. But that would require a huge effort of the imagination.

Al-Qaeda and its allies do not believe in reconstruction and rebuilding, and that is why the massive suffering in the wake of the tsunamis will further reveal them for the political opportunists they are. Indonesia, like other Southeast Asian countries, has been worthy of their attention only as the latest recruitment ground for their missions of death and destruction.

Al-Qaeda allies have carried out several attacks in Indonesia that killed both Indonesians and foreigners. They set off a blast in September outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta that killed 10 Indonesians. They bombed the Marriott hotel in Jakarta in 2003 killing 12 people. They staged bombings on the island of Bali in 2002 that killed 202 people. During their trial, the men who were accused of attacking the Marriott hotel said the bombing was inspired by Osama Bin Laden. Will Osama inspire anyone to rebuild instead of destroy in Indonesia?

In November 2002, Osama said the Bali bombings were justified. Will the news of the mass suffering in Indonesia inspire him to encourage Muslims to help?

And what of the clerics and sheikhs who have been quick to declare jihad in Iraq? Where are their statements making it incumbent on Muslims to help the victims of the tsunamis?

If the young Muslim men who have heeded the call of Osama and the sheikhs of jihad by going to Iraq survive their time in Iraq, they will return to their home countries radicalized and eager for more violence. That is what history taught us from the experience of the Afghan Arabs.

Imagine if Osama and the sheikhs of jihad encouraged young Muslim men to go and rebuild villages in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Imagine if they encouraged them to do this for the simple reason of helping fellow human beings, not for recruiting future militants. After volunteering to rebuild a village, what kind of young man would return home? What lessons during his volunteer mission would he take home with him? Instead of being eager for more violence, wouldn’t such a young man be eager to help his own people by rebuilding and reconstructing in his own country?

The tragedy that struck Indonesia and reached all the way to Somalia is almost impossible to capture in words. A third of the disaster’s victims were children – the future of Asia. It is impossible to fathom the grief of parents as they buried their children and it is equally impossible to estimate the damage to children as they watched their families being swallowed by the sea.

As important as it is to get aid to the survivors and to prevent the breakout of disease, the long term work is equally important, particularly the long, laborious rebuilding of villages that were wiped out by the tsunamis. It will be just as laborious and take just as long to help the survivors heal from their psychological scars.

How will Osama and the sheikhs of jihad react to this tragedy?

This first appeared in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper where Mona Eltahawy is a columnist. Her website is www.monaeltahawy.com

Originally published on Muslim WakeUp website at: http://www.muslimwakeup.com/main/archives/2005/01/002558print.php

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