As we in the US discuss what Chris Hayes (capably filling in for Rachel Maddow on MSNBC) described as the “non-troversy” of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” I wonder where the coverage and the urgency is around the story of the flooding in Pakistan. You’ve probably heard of it – although you can be forgiven if you haven’t, since the coverage has been so scant in the US. Pakistan, in short, is 20% under water. It’s bad. So bad, in fact, that in the video which accompanies this article in the BBC, Daniel Toole of UNICEF says that the flooding in Pakistan is “probably the biggest emergency on the planet today.” Toole also says that the amount of aid rendered so far would be – in a normal, less-severe disaster – quite sufficient and praiseworthy, but that given the severity of the Pakistan flooding, food aid and clean drinking water is arriving too slow, and there’s too little of it.
If the threat of terrorism is still sufficiently animating a topic for us to spend so much time debating whether we should allow a community center to be built a couple of blocks from ground zero by people who have no connection to the 9/11 hijackers except sharing the same religion, then shouldn’t we be recognizing the opportunity to do well by doing good in Pakistan? I don’t want to sound exclusively self-interested or like I’m ghoulishly keen on seeing my country benefitting from the misfortune of others; the main reason for sending aid to Pakistan is the same reason as it always is whenever overwhelming disaster strikes any part of the world, whether it’s New Orleans or Banda Aceh – because fellow human beings are suffering and it’s the right thing to do, especially since we’re a prosperous country. When George W. Bush was President, one of the few actions he took which I unequivocally supported was his immediate and full-scale support for the residents of Bam, Iran when the region was devastated by an earthquake in 2003. Iran was already on the “axis of evil” short list at the time, and I feared an administration so ideologically driven as Bush’s wouldn’t be able to separate the policies of a government from the suffering of its citizens enough to be able (or willing) to send aid, quickly and in large amounts. I was happy to be proven wrong then, and proud of my President for doing what was so obviously the right thing.
Today, although the United States has pledged assistance to Pakistan to assist with flood relief, neither the administration nor the media seem to be making much of a big deal of it. However, when the aid organizations leaders and spokespeople themselves tell the world that the aid level is a) tardy and b) insufficient, I feel it’s a no-brainer that America should not only step up our aid because it’s the right thing to do, but because we have a vanishingly rare and unparalleled opportunity to directly assist millions of everyday citizens in a country where – by all accounts – Al Qaeda is now headquartered (far more than in neighboring Afghanistan) and the culture of extremism is so prevalent and fertile. Wouldn’t it be better, if it were possible, to kill terrorism and not terrorists? Wouldn’t it be better to win the war on terror by winning the “battle for hearts and minds” among the people who are at risk of being lured by the siren call of extremism, than to fight expensive and horribly destructive wars? Sure it would. No one argues the point, they only say “oh, it’s too late for that,” or “we need to be prepared to defend against attacks today; that stuff about showing them our way’s better doesn’t work on the already-radicalized.”
Even if those ideas are 100% correct, why doesn’t anyone seem to recognize the enormous opportunity we’ve got here? If we can go, under the auspices of the UN but also our own colors, into every flood-ravaged area in Pakistan, and show the people who live there that we want to help them instead of make war on their religion, doesn’t that do a lot more towards winning those hearts and minds than calling Pakistan an ally but conducting covert wars inside their borders? Why isn’t this leading the news as the best – and most obvious – way to combat terrorism in years, and one that’s dropped into our laps completely by chance? According to MSNBC, the Pakistani Taliban – recognizing better than we seem to have thus far what’s at stake in terms of their ability to sustain the loyalty of the people for their murderous and repressive regime – “denounced it [western assistance] and urged a boycott of Western aid.” That’s right; with millions of their own countrypeople at risk of cholera and simple starvation or lack of drinking water, the Taliban would reject western aid just because America sucks (to them). Imagine how well that will play among suffering Pakistanis, if there’s plenty of aid there to be had. Imagine what a powerful image that would be for them, to see with their own eyes that America, the “Great Satan” was there extending aid in a time of horrific devastation, while their own “leaders” (or would-be leaders) tell them to reject aid because it comes from the west.
Why there isn’t a hue and cry about this (for a variety of good reasons) from every corner of politically-aware America, -from Pam Geller to Chuck Schumer to Ed Schultz – is beyond me.