Hard News by Russell Brown

The Uncharitables

So the US government might gain political advantage through pitching in with an historic aid effort in a part of the world where it has been deeply unpopular? Well and good. If that happens, then the benefits will be widely shared. If the response to the crisis can change the tenor of international relations in the tsunami zone, the calamity will not have been for naught.

Regrettably, it appears that not everyone has responded to the tsunami disaster in a spirit of love and human kindness. The Anglican Dean of Sydney, Phillip Jensen, announced this week that the earthquake and tsunami were the result of God's anger with human immorality. Disasters, apparently, "are part of His warning that judgment is coming." The chief executive of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils satisfied himself with the relatively restrained observation that it could not have happened unless it was God's will.

The Dean has been sharply criticised by a senior Catholic priest, and Australian Jewish and Hindu leaders have said the tsunami cannot be described as the will of God, or punishment from God. Meanwhile, of course, Christian relief agencies such as the Tear Fund and World Vision have been hard at work, and in India, Hindis, Muslims and Christians have united to address the crisis.

The major US conservative Christian groups have, on the other hand, essentially ignored this great human tragedy in favour of Christmas-minded messages about sin, the Supreme Court, the "homosexual lobby" and why you shouldn't see that Kinsey movie. Bill Berkowitz of Working for Change did a sweep of their websites last week and found none even mentioning the tsunami. The only fund-raising going on was for themselves.

I checked them again yesterday, and one site had noticed the tragedy. The Reverend Donald Wildmon's Mississippi-based American Family Association, has a story about good work being done in the tsunami zone by faith-based organisations, but there's no hint of the Rev thinking about urging his flock to lend a hand.

Of course, for really deranged religious bigotry, you can't go past Pastor Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, whose organisation (also known as God Hates Fags) followed up its joyful Thank God for Tsunami. Thank God for 3,000 dead Americans! with Thank God for the tsunamis - and for 5,000 dead Swedes!!! They also have a handy tsunami FAQ.

Meanwhile, you almost have to admire the Ayn Rand Institute for sticking to its (literally) uncharitable ideological scripture in declaring U.S. Should Not Help Tsunami Victims

But what I am really tiring of is the weirdly self-obsessed angle on the aid effort epitomised in such parts of the conservative blogosphere as the currently-hip Power Line, which fired off Tsunami Relief: The Real Story and then Help Arrives ("And it ain't coming from the U.N."), the gist of which was that it was not the corrupt, lying and lazy United Nations that was saving lives in Aceh, but the US military. (The ever-loyal NZ Pundit has been keenly running the evil and feckless UN line too.)

It's quite true that the arrival off Aceh on Saturday of the carrier the USS Abraham Lincoln - and its helicopters - was, in the words of the UN's man in Indonesia, "absolutely life saving". The US copters reached places no one had been able to get to and eased the UN's congestion problems at Banda Aceh airport. There have also been Australian, Singaporean, New Zealand and Indonesian aircraft (our government has spent $300,000 hiring a helicopter, which will help fill in for the RNZAF Hercules that broke) bringing supplies into Banda Aceh, US cargo planes taking tons of rice, noodles and high-energy biscuits from the UN World Food Programme into the same areas, and non-governmental aid agencies all over the place. A French helicopter carrier was en route on Sunday. Quite why this all should be occasion for this sort of creepy politicking by Power Line and its chums is unclear.

The angry right's squalling about an alleged catastrophic failure by the UN appears to be based (surprise!) on ideology, rather than anything I've actually been able to read in the news. There have been problems delivering aid in some areas, but to blame the UN (which, to take one example, has delivered 280 tonnes of food to the affected coastal areas of Somalia) for what seems to come down to a lack of helicopters doesn't make sense.

Presumably, NZ Pundit and the lawyer-drones at Power Line were reading off the same sheet of talking points as the vile David Frum, the former Bush speech writer who invented the phrase "Axis of Evil", and who could be found at the weekend in the Daily Telegraph decrying the UN's "terrible, terrible records in dealing with people in need."

The Minneapolis Star Tribune's lacerating editorial last week on the Bush administration's performance on international aid (two days before Christmas it announced it would not honour its commitments on contributions to world food programmes) is worth reading for a reality check on that score.

Ditto as regards the mightiest development pledge yet made by the Bush administration - the 2002 Millennium Challenge account, which, it was promised, would provide $5 billion annually in aid to African countries - has not so far disbursed a single dollar, and will never actually be funded to anything like the level promised when Bush announced it. People in glass houses …

The Christian Science Monitor had a sensible story on the relief effort, as did The Independent.

Elsewhere, a Rush Limbaugh listener wanted to know "where all the foreign aid from other countries for America was during the Florida hurricanes", provoking an indignant liberal response from RelentlesslyOptimistic blog: "So lighten up, try to hate less and care more, like Jesus said."

PS: Wikipedia rounds up the online donation links for many countries. You can donate to tsunami appeal funds the New Zealand branch of the Red Cross here and Oxfam New Zealand here.