- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

As soon as the news ofthekiller tsunami aired, and the estimated fatalities started to escalate, most of the world reacted with sorrow and kindness.The reaction of jihadists and the clerics of radical Islam was something else altogether, but not unpredictable.

Had the tsunami hit the West Coast of the United States or the Japanese islands, the official theological story would have been that Allah punished the infidels for their aggression in Iraq. Had the waves reached Iran’s waterfront, the Salafi would have decreed that Shi’a apostates angered the divine. For each natural tragedy, the central madrassas produce an acceptable story. So, when the tsunami washed out tens of thousands of lives in two continents and five countries, the jihadists were ready: Step one: Determine who was killed and where. How many Muslims, how many Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Sinhalese and others? Only one matter is relevant when mass death and suffering occur — the role of the infidels, especially the United States and its allies.

Step two: unleash global Muslim frustration against the West. In the first hours after the tsunami’s deadly ravages, the chat-rooms of al Ansar were crowded with Mujahideen inquiring about the supreme version of the cataclysm. A (self- declared) sheikh stated that “Muslims have been killed by the thousands in Aceh province of Indonesia because of Kufr — action by infidels.” Web-based broadcasts blasted President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair for “not doing enough to help Muslims [sic] victims, just because they were Muslims.” Amazingly, a media storm in the West followed the first allegations on the jihadist networks, accusing the United States and Britain of failing the Muslim world. A former U.S. diplomat and a prominent American scholar wrote in the New York Times that this was a “grave miscalculation by President Bush, at a time he is suffering another disaster in Iraq.”

The intellectual elite on both sides of the Atlantic seemed to care less about the actual response in the Indian Ocean and more about mobilizing against the coalition that unsettled a dictator in Iraq. But more dangerously, they played into the hands of the jihadists, who they essentially handed the political battle of the tsunami. Indeed, many in the Muslim world started to wonder if they were being purposefully forced to suffer.

The jihadist propagandists pushed the story further.On the Muntada al Ansar Web site, which posts information on al Qaeda and the Zarqawi beheadings, this appeared on Sunday, Jan. 2: It is all about the U.S. base of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean! Ironically, I had asked myself the same question. What had happened to this strategic base situated between the India’s southern islands and Somalia? “Diego Garcia was leveled by the waves of Allah,” wrote Qatil Qateel, the Arabic name under which the site posted the bulletin. He added: “This was the base that launched the B52 against Afghanistan and Iraq, and where many fighters were jailed. It is where the Kurds were trained. It is the biggest American base ever.”

The Ansar Web site posted detailed maps of the U.S. base, analyzed its geopolitical importance and displayed messages allegedly sent by American soldiers. The bulletin said that “from inside sources — i.e, infiltrations — we know what has happened there.” The jihadist version summarizes this way: Diego Garcia is a nuclear base critical for U.S. defense systems. America’s scientific centers knew about the tsunami’s projected effects, but Washington wanted to protect the base at the expense of warning Muslims. “They had to use their power to evacuate the main installations and prisoners,” claimed one Web post.

And while this jihadist takeover of the tsunami disaster story continues, another charge is in the making. Al-Arabiya TV threw the first stone when it reported that nuclear blasts in the Indian Ocean could be behind the natural cataclysm. The Ansar chat-rooms went further: “The Kuffars (infidels) are using underwater nuclear blasts to provoke Tsunamis against the Muslim Ummah.”

The jihadist imagination is hoping to count the tsunami’s victims on Osama bin Laden’s list of Muslim lives to avenge. Recently, as the relief effort has picked up, a very different picture has been broadcast around the world. As images of American helicopters picking up the wounded and U.S. Marines cradling children reach viewers, many Muslims are turning against the extremists in their midst: “Where are al Qaida and its millions of dollars,” asked voices on Internet forums. “Why didn’t Saudi Arabia pledge billions of its petrol-dollars to help fellow Muslims,” said others. The jihadist version of events, which was used by scores of intellectual voices in the West, has not been so thoroughly embraced by the survivors and their societies.

In Fallujah, Zarqawi’s Salafists kill the Marines, but in Aceh, the Marines save the lives of Muslims. The tsunami tragedy, a wrath of nature, reminded all humanity that unity, solidarity and peace are the real responses to planetary challenges. The Jihadists cannot and will not accept this lesson. The world they want is one of hatred and division.

Walid Phares is a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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