- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

The earthquake that struck northern Pakistan and India Oct. 8 left more than 3 million people without homes.

Many of the homeless are mountain people who still lack adequate shelter and face winter’s onset in less than two weeks. Many tens of thousands may die if aid does not come quickly enough. Besides food and medicine, they urgently need tents for shelter and small stoves for cooking and heating.

The United Nations has appealed for $550 million for emergency aid for these people over the next six months, but more than five weeks after the earthquake, it has received a mere $119 million, with an extra $40 million pledged. This is nowhere near enough to save the lives at risk.

If ever there was an opportunity to persuade Muslims they need not consider Americans as enemies, this is it. Following the tsunami in Indonesia, the U.S. offered massive and timely aid. This was not only the right thing to do, but it resulted in a much better opinion of the U.S. among Indonesians, as indicated by polling a month after the tsunami. The polling was sponsored by the nonpartisan group Terror Free Tomorrow.

Of 1,200 questioned, 65 percent had a more positive image of the U.S. (the majority of them younger than 30), while support for Osama bin Laden had plunged from 58 percent before the tsunami to 23 percent after.

Evidently, not only were the perceptions about the U.S. on the part of the aid recipients affected, but hundreds of thousands of Indonesians who learned of these efforts through domestic television or newspaper reports. This outpouring of concern and aid in a time of desperate need may have permanently changed the feelings toward the U.S. of many Indonesian children — some of whom might otherwise have turned toward radicalism and violence as they grew up.

The U.S. and the West have an opportunity now, if we act very decisively, to change the perceptions of many Pakistanis (and Muslims around the world) about Westerners. The aid we give should be enough to really save those at risk.

In recent times of peril for Rwandans and the Bosnian Muslims, the West and the U.N. gave only token (in these cases, military) assistance, in the belief that was enough. This was hugely inadequate and the results were disastrous. Staggering numbers of defenseless people died needlessly.

Some would argue we cannot afford to give more aid than we have given to people such as the Pakistani quake victims. But can we afford not to? Every dollar spent now for the sake of Muslim parents and children who need help can pay off tenfold or a hundredfold in terms of future goodwill.

Many people do remember compassion. If you can change a person’s perception of the U.S. and the West with aid now, isn’t it more lasting, more effective and ultimately far more cost-effective than allowing Islamic radicalism to continue growing, as it surely will if these people die of neglect?

Better to fight terrorism now through timely generosity than to have to fight it in future wars in which we may pay yet again with the lives and limbs of our young men and women.

CLARK EBERLY

Clark Eberly lives in Arlington, Virginia, and works as a research librarian in Washington, D.C.

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