Monday, July 10, 2006

Yet another comment on my Blog regarding the Danish cartoons on the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)

I am happy to post the comments of Jon E, with my own comments in capitals:

> Dear Prabhu,

Richard forwarded a copy of your recent blog to me, and I want here to add a few comments.

> First, thanks very much for the rundown on the use of imagery in Islam.

> This is an excellent contribution to the overall debate. My only slight caveat on this would be that the current Moslem rage is in part due to the dishonourableness of the images of Mohammed (PBUH) in the cartoons. I agree. However, you either believe in freedom of speech or you don't. If you accept freedom of speech, then that includes the right of others to say things with which you might totally disagree. As I have argued elsewhere, if I say things tht are insulting or hurtful or otherwise offensive to you, you have recourse to the courts for legal redress, and you are fully entitled to cut off your financial links with me, as well as to encourage others to do so. You are also absolutely appropriate for you to protest in whatever ways are legally acceptable. What is totally unacceptable is violence and threats of violence.
> Second, I would like to venture a few comments on the very complex situation of aid to the Palestinians, and then widen this issue to look at aid in general. Your statement that "for years and years after the incident (Arafat's support for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait) ended, the ONLY people around the world supporting the Palestinians financially were the European Union" appears too broad to me, and perhaps should be qualified. I think you are referring to government-to-government aid or ODA (Official Development Assistance). You are right, Jon. I was indeed referring to government-to-government aid. My apologies for phrasing that too widely.

> Popular people-to-people donations, or charitable giving, has been substantial to the Palestinians (also from the West), and my impression is that Hammas has channelled a lot of international private Moslem charity to Palestinians in the past few decades, and this is part of the reason they won the recent election. You are entirely right about these matters.

> Third, while attention is focused on trade through boycotting Danish goods, a secondary, and perhaps more significant target may be development assistance. It is perhaps the greatest paradox in the current situation that the most generous and "correct" among donor nations is being attacked. Denmark is the highest on all the foreign aid charts for percent of GDP given as aid to poor countries, and their policies are widely seen as among the most technically and politically advanced. For this reason, one could call Denmark the most generous nation. (See the CAVEAT on US foreign aid below) Why would the governments of some Moslem countries inflate the legitimate feelings of offence, and encourage their citizens to blow the reaction out of proportion? Why would they bite a hand that feeds them? I thought I had already suggested the real reason for this in my original blog.

> (CAVEAT on US foreign aid: Citizens of the USA widely believe that the USA is the most generous country on earth. According to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, 2002, the "average" American thinks that the US spends 24% of the federal budget on development assistance, and they would prefer that only 10% be spent in this way. IN REALITY, the US is the LEAST GENEROUS in terms of the amount it spends as a share of its national income - significantly less than 1% of the federal budget. While the US recently passed Japan to again be top in foreign aid in terms of sheer dollar amount given, even if private charitable giving is taken into account, and even if the Bush Administration proposals would be fully funded, the US would still "remain LAST AMONG RICH NATIONS in terms of how much of its economy is dedicated to development assistance." ODA from the US amounts to USD 54 per person per year, and private charitable giving from the US to poor countries amounts to an additional USD 19 per person per year. (Information taken from: "Rich World, Poor World", ). You are also right in this analysis of government-to-government development assistance. However, this analysis needs to be balanced by taking into consideration the fact that there is more private generosity, philanthropy and aid that is financed by private citizens of the USA than by citizens of any other country, whether in terms of the total amount, or per head.
This "private" generosity is made possible partly because of U.S. legislation which allows private donations to be set off against tax.
What the U.S. government loses in tax revenues (and therefore in terms of revenues available for possible aid on a government-to-government basis) is compensated for by donations made "privately".
Therefore, in assessing how "miserly" or "generous" a country is, one needs to take into account not only the official or government-to-government aid, but also the private generosity of individuals and families and the trusts and foundations created by them.

> Why would they bite a hand that feeds them? Consolidation of Islamic financial and cultural influence is, I think, the answer. The overall effect of the reaction to the religiously insensitive cartoons has been to increase international polarization by alienating the most generous and open of donor countries, thereby decreasing their influence on a social and cultural level in Moslem countries. And it looks like this is the aim. Ah, I see that we agree on this!

The presence of aid agencies is a major source of Western influence in developing economies, along with trade, educational and diplomatic representations. And some of that influence is deeply offensive to Moslem morality. In particular the export of pornography, loose sexual morals of many Western visitors and the realization that families and family values are breaking down in the West presents one of the motivations for the resurgence of conservative Islam. Christians recognize the legitimate aspect of their motivation. One needs to distinguish between the intended results (official aims) and any unintended results (such as any possible "loose secual morals of western visitors").
One also needs to take into account the "loose morals" of Arab and other so-called "Muslim" visitors in other lands.
If such "Muslims" are kept on the path of whatever they are taught is "moral" only because of the legal and social pressure of being in "Muslim" countries, can their social conformity really be considered "morality"?

> Let me end with the proposal that in this period of increased polarization we should not react in fear, triggering fight and flight mechanisms. Rather, we should in openness and humility, with hard heads and open hearts, encourage the building of more bridges between predominantly Judeo-Christian countries and the Moslem world. A proposal with which I agree entirely, except that I would not limit it to those countries
> Best regards, Jon Sphere: Related Content

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