Will earthquake aid really win over Pakistani hearts and minds? This article, “For Devout Pakistani Muslims, Aid Muddles Loyalties,” from the New York Times (thanks to the Constantinopolitan Irredentist), suggests that it does win over those who are not politicized, but that jihadists and their sympathizers are unswayed — as I observed about the tsunami relief effort in this article.
This highlights another problem that I have often noted: that peaceful Muslims are susceptible to being politicized by jihadists, thereby rendering hearts and minds initiatives void. Continued protestations that Islam is a religion of peace that has been hijacked, and refusals to look squarely at the ways jihadists use Islamic theology and tradition to justify their actions and recruit, only exacerbate the vulnerability of non-politicized Muslims by cutting the ground out from under anyone who would oppose this jihadist activity in any effective way. No one can fix a problem when they will not even admit that it is a problem.
BASSIAN, Pakistan, Oct. 24 – Asmat Ali Janbaz’s explanation for the American military helicopters flying over this isolated mountain valley last Thursday afternoon was familiar.
Mr. Janbaz, who lives in the area and who describes himself as an Islamic hard-liner, contended that the Americans were not ferrying injured earthquake victims to safety; instead, they were secretly establishing an American military base in northern Pakistan to encircle China.
“This is the mission!” he declared triumphantly. “Not to help the people of Pakistan.”
Yet after Mr. Janbaz departed, something extraordinary happened. Here in a mountainous corner of northern Pakistan long thought to be a center for militant training camps and religious conservatism, three men dismissed his theory and heartily praised the United States for aiding victims of the Oct. 8 earthquake, which killed more than 53,000 Pakistanis.
“People don’t believe such things; people only believe in what they are seeing,” said Manzur Hussain, a 36-year-old hospital worker whose brother, sister and two sons died in the earthquake. “People who give them aid, they respect them.”
While it is too early to reach firm conclusions, anecdotal interviews with earthquake survivors in this picturesque mountain district, known as Mansehra, suggest that American assistance may be improving Pakistanis’ perceptions of the United States – an image that has been overwhelmingly negative here since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq….
Muhammad Farid, a homeopathic doctor in the devastated town of Balakot, said he still deeply disagreed with the American invasion of Iraq and other policies. But the dispatch to Pakistan of 14 American military helicopters and more than 20 foreign search and rescue teams surprised him.
“It has changed our opinion about the United States,” he said, adding that hard-line clerics’ descriptions of debauched foreigners have proved untrue. “They have been accusing all these people of spreading immorality, but these are the people who came to save our lives.”
Pakistani officials and political analysts cautioned that any relief-related change in perceptions would be limited. The international aid may sway the perceptions of moderate Pakistanis, particularly well-educated city dwellers, they said, but it is unlikely to sway the country’s small core of militants who support Al Qaeda.
“Even if paradise is delivered to them, they’ll keep abusing us, the Americans and the Jews,” said a close aide to President Pervez Musharraf, a military ruler and religious moderate who has survived at least three assassination attempts from suspected Islamic militants. “This is going to take a long time.”
Islamists are also doing their best to aid earthquake victims and curry support, and in an unknown number of cases, succeeding….
Al Qaeda, whose senior leaders are thought to be hiding several hundred miles to the southwest along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, also joined in. In a videotaped message released on Sunday, the group’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urged Muslims to help earthquake victims.
“I call on all Muslims in general, and I call on all Islamic humanitarian associations in particular, to move to Pakistan to provide help to their Pakistani brothers, and that they do it quickly,” Agence France-Presse reported him as saying. “All of us know the vicious American war on Muslim humanitarian work.”
Mr. Janbaz, the self-described hard-liner, echoed those sentiments in an interview in Bassian, a village just outside Balakot. He painted the American relief effort in sinister terms and identified himself as a member of the Movement to Enforce the Law of Shariah, a banned militant group that dispatched volunteers to fight American forces in Afghanistan in 2001.
But he appeared to have few takers around Balakot, a riverside town of 150,000 people that appears to have suffered most of the 13,285 deaths in the Mansehra district….