So far, at least, we are none the wiser about why God sent an earthquake to kill so many people in Kashmir, Pakistan and Afghanistan. We can only hope that sooner or later his purpose will be made evident, so that we all might learn. Why would he torture his people so?
The mullahs have been remarkably silent. The earthquake struck during the onset of Ramadan in two of the world’s most devoutly Muslim countries. It is almost unbelievable that not a single bearded cleric from this most certain and steadfast of religions has offered some sort of explanation for the appalling loss of life and destruction of property. Is it not a judgment upon the Western-imposed infidel, General Pervaiz Musharraf? Or perhaps he wishes for the restoration of the Taleban government in Kabul?
It is odd that no Islamic scholar, holed up in some dusty godforsaken madrasa, has so far advanced these arguments on Allah’s behalf. Previous so-called ‘natural’ disasters, wheresoever they might have occurred, have provoked an immediate and righteous response from the imams. We recall the words of the fine Palestinian cleric Yusuf Abu Sneina, addressing his congregation the morning after Hurricane Katrina had laid waste to New Orleans and a goodly proportion of the US Gulf state sea coast: ‘Oh, Muslims! The greatness of the USA has fallen in the face of the storm. Was the USA able to stop Allah’s power and limit his will?’ Yusuf was asking a rhetorical question here, of course. The answer, which we all knew, was: no, the USA was unable to resist Allah’s will.
Even within the belly of the warmongering infidel whore, the cry was raised. That old Muslim battle-axe (and criminal) Louis Farrakhan clambered aboard the television bandwagon to suggest that the hurricane was nothing less than a judgment of Allah. That’ll be Allah the magnanimous, Allah the munificent, then.
You will recall, too, that certain Muslim clerics rejoiced in the tsunami which obliterated parts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Somalia last Christmas (to use an inapt and possibly offensive term). This was Allah’s judgment upon Muslim countries which have allowed their hallowed soil to somehow become the playground of decadent infidel cockroaches, many averred. For those infidel cockroaches among us who have had the misfortune to travel to Banda Aceh — which bore the brunt of the tsunami’s havoc — these deliberations came as a surprise and a shock: not a drink nor still less a shag to be found within 500 miles. But no matter: perhaps Allah should not be expected to be geographically precise. Maybe he meant to hit Singapore, or Hong Kong.
The leader of Sri Lanka’s Muslims, Mohammed Faizeen, studied the satellite pictures of the tsunami’s devastating impact upon the Indian Ocean. ‘Listen,’ he commanded, peering very closely at a map, ‘the satellite pictures of the waves as they receded clearly spells out the name Allah. He sent it as punishment!’ He was one among a very great many to see it thus.
Of course, Muslims do not have the monopoly on breathtakingly stupid and cruel, if politically expedient, divine explanations for natural disasters, although they may constitute a majority among those predisposed to such delusions. But, by way of example, first out of the blocks after Hurricane Katrina were the Orthodox Jews; a senior rabbi in Philadelphia annoyed the population at large by suggesting that the floods were an expression of God’s displeasure at American foreign policy towards Israel. He took his cue from the staggeringly idiotic Israeli rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who announced, ‘This is vengeance for the USA urging Israel to relinquish Gaza.’
My favourites, though, are the fundamentalist Christians: the trailer-trash Baptists, the evangelicals, the famous religious Right. The director of the inexplicably powerful religious pressure group, Repent America — a certain Michael Marcavage — thrust himself in front of the microphones as the floodwaters swilled around the painfully sanitised tourist bars of Bourbon Street. ‘This act of God destroyed a wicked city! God is in control of the weather. Some 125,000 homosexuals were going to be celebrating SIN in the streets. This is what happened,’ he said. So, jubilant queers brought the floods upon New Orleans.
The son of the loathsome millionaire evangelist Billy Graham seemed to agree. Commenting on the disaster in Louisiana, Franklin Graham remarked, ‘This happens when we have taken God out of our schools and out of our society.’ No, Frankie: it’s what happens when the levees aren’t high enough and the whole place is several metres below sea level.
In response to the tsunami disaster a Texan evangelical movement focused entirely on the deaths of a large number of Swedish holidaymakers. ‘Praise God for 5,000 dead Swedes,’ they screamed with delight — and you can check out their views on the quite magnificent website GodhatesSweden.com. God hates Sweden, apparently, because they’re all licentious northern European scumbags who tolerate homosexuality and other deviations.
There is secular cant as well, of course. We have heard little from the BBC about the ineptitude of the Pakistani authorities in dealing with the tragedy which has befallen their people. Four days after the earthquake struck and there are still vast areas bereft of aid, hundreds of thousands of people desperately in need of water, food and medical supplies! Where are the authorities? Where is the army? Is the looting in Islamabad an expression of a society torn apart by its own internal contradictions, by endemic racism and poverty? Why did General Musharraf not react with much greater haste; is this not indicative of an ineffectual government, a government which has lost the support of its people?
The haste with which BBC reporters flung the ordure at President Bush in the wake of Katrina is scarcely a less emotional and even spiritual impulse than that which drove the mullahs to blame the tsunami, or Katrina, on the war in Iraq or on our penchant for freedom of speech, assembly, sexual partner, etc., etc. We may laugh at the stupidity of Franklin Graham and that moron from Sri Lanka or, indeed, Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, who announced that the destruction of the US space shuttle Columbia and the deaths of the three astronauts within was the work of God. Hamza, Graham, the wacko Jews and the moderators of GodhatesSweden.com are, of course, imbeciles. But the impulse when disaster strikes is to reach for someone tangible to blame, rather than putting it down to a calamitous shifting of tectonic plates or an unfortunate weather pattern. Even stripped of the befogging and deluding strictures of religion, it seems that we still have our demons primed and ready for such a purpose, no matter how enlightened and secular we believe ourselves to be. George Bush because he is an infidel or George Bush because he is very right-wing: either will do.