KUWAIT CITY – The governments of oil-rich Gulf states have pledged about $50 million for victims of the southern Asia tsunami (search), but many people wonder if the amount is not too small.
Some Saudis, Kuwaitis and other Gulf citizens have said publicly that more generosity might be a way to correct an image in the West that they are both decadent and financial backers of terrorists like Usama bin Laden (search).
But the controls imposed on Muslim charities after the Sept. 11 (search) attacks, and the lack of public campaigns for the tsunami, have so far kept the donations down.
The flow of private money is expected to increase in coming days as more charity activities are planned and advertised. Several countries have moved in recent days to increase their donations, with the United Arab Emirates raising its pledge on Tuesday to $20 million from $2 million.
"This tragedy is an opportunity to revitalize the real Islamic aid work ... and to present the true face of the peace-loving, humanitarian kingdom, which is open to the whole world," a Saudi columnist, Jamal Khashokji, wrote Tuesday in Kuwait's Al-Watan daily.
The columnist said extremists have "hijacked" Islam and it was high time that Saudi charities go back to "moderation and tolerance."
Another paper, Al-Qabas, wrote in an editorial Sunday that Kuwait should have "reacted differently" to the aftermath of the catastrophe and given much more in aid to the south Asian people "who have supported us."
As in most Gulf countries, south Asians account for the majority of foreign labor in Kuwait — working as laborers, housecleaners and nannies. In addition, many of the victims in southern Asia share the Muslim faith of Gulf citizens.
Gulf countries cracked down on charities, especially in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, after Washington accused some of funneling money to Muslim militants like bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist group after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Israel has deployed a medical team in Sri Lanka to help tsunami victims. It has also denied that Indonesia turned down an Israeli offer of assistance for political reasons.
"There was no formal Israeli offer of humanitarian aid to Indonesia, so in consequence, there was no Indonesian refusal of the aid," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Amir Gissin said Tuesday. Israel is widely unpopular across the Muslim world.
A day after the tsunami disaster of Dec. 26, the United Nations humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, called on the richest countries to be more generous and expressed hope that Asian and Gulf nations with growing economies would join the global response. Governments and global groups have pledged about $2 billion, a quarter of it from Japan, according to the United Nations.
"After the Sept. 11 crisis, people were reluctant to give money [to Muslim charities], but now they are beginning to respond," said Faisal al-Jiran, the secretary general of the Kuwaiti Joint Relief Committee, an umbrella for all Muslim aid organizations in Kuwait.
The committee has donated $100,000 in aid to the victims of the natural disaster, and representatives are traveling to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia to assess needs.
Millions of dollars in donations are expected when the committee starts to advertise its campaign in the newspapers, he said.
Lebanon's Daily Star last week also urged the region to come forward with more generosity — noting that the last few years of high oil prices have put extra money in the region's pockets.
"Long-established images ... of white-robed sheiks sailing their luxury yachts on seas of oil and using $100 bills to light their Havana cigars will only be reinforced in the face of collective miserliness in this hour of human need, especially if the petroleum-rich Gulf states do not dig a bit deeper into pockets," the paper editorialized.
But Saudi businessman Khaled al-Shitri says he is still hesitant.
"Gulf countries and particularly Saudi have become very sensitive about where [charity money] goes," he told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.
The CEO of two large companies said he was afraid to make a donation to a charity because he was scared he might later find out its name has been added to America's list of terror-supporting groups.
In the commercially oriented United Arab Emirates, the Dubai Humanitarian City in cooperation with Swiss organizations, is planning a walkathon for tsunami victims on Thursday.
"I hope we'll see a healthy number of participants," said Saeed Ali bin Suloom, the CEO of the company organizing the walkathon.