A major earthquake in eastern Turkey Sunday morning killed up to 1,000 people and produced images of sweeping destruction and panicked pleas for help. Immediately dispatching search-and-rescue teams and humanitarian assistance is the right course of action for the United States and Europe.
There is a core humanitarian and moral duty to act now. Quick responses by American search-and-rescue teams saved earthquake victims in the past. Forty-three foreign teams – including six from the United States – pulled 123 Haitians from the rubble alive after last year’s devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince. Cynics about foreign aid should remember that providing humanitarian assistance in response to national disasters is a central tool in maintaining goodwill toward the United States.
Unfortunately, there is a widespread perception in predominantly Muslim countries that Americans and Europeans care less about the death of Muslims than those of members of other faiths. Americans gave less aid to victims of Pakistan’s 2010 floods than they did to victims of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. Haiti’s relative proximity to the United States could be one explanation, but suspicions that Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the ISI, sheltered Afghan Taliban fighters may be another.
As I said in a past column, average Pakistanis should not be blamed for the actions of the country’s military intelligence service, which does harbor Afghan Taliban militants, and is not controlled by the country’s civilian government. People who oppose Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s criticism of Israel should not blame average Turks for his statements. Immediate aid to Turkey, in fact, would undermine the argument that Americans care more about the deaths of Israelis than Muslims. A sweeping American and European response should be mounted in eastern Turkey as soon as possible.
PHOTO: Rescue workers try to save people trapped under debris after an earthquake in Tabanli village near the eastern Turkish city of Van October 23, 2011. REUTERS/Abdurrahman Antakyali/Anadolu Agency