So runs the headline in today's Pretoria News, reporting on the failure of one of the second annual "Iftaar Dinners" held at U.S. diplomatic missions worldwide this year, part of an initiative to convince Muslims that the United States is its friend. (Iftaar is the break-fast meal held at sunset during each day of Ramadan.) If anything, the headline is an understatement, judging by the quotes in the body of the article about the iftaar hosted by the U.S. consulate in Durban:
- Muslim Youth Movement national president Naeem Jeenah. "This is simple a public relations job and photo opportunities for Americans. We don't see how Muslims can break the fast with the same people who oppressed them for years. In the light of the Americans' aggression in Iraq, as well as their financing of the apartheid wall in Palestine, we don't think we can sit and eat with them."
- Arabic Study Circle chairman Abdul Aziz. "We are not going to accept the invitation. Muslims worldwide have declared war against the Americans. They have caused us so much pain, so how can we eat from the same plate with our enemies?"
- Islamic Relief Fund director Soraya Hassim. "After the killings of so many children and sufferings of people in Iraq and Afghanistan, how can Muslims accept the invitation? I think no Muslim should attend this supper."
- University of Durban Westville academic Suleman Dangor. "This is an expression of the fact that we Muslims find the US policy in Iraq and Palestine distasteful. This must be seen as a symbol of protest against the United States occupying Muslim countries and arming Israel, which is killing Muslims in Palestine."
- Rafeek Hassan of the Islamic Propagation Centre International. "The US needs to be told that their policies in Muslim countries, especially in Palestine, are unacceptable. I cannot see myself having dinner at their invitation when people are being killed."
To make matters worse, Durban's leading Muslim caterer, Manjaras, declined to prepare the meal. "The Americans approached us in a very roundabout way. A woman telephoned but did not tell us that she was ordering the food for the US government. The next thing we heard an announcement on the Muslim radio station that we were supplying the food. The community is not going to be impressed with us. Now we're not doing the cooking, no matter what." SABCnews quoted the caterer making an even more emphatic statement: "Even if it was worth R10 million, at the end of the day we do not want American money."
So many declines led the U.S. consulate to cancel the dinner.
These views suggest once again that Charlotte Beers' policy of "branding" America as Muslim-friendly needs a radical overhaul when her successor, Margaret Tutweiler, finally takes office. (November 24 2003)