The US has been heavily criticized for its foreign policy in recent years but credit where credit's due. America is the world's most compassionate nation on a governmental and individual level in terms of philanthropic aid, putting most other wealthy countries to shame.
Washington has funded the economic recovery of Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis and over the years has given billions to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and, of course, many Middle Eastern and African countries.
Kudos must also go to the US government, as well as to various American states, for providing incentives in the form of tax deductions or tax credits to charitable individuals and companies. This is a something that Arab leaderships should consider emulating.
It's saddens me, however, that there are sceptics around who doubt the motives of decent people taking advantage of this system.
Some time ago, while lunching with some prominent people from the GCC, I mentioned that I had just returned from a trip to the US and was bowled over by the generosity of the Rockefellers. In that connection, I recounted this story:
“While strolling around Manhattan I admired the magnificent United Nations Headquarters which a New Yorker friend accompanying me told me had been donated to the City of New York by John D. Rockefeller. “There are many more in numerous states that were gifted by the Rockefellers, including hospitals, schools and universities…' he said.”
I couldn't help noticing the sceptical expressions on the faces of my lunch companions. “Khalaf, don't be so gullible,” said one. Such donations are given in order to reduce taxes.” I was completely taken aback and couldn't help giving him a slightly icy glare.
For one thing good deeds should be appreciated not discredited and, for another, tax is levied as a percentage of profitability. If Rockefeller had wanted to avoid tax to line his own pockets, he would have bestowed a much smaller percentage of his wealth. It is shocking that educated people in high positions are so dismissive of philanthropy. They don't see it as kindness but as a tax avoidance ploy. I will never stop believing in the innate goodness of human beings even if a few sad individuals think I'm naïve. Better naïve than sour.
Almost every American who has reached the top has given back to society. Bloomberg Business Week has published a list of the top fifty headed by the American investor and industrialist Warren Buffet that includes such well-known names as George Soros, Oprah Winfrey, Ted Turner, and Bill and Melinda Gates.
US companies also take the business of giving seriously. America's largest corporate donors include Wal-Mart, Target, Coca-Cola, Safeway, Bristol Myers-Squibb, Boeing and Caterpillar.
The philanthropic endeavours of some of America's best-known billionaires are very impressive and sometimes exceed the annual GDP of smaller countries.
Earlier this year, Bill Gates launched “The Giving Pledge” together with Warren Buffet, which is an invitation to the wealthiest individuals in the US to donate 50 percent or more of their wealth to charity either during their lifetime or in the form of a legacy.
As of August this year, over 40 billionaires have signed-up to the initiative including Michael Bloomberg, Ted Turner, Larry Ellison, George Lucas, Barron Hilton and David Rockefeller to name but a few.
“We are hoping that America, which is the most generous society on Earth, becomes even more generous over time,” said Buffet who intends to encourage the richest people in China, India and elsewhere to initiate their own version of “The Giving Pledge”.
Buffet has promised 99 percent of his US$ 47 billion fortune to charities. Other billionaires have also pledged far more than the requisite 50 percent.
I am full of admiration for those wonderful people who understand that with great wealth comes social responsibility. They know they have been blessed and were prompted by their hearts to give back to the millions around the globe who don't know what a full stomach feels like, have little access to drinking water or can't afford medical treatment or even basic education for their children. Americans should be proud of those caring citizens.
Sadly, some of the richest countries on the planet are lacking when it comes to donations of humanitarian aid. The wealthier European nations do their bit. It's a shame that so many oil-rich Arab countries lag behind.
There is no comparison between America's charitable donations and ours. In fact, the donations of all Arab philanthropists combined are substantially less than the charitable contributions of Warren Buffet or Bill Gates.
Arab philanthropists exist and should be congratulated for trying to make a difference but I've never heard of any Arab billionaire donating 50 percent let alone 90 percent of their wealth.
Former President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was a notable exception. In the belief that his country's oil riches were a gift from God that must be shared, he provided economic assistance to more than 40 countries, set up numerous charitable funds and funded the construction of hospitals, mosques, affordable housing - and even an entire city on the outskirts of Cairo.
Believing Muslims must adhere to the third pillar of Islam Zakat (alms giving) whereby 2.5 percent of an individual's wealth should be distributed annually among the poor and believers are also encouraged to practice Sadaqah or voluntary charity.
There is so much prosperity throughout the Middle East, the Gulf and South East Asia that if those alms were fairly distributed to those most in need no one in the Arab or Muslim world would struggle to survive under the poverty line.
Not only are we 'rich Arab oil countries' politically, economically and militarily weaker than the US we even lag behind when it comes to lifting our fellow human beings out of their misery. What a disappointment we are!
There is a saying in Arabic that translates to “the closest should benefit from the good deed first”. There is truth in that, but as citizens of an increasingly inter-related, inter-dependent global village isn't it about time that we extended a helping hand to our fellow human beings regardless of race, religion or color in the way that America and its people so readily do.
I certainly don't want to detail my own philanthropic efforts but let's just say that I know first hand what it means to be poor and can therefore empathize with the hardships suffered by others.
Being in a position to positively enhance the lives of the less fortunate is a not only a privilege, but, as God says in the Holy Qur’an: “And whatever good you put forward for yourselves, you will find it with Allah, it is better and greater in reward.” [Surat Al-Muzammil : 20]