Hazard Risk Resilience Magazine Volume 1 Issue 2 - Page 12

INTRO | HIGHLIGHTS | FEATURES | PHOTO STORIES | FOCUS | INTERVIEWS | PERSPECTIVES | BIOS 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami Dr Claudia Merli saw the aftermath of disaster through the eyes of Muslim and Buddhist communities impacted by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which devastated the countries of Indonesia, India, Thailand and Sri Lanka. During her field research in Satun, a province in southern Thailand impacted by the tsunami, Merli discovered that not only did people explain the disaster in terms of divine retribution, for example, or the response of nature to the actions of humanity that damage the environment, but that these religious understandings of what occurred underlay how the catastrophe was managed and perceived by the wider community.1 In Satun the majority of the population is Muslim, but includes a large Buddhist community. Merli found that in some ways different religious ideas about the disaster overlapped, but they were also dissimilar in other respects. For example, all forms of Buddhism are non-theistic, meaning they do not believe in a central God or divine force that governs the actions of humanity. In the religion of Islam, however, Muslims believe in one God who is both compassionate and vengeful. According to Merli, NGO workers and local government in southern Thailand are very inclusive of local religious communities in organising relief assistance. Both Muslims and Buddhists would work together in assisting their communities to recover during the aftermath of the tsunami disaster. ‘There wasn’t a clear divide between Buddhist NGOs helping only the Buddhists and so on, it really was a communal effort to help the local communities. At the same time they were defining each other’, says Merli. During her field research, Merli discovered that Muslim and Buddhist communities would define each others’ ideas about how they would explain the disaster. For example, the Buddhists would say the Muslims thought of the disaster in terms of divine retribution and the Muslims would say the Buddhists thought of the disaster in terms of karma. While the tsunami disaster could be understood in terms of karma, Merli says Buddhist monks in southern Thailand explained the cause of the disaster as according to natural forces of the planet. Some Muslims, however, did see the tsunami as a form of purification or cleansing of sinful places. Divine retribution is well-known in the Quran. Islam invokes responsibility of an all knowing and supreme deity (Allah), who punishes those who commit sinful acts through balaq or annihilation. Unfortunately, this may include harming those who are innocent. In contrast, the Buddhist law of karma views retribution in terms of individual and collective action. There is a relevant story in the Quran. After asking Allah why, when the wicked are punished, the innocents are also harmed, the prophet Musa (Moses in the Bible) squashes a group of ants when one stings him in the foot, but of course at the same time he also crushes the ants that did not sting him. Muslims in Satun resorted to what is known as a ‘theodicy’, a way of reconciling the existence of a good and merciful God with the existence of unjust human suffering. Merli learned that theodicies in Satun were directly related to the local context of the postdisaster situation. Muslims in Satun believed that the tsunami was purifying the sinful or ‘dirty’ places of the areas impacted. Local interpretations of the tsunami include the cleansing of defilement, such as illicit sexuality. For example, many parts of Phang Nga province that were severely damaged by the tsunami also attracted the majority و