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Negative Rhetoric Hits Islamic Relief Efforts in Flood-Hit Louisiana

CAIRO – Affected by ongoing hateful rhetoric in US presidential primaries, a leading Islamic charity which has been providing help to disaster-stricken areas in the US over the past five year, is being met by suspicion from people rejecting its help in flood-hit Louisiana.

“It is of outmost importance that we respond to a disaster of this magnitude in a rapid and effective manner, as a large number of people will be in immediate need of assistance,” Hani Hamwi, Islamic Relief’s disaster response team manager, told The Independent.

“It is our duty to help our neighbors in need, and we will do everything within our capacity to make sure that aid is given to those most affected by the floods.”

Hamwi was referring to the group’s latest efforts to tackle “historical” flooding in Louisiana, a crisis that has rocked the state and forced at least 20,000 people to leave their homes.

Help included providing 60 qualified volunteers to assist in the emergency response efforts and was coordinating with the American Red Cross.

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Moreover, the charity offered financial aid and was preparing to partner with other organizations, including Catholic and Southern Baptist, to try and reach as many people in need as possible.

The charity’s efforts in Louisiana are the latest in a long list of events in which its disaster response team has been deployed to offer help.

Launched in 2011, Islamic Relief USA has deployed teams to two dozen major disaster situations in the United States and has trained and certified more than 2,500 responders.

In 2014, it signed a national Memorandum of Understanding with the American Red Cross, the first formal partnership of its kind between the charity and a Muslim response organization in the country.

Negative Rhetoric

In Louisiana, Islamic Relief teams have faced a negative reaction from a small number of the people they were trying to help.

Amid increasing anti-Muslim rhetoric from Republican presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, Christina Tobias-Nahi said the charity chose to respond to negative comments by their work.

“We respond by our actions. We are a humanitarian organization and we are limited in the extent to which we can respond to the rhetoric. But we stay true to our beliefs and show who we are and what our religion tells us to do,” she said.

“In some counties we went to, we were not well received. It surprised us. People generally know we are an organization going to help. That is what we are there to do. But there were some people who said they did not even want us there,” she said.

Asked why she believed this had happened, she said: “Possibly because of the rhetoric.”

Despite negative reaction, volunteers in Louisiana decided to stay and offer help.

“We are going to stay,” Tobias-Nahi said.

“We hope [those people] will change the impression they have of us.”