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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Public servants and Islamic charity

Following up my last post I’ve done a little googling on the two UK charities (Human Appeal International and Interpal) involved in the case of a Hamas activist charged by an Israeli military court with diverting charitable donations to fund terror. My findings prompt some questions for two public bodies: Manchester City Council and the Charity Commission.

To Manchester City Council: your desire to help the victims of the South Asia earthquake in their desperate plight is laudable. And it is entirely in order for you to do so by providing links to the Red Cross, Unicef and Oxfam. But is it appropriate for you as a public authority to be giving the same endorsement to charities which are clearly faith-based, not only in terms of their donor community but also in terms of their delivery of aid?

Admittedly one of the three I refer to, Muslim Aid, claims that 'Aid is given regardless of the race, creed or nationality of the recipients'. When you look at the details of their projects, though, it becomes obvious that their funds are overwhelmingly channelled via local Muslim partner organizations to predominantly Muslim countries or to Muslim minorities in other countries. Even their work in Zimbabwe, for instance, is evidently targeted primarily if not exclusively at the country’s tiny Muslim minority. These remarks apply equally to Islamic Relief and to Human Appeal International – despite the latter’s deceptively secular-sounding name.

Now I have no problem at all with people doing charitable work for the benefit of members of their own faith community. It’s their choice. There are plenty of Christian charities operating on this basis – possibly not many that I personally would wish to support, but I certainly don’t begrudge their right to exist. What I’m not happy with is the idea of such an organization, irrespective of which faith community is involved, being endorsed by a local authority. And I suspect the endorsement, if given at all, would have generated a good deal of protest if the charities concerned were Christian (or indeed Jewish).

To the Charity Commission: if Ahmed Salatna is found guilty of diverting charitable funds to support Hamas’s terrorist activities, expect some questions to be asked about your decision in 2003 to drop an investigation into Interpal. Your grounds for this were that the US authorities which filed a complaint ‘were unable to provide evidence to support allegations made against Interpal within the agreed time scale’ (source: Daily Telegraph). Given the seriousness of the charges, should you not have been a little more proactive in seeking out evidence yourselves?

The Telegraph also reported, ‘The inquiry disclosed that Interpal had received money from the Dutch-based Al Aqsa Foundation, a charity banned in Britain for its alleged Hamas links.’ Wasn’t that worth taking reasonably seriously?

Reading the report Interpal published on their tenth anniversary, I find that it quotes you as showering the organization with praise:-

“We scrutinised in detail the charity’s controls and records. They were well organised and we found no evidence of any donations that could not be accounted for or that had been given for political reasons. All of the evidence that we obtained suggests that Interpal is independent and non-profit making. Scrutiny of the charity’s publicity and documentation provided no evidence of any pro-terrorist or anti-Israeli propaganda and interviews with the trustees and staff suggested that they were motivated by faith…”

‘No evidence of any pro-terrorist or anti-Israeli propaganda’. Hmmm. Maybe you could spare the time to glance through the rest of the report…

‘Since September 2000 more than 3,899 Palestinians have been killed and over 59,000 seriously injured’

How many of these were armed terrorists? Makes no difference, they're still victims. How many Israelis, including civilian victims of terrorist attacks, have been killed? Who cares?

‘… a visit by one-time Israeli Defence Minister (and now Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon to the Al-Aqsa Mosque – one of the holiest shrines in Islam, sparked a conflict – the 2nd Intifada, which spilled out into the outskirts of the city with unprecedented levels of violence.’

All that violence, and all Sharon’s fault for showing his dirty Jewish face in the wrong place! Who needs propaganda when the facts speak so clearly for themselves?

The report is lavishly illustrated with photos taken in Palestine. Lots of cute kids, as you’d expect from any development charity. More remarkable is that of the numerous women portrayed, not one has her hair uncovered. ‘Motivated by faith’ indeed…

There is a point to be made here that applies irrespective of whether any direct funding of terrorism is established. As any competent Middle East-watcher could have told the Charity Commission, Hamas has built up an extensive civilian infrastructure which it has used with great success to win popular support for its Islamist political goals and its terror-based strategy for achieving them. [Chapter and verse can be found here – not exactly an impartial source, but its list of the projects funded by Interpal tallies with the latter’s own website.] Help fund the ostensibly humanitarian stuff and you are indirectly helping to recruit suicide bombers – and, regrettably, not a few British Muslims (and their secular fellow-travellers) would be unapologetic about doing so. If this is a connection which the Charity Commission is unable to register, that suggests that an overhaul of UK charity law is overdue.

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