Extremism – The Charitable Thing To Do?

CEP Research Analyst


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The United Arab Emirates labeled two U.S. non-profit groups, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society, as terrorist organizations in late 2014 due to connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. The U.S.  has not taken similar action, however, it has on multiple occasions prosecuted other organizations for funneling money to extremist groups.

In July 2004, U.S. authorities indicted officials from the Dallas, Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development for financial relations with a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. Holy Land, then the country’s largest Muslim charity, had provided money for orphanages and clinics in the West Bank and Gaza, but it also provided $12.4 million to Hamas, according to the indictment. Authorities closed down the foundation in 2001.

In 2008, five Holy Land leaders were found guilty of providing material support to Hamas. During the trial, CAIR argued the case was politically motivated. Unbeknownst to many then, CAIR had been an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial.

After the verdict, CAIR continued to operate freely in the United States. It collected $5.9 million in contributions in 2012, according to tax records. Just days before the UAE’s designation, CAIR reportedly honored Sami Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor who founded the USF-affiliated World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE) in 1990 to promote scholarly research and dialogue between Muslim and Western scholars. Al-Arian and WISE were under investigation for several years for ties to Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and its secretary general, former USF professor Ramadan Shallah.

Shallah joined WISE’s leadership when he arrived at USF in 1991. He left USF in early 1995 and was introduced as PIJ’s new leader that October. WISE denied knowledge of Shallah’s affiliation with any Middle East political group. In May 1997, however, the Immigration and Naturalization Service alleged that the Tampa-based Islamic Concern Project and WISE were fronts for Palestinian terror groups.

In February 2003, the Department of Justice accused Al-Arian of being PIJ's North American leader. Most charges against him were dropped in 2006 after he pleaded to one count of aiding PIJ, and he is currently awaiting deportation.

In 2012, two Australian organizations – World Vision, a Christian relief, development and advocacy group, and AusAID, the Australian government agency responsible for managing the country’s overseas aid programs – were listed as financial supporters of the Union of Agriculture Work Committee (UAWC) in the Palestinian territories. The UAWC, however, was created in 1986 by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and PFLP members have appeared at recent events.

Great Britain’s Charity Commission began investigating the relief organization Children in Deen in April 2014 after a participant in a 2013 aid convoy, Abdul Waheed Majeed, had allegedly become Britain’s first suicide bomber in Syria. Children in Deen is one of more than 80 charities the Charity Commission is investigating for possible extremist ties.

Charities present prime opportunities for abuse by extremists. Under the guise of providing welfare, charities can launder money and provide fresh supplies to extremist groups in far-away lands through the use of aid convoys, as well as create sympathy for the needy and the extremist groups claiming to represent them.

“Even if extremist and terrorist abuse is rare, which it is, when it happens it does huge damage to public trust in charities,” said William Shawcross, chair of Britain’s Charity Commission.

Unfortunately, it is not rare enough.