Islam and Charities in the USA

It’s worth noting, dear readers, that Muslims don’t seem to run any charities or social organizations in America they aren’t distinctly Islam-related and which are open to serving all Americans in need of whatever service or charity it is being offered. Someone, please correct me on this if I’m wrong. But, so far as I know there is no Muslim version of say, the American Red Cross, no Muslim pro-life organizations (though supposedly Muslims are against abortion, homosexuality and in favor of what we in the west would call traditional family values), no Muslims building hospitals, homeless shelters or homes for unwed mothers or battered women. I have never heard of a Muslim-founded PTA group, a Muslim-founded children’s charity (at least not one that serves any non-Muslim children). The list could go on and on. Is there a Muslim group that promotes breast-cancer awareness? How about a Muslim group that promotes the environment? How about a Muslim version of Mary Kay (the world-famous cosmetics company founded by a devout Christian woman who wanted to create a company that would enable stay-at-home moms to raise their kids but also work part-time and contribute income to their families)?  Is there a Muslim-founded organanization to help people control their health and weight, like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig? Any Muslim founded groups to help at-risk teenagers who are living on the streets? Any Muslim versions of Alchoholics or Narcotics Anonymous? Any Muslim-founded healthcare group like Doctors Without Borders? Well? Are there ANY groups, organizations, charities or support groups founded, funded and run by Muslims that serve ALL Americans?

Let me know if you think of something, but don’t strain yourself too hard. Muslims DO run charities in the US, clearly they do. Yeah, but see…there’s a catch. Those Islamic charities funded by big Muslim oil dollars are fronts for terrorist organizations and the money goes to fund jihad…in America. And the Muslims funding these charities? Why, they are the so-called “moderate majority” who claim to be opposed to Islamic terror and who claim to value western democracy, such as they enjoy here in America. Read on…

Charities and Terrorism

Terrorist networks and organizations have many “underground” means of financing themselves, from drug smuggling to cybercrime. As challenging as these clandestine methods are to globally eradicate, an equally vexing problem is how to shut-off jihadist funding siphoned off from so-called “legitimate” charities.

Addressing that problem, according to Tolga Koker Department of Economics and Carlos Yordan Department of Political Science Drew University, means addressing the question of why tens of thousands of Muslims who are not terrorists and often opposed themselves to terrorism nonetheless support the work of charities that support jihadist operations. Their new paper, titled Microfinancing Terrorism: A Study in Al Qaeda Financing Strategy, published Tuesday by the Social Science Research Network, tries to do just that.

Although new banking and financial regulations may have made it difficult for terrorist groups to move funds around the world, the authors argue, these groups have be quite resourceful in finding ways to adapt to the new regulatory environment and to undermine it.

“For terrorist networks,” they write, “especially those informed by jihadist ideologies, one source of finance is Muslims’ religious donations to Islamic charities. Although Al Qaeda and its affiliates have employed other funding mechanisms, individual donations are a key source of financing because it is a steady flow of funds.

Charities, according to the report, have been a fundamental part of Al Qaeda’s financial Infrastructure, not only helping Al Qaeda raise funds, but allowing it to move funds across national boundaries and hide the transfers from financial regulators.

Though some charities, according to the authors knowingly and actively supported Al Qaeda’s efforts, “most were not aware that al Qaeda operatives working for these charities or that they were siphoning off thousands of dollars to fund terrorist activities and to build Al Qaeda’s global network, which supported jihadist struggles in Chechnya, the Balkans, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia.”

“Given that Al Qaeda and other groups fund most of their activities through donations, collected by Islamic charities, why would Muslims provide funds to these organizations,” the authors ask.

The answer, the authors conclude, is that “social pressure forces moderate Muslims to publicly support the work of charities that may provide assistance to Al Qaeda or groups inspired by a jihadist worldview.”

As they explain it, an individual will comply with social pressures and donate funds to a charity that may supports jihadi causes if he perceives it as critical to his reputation and public recognition as a “practicing” Muslim. Given the primacy of charitable donations in the culture and status system of Muslim communities the need to maintain reputation in this sphere is a powerful force, one that Al Qaeda has been able to tap.

“Microfinancing jihadi charities has a snowballing effect,” they write. “A Muslim who previously refrained from donating to Islamic charities is likely to find himself in a position to provide some funds to religious organizations if he constantly observes his fellow acquaintances’ donations. As a bigger portion of Muslims are yielding to social pressures to contribute extra monies to jihadi charities, al Qaeda and other groups informed by jihadi goals will secure more funds to run their violent operations.”

The reputational model of charitable behavior, the authors believe, has strong implications for policy and counter-terror strategy.

“The model implies,” they say, “that identifying first and then publicly exposing such charities may help pious Muslims, especially those with high expressive drive to sincerely voice their concern among their communities. Encouraging individual donors with high threshold to voice their opinion against violence may create a snowballing effect deterring others from contributing to possible jihadi charities.”

“More importantly,” they conclude, “finding ways to decrease reputational benefits is crucial in curbing the financial resources flowing terrorist networks. However, this is not an easy task. It needs the involvement of secular charities to provide several basic services that were considerably diminished with the neo-liberal polices since the 1980s in Muslim countries and elsewhere. Strictly regulated foreign aid to secular charities may help in this regard.”

The ultimate goal of this campaign of cultural outreach will be “making contribution to jihadi charities unpopular, and hence, changing the direction of social pressure from donating monies to such charities to avoiding such organization will have a paramount effect in the fight against terrorism. This is a long-term goal which is not feasible in the very short run since it asks for major revisions in world politics of which the jihadi charities are by-products.”

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