U.S. Islamic charities feel post 9/11 heat

Islamic charities in the United States complain they are being unfairly scrutinized and persecuted as part of a broader backlash against Muslims since the September 11 attacks.

U.S. Islamic charities feel post 9/11 heat

The issue has come under renewed focus as a major trial gets under way in Dallas in which the U.S. Department of Justice is trying to prove the Holy Land Foundation charity illegally sent money to the  Palestinian group Hamas.

"We feel our faith and charity which are very important to us are under attack in this trial," said Khalil Meek, spokesman for Hungry for Justice, a coalition of civil rights groups offering support to the defendants in the trial -- the charity and seven men linked to it.

U.S. law enforcement officials maintain some Islamic charities have been used as fronts to channel cash to groups Washington has deemed terrorist.

Holy Land was one of the largest Islamic charity groups in the United States and one of six in the country that have been shut in recent years, according to OMB Watch, a government transparency watchdog. Estimates vary but there are thought to be about a dozen still operating in the United States.

Islamic activists say charities that donate to Palestinian causes have been singled out.

"Any charity that decides to provide aid to Palestine is either shut down or intensely scrutinized," said Meek, who is also president of the Muslim Legal Fund of America.

Other Islamic charities also find it tough.

"It is very difficult right now for American Muslim charities to operate and at the same time American Muslims themselves are finding it difficult to donate to these charities," said Nidal Ibrahim, executive director of the Arab American Institute.

He said the institute has asked the Bush administration to issue a "seal of approval" for those charities that have been examined closely and found to be operating lawfully.

"At the end of the day, American Muslims give to these charities out of a sense of goodwill and to fulfill a religious obligation," Ibrahim said.

COUNTERPRODUCTIVE

There is no hard data on whether donations to U.S. Islamic charities have fallen in recent years -- especially as donors are wary of the government's intentions.

"Donors are afraid money might be frozen so they are giving cash or kind through informal channels, making it hard to estimate the current size of donations," said Kay Guinane of OMB Watch.

Some critics say that is counterproductive.

"Ten years ago you may have had several charities channeling the flow but now you have people carrying money into a region like the Middle East," said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director with the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

"So from a policy perspective we don't feel this is conducive for effectively countering terrorism financing."

U.S.-based Muslim charities give to a range of causes.

Islamic Relief, which has a U.S. office in California, has an "Action for Africa Appeal" focused on Somalia and Ethiopia and a few other countries.

"As the climate changes, millions of people in Somalia are struggling to survive," it says in an appeal on its Web site.

U.S. Muslims, especially Arabs, feel isolated with radical Islam the main target of the U.S. war on terrorism.

An Arab American Institute/Zogby poll released on July 16 found three-quarters of young Arab Americans reported they felt discriminated against because of their ethnicity.

Jury selection for the Holy Land trial has begun and opening arguments in what will likely be a long trial were set to start on Monday -- after an already drawn out process. Holy Land is alleged to have channeled $12.4 million to Hamas; it was shut late in 2001.

The indictment against Holy Land maintains among other things that three of the accused met with Hamas activists in Philadelphia in October 1993 to discuss ways to support the movement and oppose Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives.

"The attendees acknowledged the need to avoid scrutiny by law enforcement officials in the United States by masquerading their operations under the cloak of charitable exercise," says the indictment.

"To that end, the attendees discussed the need to conceal their true motives and objectives by giving nominal amounts to other non-Palestinian charities," it says.

Previous trials along the same lines in Illinois and Florida have failed to produce convictions.

Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 21 Temmuz 2007, 23:27
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