Four Ways to Fight Extremism
Two British Cabinet Ministers are “at war” over the growth of Islamist extremism in public institutions, The Times reported last month.
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, blamed the Home Office, according to The Times, for the increasing influence of extremist groups, citing recent attempts by “hardline Islamists” to infiltrate British schools.
A source at the Department for Education stated that the failure to tackle extremism has resulted in schools being targeted by “a group of people who are ideologically Islamist” and “extreme without being violent.” Gove, The Times reported, believes that the Home Office displays a “reluctance…to confront extremism unless it develops into terrorism,” and that “a robust response is needed to ‘drain the swamp’.”
Gove has a point. While thousands of hours of Parliamentary debate and countless pieces of new legislation have introduced extraordinary powers for the government, the police and the security services to tackle acts of terrorism, little work has been done either to define “extremism” or curb its influence. Previous attempts to combat extremism have mostly entailed throwing taxpayers’ money at self-proclaimed “moderate” groups, some of which were later revealed to be run by Islamist agitators – as Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged during his 2011 Munich speech.
Although “non-violent” Islamists play a central role in the radicalization of those who later become convicted terrorists, as repeatedly discussed, their influence over sections of the public sector is rarely challenged or even properly scrutinised.
The authorities’ attempts to battle terrorism are often framed as a struggle for balance between liberty and security. Similarly, politicians attempting to tackle the spread of extremist ideology understandably need to be mindful of threats to free speech. There is, however, legislation the government could easily introduce to promote accountability and curb extremist activity without compromising freedom of expression or other liberties.
1) Stopping Terror Subsidy
A considerable number of Islamist groups, such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas in Gaza, operate a system of da’wah [outreach, proselytizing; literally, a call to God] – providing various social services, such as education, healthcare and welfare payments, which are designed, as Stamford academic Eva Milgrom notes, “to reshape the political consciousness of educated youth.”
As counter-terrorism expert Matthew Levitt writes, the social infrastructure produced by da’wah activities “are crucial to Hamas’ terrorist activity: they provide cover for raising, laundering, and transferring funds, facilitate the group’s propaganda and recruitment efforts, provide employment to its operatives, and serve as a logistical support network for its terrorist operations.” [Matthew Levitt, Hamas, London: Yale University Press, 23-24]
By providing these social services, Islamist groups such as Hamas gain political and moral legitimacy among their constituents, which extends to the terror group’s patrons in the West.
Even if British charities do not provide money directly to Hamas’s terrorist activities, the contributions are fungible: they enable the release of funds, originally allocated for other services, instead to be used for terrorism. In turn, funding social programs in Gaza serves to legitimize and strengthen Hamas’s rule.
The problem is not limited just to terror groups in Gaza. Offshoots of al-Qaeda are also instituting similar da’wah programs. In 2012, for instance, al-Qaeda terrorists in Mali provided various forms of welfare in areas under their control. “[Al Qaeda] and their affiliates, Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith) and the Movement for Jihad and Unity in West Africa,” The Times reported, “have subsidised state utilities, capped food prices and made welfare payments to the needy.”
Similarly, in 2014, reports revealed that British charity workers, praised by leading media outlets, were, in fact, building schools in Syria that bore the flag of the most extreme terror group in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), now tearing through Iraq.
British lawmakers might look to a precedent set by a June 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in which the court asserted that the U.S. government has the right to “prohibit providing material support in the form of training, expert advice, personnel and services to foreign terrorist groups, even if the supporters meant to promote only the groups’ non-violent ends.” Elena Kagan, the lawyer who argued the U.S. government’s case and now a member of the U.S. Supreme Court, told the court: “Hezbollah builds bombs. Hezbollah also builds homes. What Congress decided was when you help Hezbollah build homes, you are also helping Hezbollah build bombs.”
2) Removing the Immunity of Charitable Trusts
Interpal, for instance, a large British Islamic charity, supported by countless politicians, is, under U.S law, a designated terrorist organization.
Interpal’s trustees openly work with senior leaders of the terrorist group, Hamas, and Interpal officials organize regular “convoys” to Gaza. The convoys, named “Miles of Smiles,” support many of the Hamas government’s welfare programs mentioned earlier. The convoys are financed by the Union of Good, a coalition of charities that works to obtain the financial support for Hamas’s political and terrorist activities.
Victims of Hamas terror might well have sued Interpal if were there any actual chance of obtaining redress. It is impossible, however, for individuals to bring claims through the courts against charities such as Interpal because, like many other British charities, it is an unincorporated charitable trust. That is, under English law, it does not exist as a legal entity — it has no legal structure and therefore cannot be sued.
The only people who can face legal charges are a charity’s trustees, who are responsible for all actions attributed to the charity. These trustees, however, are not, under British law, actual employees of the charity; moreover, they rarely hold any assets in their own names, so there is little or no prospect of recovering any damages or legal costs.
If British politicians are serious about putting a stop to the misuse of charities for pro-terror purposes, they could propose legislation that removes the effective immunity of charitable trusts from liability when their trustees are found to have used funds for terrorist or other unlawful purposes. This could be achieved through a statutory provision that would provide the courts with the option of requiring a charitable trust to guarantee the liabilities of its trustees to pay claimants’ costs and damages, in cases where there is evidence that the trustees were not acting independently of the charity.
3) Freedom of Information Law
Under current legislation, British charities are exempt from Freedom of Information law. While it is commonly assumed that charitable wealth is almost entirely the product of the public’s benevolence, recent figures reveal that British voluntary organizations receive £16 billion ($27 billion) each year from individuals, and £14 billion ($23 billion) each year from the state.
Moreover, possession of charitable status enables British charities to claim government subsidies through a “tax-back” scheme named Gift Aid, in which charities can claim the 20% basic rate tax on every pound donated. For example, if a private donor who pays income tax donates £1000 to Interpal, the charity is able to claim an extra £200 from the British government.
Clearly, charities are not entirely private enterprises. Despite the financial benefits afforded by charitable status, however, little transparency or accountability is required of British charities.
Moreover, a number of charities that promote extremist ideas have received public funds. Over the last six years, for example,the East London Mosque has received £2.9 million [nearly $5 million] of taxpayer’s money for “interfaith” and “counter-extremism” purposes. In May 2014, the East London Mosque hosted a “six-week evening course” with guest speaker Imam Fadel Soliman, an extremist Egyptian preacher who has called for killing American soldiers in Iraq, who claimed that the punishment for “fornication” is “100 lashes” and who supports amputating limbs as a punishment for theft.
Other charities are given public funds to provide a public service, such as “advice and advocacy” or “education,” on behalf of the government. The Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom [IFN], for example, is an umbrella body of various faith groups that claims to “promote understanding, cooperation and good relations between organisations and persons of different faiths in the UK.” In 2011, the IFN was granted £373,990 by the Department for Communities and Local Government. 80% of the IFN’s budget is taxpayers’ money.
The IFN’s co-chairman in 2012, however, was Dr. Manazir Ahsan, a leading British Islamist who helped to coordinate the riots in the U.K. against Salman Rushdie over his book, The Satanic Verses.
One leading member body of the IFN is the U.K. division of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which, according to Human Rights Watch, is an Indian Hindu ultra-nationalist group named as “directly responsible” in 2002 for carrying out large-scale anti-Muslim violence in which thousands were killed.
In 2007, Anil Patel, a VHP official in India, told one Indian newspaper, “Our war cry was, ‘Lock the door from outside and burn the Muslims from the inside.’” In addition, the VHP is also accused of carrying out scores of attacks on Christians in India, including murders, rapes and the destruction of dozens of churches.
Although the IFN receives vast amounts of taxpayers’ money to promote inter-faith harmony on behalf of British government policy, unlike the government, the IFN is able to spend taxpayers’ money while remaining entirely unaccountable to its donors – the public.
None of these charities funded by the taxpayer is subject to the same checks — such as Freedom-of-Information requests — other government bodies must undergo.
For the past year, the government has even fought, in fact, to withhold copies of its correspondence with the IFN on the grounds that disclosure would “inhibit the free and frank provision of advice” and would “harm public interests” because the requested correspondence “concerns sensitive issues.”
The government needs to extend freedom-of-information law to include publicly funded charities. Any registered charity receiving taxpayer funding should be as accountable as the government department providing it.
4) Removing the Charitable Cloak from Religious Extremists
A number of scandals in the U.K. have recently drawn attention to the government’s financial support for organizations that claim to promote and preserve religious ideals.
In April 2014, Freedom of Information data obtained by the British Humanist Association revealed that taxpayers had funded four schools run by extremist organizations. One of them, the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation, was described by Prime Minister Cameron himself as a Hizb ut-Tahrir “front organisation.” In addition, twenty-five other schools are now under investigation after it was uncovered that Islamists have attempted to take control over a number of these schools, aided by taxpayers’ money.
There is probably a bigger discussion to be had in the halls of Westminster and within the pages of British newspapers – about whether religious organizations should, in fact, ever receive public funding.
For the moment, however, British politicians might revise the list of accepted charitable purposes, known as “charitable objects,” that are allowed by the Charity Commission – a list which presently includes “Advancement of Religion.”
It is this “charitable object”alone upon which charities, such as the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), are able to spread extreme Islamist ideas.
The iERA is a Salafi group that tours extremist preachers around Britain. Three iERA speakers have been banned from entering the country: Bilal Philips, described by the U.S. an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the 1993 al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center; Zakir Naik, banned from the U.K. for saying that “every Muslim should be a terrorist”; and Hussein Yee, who has claimed that Jews in America were “happy” when the Twin Towers fell.
Another organization, the Islamic Foundation — registered as a charity “to advance the Islamic faith — is aligned to Jamaat-e-Islami, the violent sub-continental cousin of the Muslim Brotherhood.The Times reported in 2003 that two of the Islamic Foundation’s trustees were on a UN list of people associated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The Foundation’s current chairman, Khurshid Ahmad, has described the Taliban as “refulgent and splendid” and has warned of the “implication of Europe’s being in the clasp of Jews.” [Khurshid Ahmad, ‘Musharraf, Taliban and the Implementation of Shariah Bill in NWFP, Tarjuman-ul-Quran, Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan website, July 2003]
“Advancement of Religion” offers extremist groups the opportunity to dress up dogma as charitable endeavour. Religious freedom is important, but it is not the role of the government to legitimize all faith groups as moral causes and subsidize their activities from the public purse.