A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) details the effects it says that terror finance laws have had on American Muslims and America’s relations with the Islamic world. You can see the report, “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity”, here.
The report says U.S. terrorism finance laws — greatly expanded after the Sept 11 attacks by the administration of former President George W. Bush — have led to the direct closure of seven U.S.-based Muslim charities. The charities were shut after they were designated as “terrorist organizations” or under investigation. Two others have been forced to close in the aftermath of the negative publicity generated by raids on their premises.
Among other things, the report says, this curtails the abilities of Muslims to give to the needy, which is one of the pillars of their faith.
“Despite the often weak nature of the evidence, when it designated Muslim charities, indicted them criminally, or raided them, the Bush administration publicly trumpeted its actions as successes and made inflammatory and unfounded or exaggerated allegations about the charitable sector’s
connections to terrorism financing. The effect of these government actions is to create a general climate in which law-abiding American Muslims fear making charitable donations in accordance with their religious beliefs,” the report says.
“The government’s actions have chilled American Muslims’ free and full exercise of their religion through charitable giving, or Zakat. Zakat is one of the core “five pillars” of Islam and a religious obligation for all observant Muslims,” it says.
“Many American Muslims reported that the climate of fear has made it impossible for them to fulfill their religious obligation to give Zakat in accordance with their faith and to associate with fellow Muslims. The United States has long been regarded as a beacon of religious freedom, and yet U.S. terrorism financing laws and policies developed under the Bush administration are inhibiting American Muslims’ ability to freely and fully practice their religion.”
Supporters of the government’s tactics might counter that there is no lack of charities in the United States or places like soup kitchens or homeless shelters that will accept money or alms — and that provide services to non-Muslims and Muslims alike. But many U.S. Muslims no doubt would prefer to give to charities linked to their own faith tradition.
The report also says that the prosecution of Islamic charities is one of many Bush-era policies that continue to undermine America’s efforts on the diplomatic stage at a time when President Barack Obama is trying to reach out to the Muslim world — and when U.S. troops are waging war in two Muslim countries.
We have written about this issue before and the U.S. Department of Justice would no doubt argue that its laws have helped choke off potential “terrorist” activities. A U.S. judge last month handed down 65-year prison sentences to two founders of a U.S. Islamic charity convicted of illegally funneling $12.4 million to the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
The sentences came several months after a grand jury in Dallas convicted the Holy Land Foundation and five of its leaders for conspiracy to support a foreign terrorist organization, money laundering, tax fraud and other charges. Its supporters have long maintained that it focused on legitimate disaster relief and aid to Palestinian refugees and that the weakness of the prosecution’s case was exposed when its first attempt to nail the group ended in an embarrassing mistrial.
The ACLU says that terror finance laws give the U.S. Treasury Department virtually unchecked powers to designate groups as terrorist and lack safeguards that would protect U.S. charities from government mistakes and abuse.
The ACLU is often a favorite target of conservative Christians and the Republican Party in America and is often associated with left or liberal causes. Does this mean that the Obama administration will take its views on this issue into account?
(Photo: Holy Land Foundation supporters hold signs outside the Earle Cabell Federal Building and Courthouse in Dallas, Texas October 22, 2007., during the first trial of the Islamic charity accused of illegally funneling money to the militant Palestinian group Hamas. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES)