Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Camouflaging Extremism | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Muslims are restrained by police officers during their protest march towards the US Embassy, after an English Defence League (EDL) demonstrator attempted to attack them, in London on May 6, 2011. (Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett)

It is ironic that British authorities supervising nonprofit organizations in the country have only just noticed the threats posed by these so-called charities which are used to espouse terrorism and engage in organized fraud. The chairman of the UK’s Charity Commission said that the authorities intended to check the activity of Islamist organizations after they discovered that some of them fund violent Islamist groups in Syria, Somalia and other countries.

There are four lines of work which in recent years have been misused, and whose reputations have been diminished: religious preaching, human rights work, education, and charities. Ever since the 1990s, extremist and terrorist groups have infiltrated these areas in the West due to the public support they enjoy. So in the name of aiding orphans, widows and the poor, these extremist groups launched other operations using this pretext.

Charity work itself is an indispensable part of Islam, with a tax levied on able Muslims distributed to those who are deprived—the poor, orphans and the needy. Extremist groups exploited alms-giving and charity to gain prominence: They have managed to collect hundreds of millions throughout the years. Money and religious evangelism together make a most dangerous mixture, one which enabled an organization like Al-Qaeda to spread and engage in acts of terror. Al-Qaeda used this mixture of finance and faith to purchase explosives and recruit potential suicide bombers.

In the late 1990s, many Muslim countries began taking action against such charitable organizations after links with terrorist organizations were discovered. Following the September 11 attacks, the international crackdown on terror organization expanded; most phony charity offices were shut down and dozens of those found guilty of such illegal activity were jailed. But some charity organizations that were closed managed to resume their “charitable” activities once again when they moved to isolated communities far from the grip of Islamic governments—such as those of European Muslims. They also used modern means of social networking to market their ideas and collect funds. This has happened in Kuwait in the aim of supporting extremist groups in Syria and other countries. After two years of chaos, a delegation from the United States arrived in the region demanding an end to this and threatening sanctions.

This occurs in countries like Kuwait, but what about Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and other countries? Unfortunately, we do not hear many cases of legal pursuit. These people do not only fund terrorist operations but also support extremist groups in European countries—groups that may not be linked to violence themselves but who nonetheless incite violence. The latter groups benefit from the protection of freedom of speech, belief, and association in these European countries. However, they actually damage the fabric of the society where they live and pit Muslims against one another and against Europeans. What kind of charity work is this? The chairman of the Charity Commission in Britain said he requested the British prime minister to prevent those involved in terrorism from being qualified to engage in charity work. However, he’s wrong to think that the problem is that simple, as those convicted are a mere few while those who are sympathizers of extremist groups are the real problem.

The transferring of funds outside Britain to help the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, buy weapons, or to support Al-Shabaab in Somalia, does not pose a major threat. This could be controlled if financial and security monitoring improves. What’s more dangerous is when the money is collected under the pretext of helping orphans and the poor, but is instead spent on funding extremist organizations in Britain, France and other countries where Muslims live as an isolated minority. Establishing extremist education and funding intellectual extremists is not punishable by law in the West, unlike in Arab countries. However, such actions destroy future generations of Muslim youths for many decades. Muslims have lived for more than 100 years in their new countries: The Moroccans in France, the Yemenis in Britain, and so on. Extremism did not gain traction until a decade-and-a-half ago, and the future looks worrisome.