The issue of charities has been raised once again in news reports in light of the recent Mumbai terror attacks. Accusations have been levelled against the Pakistani Islamist movement Lashkar-e-Taiba for carrying out the attacks and Pakistani authorities have cracked down on Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Islamabad’s largest charitable organization.
Jamaat-ud-Dawa is the largest charity in Pakistan and is well known for providing assistance to Pakistan’s earthquake victims. However, the charity is now being linked to the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks, especially that the charity is considered the political wing of Lashkar-e-Taiba.
What is important here is that we are facing fresh accusations of the exploitation of charitable work in the support and financing of terrorism, and this is an issue that has gained increased attention in most of our Arab countries. Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry released official statements warning against so-called charity work. It was the same for Kuwait, Egypt and Yemen and we watched as a battle raged in Lebanon regarding financial aid and how it has been transformed into a political playing card. Today, we are also seeing how charitable work in Iraq acts as a mask for Iranian influence and how Hamas exploits charity.
It is unfortunate that the exploitation of financial aid offered by charities, and the damage that is being caused to the concept of charity, is continuing, with reports of new scandals surfacing from time to time. The West certainly has its own problems regarding the abuse of charity work, but these problems are corrected through high levels of transparency and continuous efforts.
Like others, I believe in the importance of voluntary and charity work. Therefore, some kind of system must be established to prevent its exploitation for the benefit of terrorism, fraud, or political influence.
Firstly, charitable work must be internal in the sense that money should not be taken from foreign institutes and funds should not be accepted from abroad at all in any Arab country. We must set clear standards and establish systems to regulate the nature of these organizations, and their areas of work, which should not be concerned with preaching but should be wide-ranging, from providing relief for victims of disasters, to education and fighting poverty, and even supporting small projects, in the interest of all people.
With regards to foreign donations, this matter should be handled by the state and its apparatus alone; it should not be left to individuals or groups, or overseas offices, in order to avoid being embroiled in any foreign political agendas, or political or ideological issues.
Most importantly, we need strict financial monitoring of charitable work; charitable organizations or groups must not be granted any kind of immunity by any officials, government apparatus or media organisations in any Arab country.
Following a barrage of accusations and scandals, the charities must work according to the principle that they are guilty until they are proven innocent. This is not an attack on charity work; rather, it is a call for reviewing the field of charity work itself and those who work within it.
The importance of all of this is to ensure the continuation of charity work, and that citizens can feel its effects. Charity work should not be limited; it should cover all the important aspects of life and the concept of voluntary work must be developed in order to assist charity work.