A number of local publications in the north of England, the Halifax Courier, Yorkshire Post, Telegraph and Argus, as well as the Daily Express and Sunday Times, cover the report by the Henry Jackson Society on Community Policing and Preventing Extremism: Lessons from Bradford.
The report, drawing on interviews with police officers from the West Yorkshire force and the North West Counter Terrorism Unit, notes that officers in the region are concerned that Muslim communities may be being exploited by Muslim charities with the possibility of funds being diverted to more nefarious aims.
The report states: “[West Yorkshire Police] recognise that the religious injunction to give to charity within Bradford’s Muslim communities can make them vulnerable not only to fundraising for criminal or terrorist intent but also to intimidating styles of fundraising which seek to take advantage of a widespread generous and permissive attitude towards giving.”
A JustGiving poll on charitable giving found that Muslims topped the list on per capita donations to charity and the amount raised by Muslim charities is quite considerable given estimates on the amount raised during Ramadan last year.
The issue of Muslim charities has been newsworthy for some time as the Government prepares to ramp up the powers of the Charity Commission, including a cash boost of £8 million, while quietly, and without consultation, extending the contract of current chairman, William Shawcross.
Shawcross’s prior association with the Henry Jackson Society (he was formerly a trustee) is not to be lost in reviewing these developments on widening the powers of the regulator and providing it with a budget to tackle “charity abuse”.
Under Shawcross’s chairmanship, a disproportionate number of Muslim charities have already been placed under statutory inquiry though, as Claystone notes its report, often the Commission is itself unclear of the reasons for suspecting the charities of having breached the rules.
Shawcross has suggested that “Islamist extremism” is the “deadliest threat” faced by the charity sector but not been able to name a single Muslim charity suspected of falling foul of the rules. In a report by the Cabinet Office last year, opening a consultation on the proposed extension of the Commission’s powers, the only example given was that of individuals in Birmingham who had falsely used Muslim Aid’s logo on donation buckets to raise funds for their terrorist activities.
It is important that any claims to funds being raised for terrorism related offences be evidence based. There already exists a “perception of bias” in the Commission’s conduct towards Muslim charities and it would be dangerous to further feed the perception with insinuation but few facts.
There is a point that arises in the report which has been picked up elsewhere in the recent passing of the Counter terrorism and Security Bill.
The HJS report states, “[P]olice remain concerned about the potential for individuals to graduate from charitable giving to joining an aid convoy – possibly inspired by images of suffering they see online or on television – and then find themselves involved or suspected of being involved in terrorism-related activity.”
The problem of providing humanitarian assistance abroad and running the risk of being suspected of involvement in terrorism related activity arose in the Lords chamber last month when Lord Hope of Craighead raised that very issue.
In his intervention, he drew on evidence presented to him as chair of the Joint Committee on the Draft Protection of Charities Bill, by witnesses “speaking about the chilling effect of the risk of prosecution under the terrorist legislation on the efforts of those who seek to provide humanitarian assistance in areas which are under the control of, for example, proscribed organisations.”
He also referred to evidence from the Independent Reviewer of Terrorist Legislation, David Anderson QC, who said that “charities operating in these areas [areas where proscribed groups may be found] run the risk of falling foul of terrorism law—for example, by delivering relief to a general population which may include individuals or groups designated as terrorists. He suggested that increased risk could deter charities and their trustees from delivering humanitarian support.”
While the possibility of charity funds being diverted by individuals intent on using them for other purposes is a problem that deserves due attention from the authorities, without evidence to support its assumed prevalence and crafting poor legislation in this area will have the double whammy effect of deterring individuals from donating and preventing charities from undertaking essential humanitarian work.