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Charity Commission warns 'Islamist' extremism "deadliest threat" to charities

Charity Commission warns 'Islamist' extremism "deadliest threat" to charities

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday April 22 2014

The Guardian, BBC News, Sky News and ITV News all report on the Sunday Times’ front page story concerning remarks by the new Chairman of the Charities Commission, William Shawcross, on the ‘deadliest threat’ to charities arising from ‘Islamists’ and ‘extremism’.

Shawcross in an interview with the Sunday Times said that his first 18 months as the new Chairman, has been a “rollercoaster” ride “with IEDs going off”.

Shawcross stated that “The problem of Islamist extremism and charities… is not the most widespread problem we face in terms of abuse of charities, but is potentially the most deadly. And it is, alas, growing.”

Having drafted the former head of anti-terrorism at Scotland Yard, Sir Peter Clarke, onto the Commission’s board, Shawcross added that the commission was taking tough measures against any charity “sending cash to extremist groups in Syria” or “dispatching young Britons for training in Syria by al-Qaeda or other extremist groups”.

Shawcross tells the paper he is pressing the Prime Minster to introduce measures to prevent those convicted of terrorism offences or money laundering to be barred from setting up charities or becoming trustees.

The Sunday Times further reports that the Commission is investigating three charities on raising funds for Syria and monitoring seven others. It also notes that the regulator is currently conducting 48 inquiries into terrorism – related groups though there is no information on the type of terrorism in question; far right, sectarian or al-Qaida inspired.

It is worth taking note that in the Taskforce on Tackling Radicalisation report, published last December, the need to address the problem of extremist groups targeting charities was highlighted although there was scant evidence based analysis to support concerns that it was a major problem. The Charity Commission’s consultation launched the same day also included details of cases where the regulator was forced to intervene but none of the cases suggest a problem with extremist groups targeting charities.

The warning from Shawcross follows the recent launch of a statutory inquiry into a British Muslim charity, Al Fatiha Global, last month.

The disproportionate focus on the securitisation of the charity sector through counter-terrorism laws on terrorist financing is apparent even in the Charity Commission’s own experience that “proven instances of terrorist involvement or association in the charitable sector are low in comparison to the size of the sector”.

Indeed, such focus is unwarranted given that counter-terrorism laws have been inadequately developed particularly in relation to civil society. The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, has criticised anti-terrorism legislation as ‘untidy’ with some aspects of it administered with “excessive enthusiasm”.

A 2009 report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity” demonstrates the impact of anti-terrorism financing laws in the US have had on the faith sector and particularly Muslim charities.

In exploring its concern that US counter-terrorism laws are “overly broad and lack procedural safeguards” to protect American charities against government abuse, the ACLU conducted 120 interviews, including with Muslim community leaders and American Muslim charitable donors. Its findings reveal that America’s counter-terrorism practices have been counter-productive undermining American Muslims’ civil rights including the right to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination. The ACLU concluded that the US government’s policies have “created a climate of fear that chills American Muslims’ free and full exercise of their religion through charitable giving”. It also found that the operation of Muslim charities have been substantially disrupted by raids which have the net result of “scaring off donors in the absence of indictable evidence of wrongdoing”.

The situation in the US seems to reverberate in the UK with both Interpal and Muslim Aid having wrongfully faced allegations of having links with terrorism groups. Both charities were investigated and cleared by the Charity Commission. Concerns regarding the hindrance of the work of Muslim charities in the UK due to terrorism legislation on charity activities was also raised by Islamic Relief in a discussion with charity regulators in 2012.

Details that are not entirely unrelated to the articles published in the Sunday Times are the political views of Shawcross and his association with the Henry Jackson Society. Shawcross’s staunch support for the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq is documented in his book on the subject. Support that perhaps led him to view Guantanamo as ‘model justice’ having “probably the best-run detention centre in the world and with more habeas corpus rights for detainees than anywhere else”. Moreover, as Marko Atilla Hoare, a former staffer at HJS writes, Shawcross’s political views were scrutinised at a meeting of the Public Administration select committee where his affiliation with HJS was flagged up as undermining claims to political independence, a requirement for the chairmanship post.

In its report on the ‘State of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Europe’, the Council of Europe notes the impact of the securitisation of civil society on the sector’s ability to perform essential duties on preserving human rights and challenging abuse. It notes that “Member States must not claim the protection of public order or prevention of extremism, terrorism or money laundering to control NGOs or restrict their ability function”.

As the Taskforce on Tackling Radicalisation moves to implement policy proposals contained in its report and the Charity Commission concludes it consultation on extending powers to tackle abuse in the charitable sector, the Council of Europe’s warning should ring loud and clear. 


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