The war on terror and criminalisation of charity

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Fahad Ansari

Rabi' al-Awwal 20, 1434 2013-02-01

Special Reports

by Fahad Ansari (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 12, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1434)

The US and its western allies, especially Britain, France and Germany have not only targeted Muslims accusing them of all kinds of wrongdoing without much evidence, even charities that are involved in helping the victims’ families are being targeted. The witch-hunt is on in earnest.

One of the ways that the US has sought to counter terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks was to prosecute and proscribe a number of legitimate humanitarian charities on the basis that their funds were being used to provide “material support” to terrorism; furthermore, that individuals linked to the charities had been detained, rightly or wrongly, in various parts of the world on suspicion of involvement with terrorist activity. In the past decade, the US government has shut down a total of nine US-based charities accusing them of supporting terrorism and prosecuted dozens of individuals involved with the charities, as exemplified by the Holy Land Foundation convictions.

Under pressure from the US, Britain has similarly attempted to target Islamic charities on its soil, such as the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund, Interpal and the Sanabel Trust. However, due to a slightly higher standard of due process and less draconian powers vested in the authorities, this targeting has not been as simple to implement. Consequently, a more underhanded method has been in place whereby individual banks have, without any stated reason or notice, closed the accounts of a number of Islamic charities severely disrupting their activities and tarnishing their reputations. Such closures have happened even where there has been no official investigation into the charities by the Charity Commission.

Charities including Interpal, Ummah Welfare Trust, Friends of al-Aqsa and the Save Chechnya Campaign have all had their accounts suddenly closed by a number of the principal banking institutions in Britain including Royal Bank of Scotland, NatWest, Lloyds TSB, Barclays, HSBC and even the Islamic Bank of Britain.

One such charity that has been repeatedly targeted in this manner is Helping Households Under Great Stress (HHUGS). It is a registered charity that was set up in September 2004 in response to the increasing number of anti-terror arrests across Britain. HHUGS provides practical support and advice to households devastated by the arrest of a family member under UK anti-terror legislation. These families have become the Untouchables of society. Marginalized and ostracized, these women and children live their lives in the shadows for the sole crime of being related to a Muslim suspected of involvement in terrorist activities, a catch-all term for any engagement, by word or deed, in the political aspects of Islam. Children grow up without a father, wives live like widows and elderly parents spend the twilight years of their existence alone without their sons to support them.

Many of these terror suspects are never charged with any crime but penalized with severely restrictive Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (formerly Control Orders) based on suspicion alone. They and their families are prohibited from having mobile phones, computers and numerous electronic devices and subjected to lengthy curfews and restrictions on travelling outside a boundary of a few square miles. Any visitors, including the children’s school friends, must first obtain permission from the Home Office.

To be a member of the family of a terror suspect, whether in prison or not, is to become a target of the media and government’s dehumanisation campaign, the aim of which is to categorize them as today’s Untouchables. To now associate with or assist such families is a crime; to even mention their names is to risk contamination. Those who may know them are regularly harassed by the security services to either spy on them or risk becoming Untouchables themselves.

For many of these families, daily tasks have become difficult, struggling to make ends meet, visiting their loved ones in prison is rarely possible. On top of this, their friends have disowned them, their masjids have abandoned them, and their communities have shunned them. They are lonely, vulnerable, and desperately in need of help.

In the midst of this, HHUGS has been the only charity that has constantly and consistently stood by these individuals and provided them with the moral, emotional and financial support they need to survive. HHUGS provides the type of support to these families that most people take for granted such as organising drivers to take families on prison visits, food rotas during times of difficulty, weekly household expenses, payment of debts, and assistance with the purchase of furniture, bedding, clothing, and heating appliances. HHUGS also aims to make the families more self-sufficient by financing driving lessons, and educational and vocational courses. HHUGS also arranges professional and specialist help and assistance such as legal advice and counselling in addition to the moral and emotional support families living in such conditions require on a regular basis. In order to try and provide an escape from their hellish existence, HHUGS regularly arranges trips, outings and parties for the families they support.

HHUGS is the only registered charity supporting the Untouchables of Britain without fear or prejudice. If it cannot survive, the Muslim community has collectively failed to protect the persecuted believers in Britain. It was HHUGS that provided moral and financial support for the wife and young children of Faraj Hassan Alsaadi, a former control order detainee who was tragically killed in a road traffic accident two years ago. It has been HHUGS that has tried to raise funds to enable families like those of Babar Ahmad, and Talha Ahsan, to visit their loved ones currently in solitary confinement in the US. It is HHUGS that provides for the five children whose mother tragically died earlier this year whilst their father, a former control order detainee, is being prohibited by the government from returning to the UK to be with his grieving children. It is HHUGS that supports the children of prisoners, met by racist mobs demonstrating outside their homes, using them like punching bags, as they hurl abuse and death threats, and those families who may even face eviction altogether.

Yet, because of its association with these families, it has had its accounts closed on two occasions. Firstly by HSBC in 2007 and again last year by Lloyds TSB. When requested to explain why the account had been closed, HSBC replied in writing that it was because the ethical and moral values held by the charity did not coincide with HSBC's own values. Lloyds TSB refused to engage in any correspondence with HHUGS in relation to the closure but one could speculate that it may have had something to do with its investment in US giant Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), which is accused of helping to organise covert US government flights of terror suspects to Guantánamo Bay and other clandestine “black sites” around the world. HSBC is also an investor in CSC. As a result of the recent closure, all regular standing orders that had steadily built up over the course of many years were lost.

Although a new bank account was opened, only a small fraction of the standing orders have been reinstated by donors. Income from regular monthly standing orders is critical to every charity and is the rock on which a charity is built. It provides stability and ensures the charity’s long term survival. Without these standing orders, HHUGS, which supports 80 families nationwide, is in a financial crisis and on the verge of closure. HHUGS has for its efforts become Untouchable.

This is a watershed moment for the Muslim community in Britain not just in terms of preventing a Muslim charity from being closed but for a far greater reason. The past decade has demonstrated clearly that the War on Terror is ideologically driven as part of the West’s efforts to mould its own acceptable brand of Islam. One aspect of that is controlling what Muslims do with their money and identifying which causes are acceptable and which are not. It is not for the West to tell us that sending our charity to orphans in Africa is permissible but supporting persecuted families on our doorstep is not. Should Muslims allow HHUGS to shut down now, we will have lost a major battle in the ongoing War on Islam.

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