Casual observers of US attempts to shut down Muslim charities might have an image in their head: funds solicited by Muslim charities for basic needs such as food, traded instead in shadowy back alleys for Kalashnikovs. It would be hard to blame them, given efforts by the authorities to paint US Muslim charities as being financiers of terrorism over the years, particularly since 9/11. This week, the trial involving the most high-profile charity, the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation, began, and the stakes for both the US legal fight against terror financing and charitable institutions among US Muslims are high.

“There is no distinction,” explained former Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2004 when shutting down the HLF, “between those who carry out terrorist attacks and those who knowingly finance terrorist attacks.” But was the HLF, not to mention scores of other shuttered charities, acting in such a manner? The prosecution isn’t arguing that donated funds went to militant purposes, only that worthy donations such as medical care and food “effectively reward[ed] past, and encourage[d] future suicide bombings and terrorist activities”. The charities argue that their only crime was to provide relief services to a group of people, some of whom could have sympathized with terrorism without their knowledge. “They are trying to establish that using widely accepted methods of getting humanitarian aid to the Palestinians is criminal,” said John Boyd, a defense lawyer. “If that is what you think, then put them on the list and say we can’t give them money.”

Both sides have now spent over six years preparing for the case, and if previous trials are any indication, US authorities are likely sparing no expense to make their point. The bar for the prosecution is certainly high – authorities must show that HLF knowingly sent money to Hamas-controlled charities. (As of now, the only proven links to Hamas are the family relationships between HLF and Hamas officials.) Criteria like this is why no US Muslim charity has been convicted of supporting terrorism since the crackdown began in 2001 (though certain individuals associated with some charities have been sent to prison on various offenses). If the al-Arian case is any indication (the government spent $70m in preparation on terrorism charges but did not receive one conviction), the prosecution has a tough sell ahead of it. Indeed, the case is so riddled with tension that fear has caused three potential jurors to opt out.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.