Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Two charities searched, one closed, one still open and has not been charged

Clarification to this headline. Al-Mabarrat charity organization has not been charged with any crimes and is still open for business.

Goodwill Charities has been closed by order of the US Department of Charity.


Two Muslim Charities Shut Down

Muslim Observer, News Feature, Adil James, Posted: Aug 21, 2007

Editor's note: That America's strained relationship with Iran has affected Michigan-based charities and the American Lebanese community should surprise no one. The short-term prognosis indicates that there will be increasing, politicalyl expedient scrutiny of America's Shi'a communities.

DEARBORN, Mich. –– Two more Muslim charities are under heavy suspicion this month.

Dearborn leaders and community members feel some dismay over the closing of one charity and the confiscation of another’s computers. The two charities are Goodwill Charitable Organization (GCO) and Mabarrat, both of which are based in downtown Dearborn. In an event widely reported in Detroit newspapers and indeed around the nation, in late July federal officials with warrants visited both facilities and closed GCO and took Mabarrat’s computers.

Imam Walid of CAIR [The Council on American-Islamic Relations] Michigan raised the issue that it “could politicize the opening day of the trial of the Holy Land Foundation case, which was on the same day that Mabarrat and Goodwill Charities Organization were raided,” saying that he finds it “hard to believe that that was just a coincidence.”

“This could have a prejudicial effect on the jury in the Holy Land case.”

Imam Walid said of the raid that it raises troubling questions because there are non-Muslim charities which do development and humanitarian aid work in Gaza and southern Lebanon that do not get raided, while Muslim charities doing the same work have been raided.

He said that he suspected a “political motivation, if not in the raids themselves, then in the timing of the raids,” because of the simultaneous Holy Land Trial beginning.

The Rajab raid was in fact eerily similar to a raid last year during Sha`ban, immediately before Ramadan, at Life for Relief and Development, also based in Dearborn–Life’s computers were also taken by the FBI and the raid sparked doubts regarding Life’s status and made it difficult for them to collect money exactly during the normally lucrative Ramadan.

Life for Relief did receive their computers back eventually.

Both GCO and Mabarrat were based in downtown Dearborn, which is home to what is generally agreed to be the largest concentration of Lebanese people outside of Lebanon, many of them especially from Bint Jebail in the south of Lebanon, where the attacks by Israeli soldiers hit especially hard last year, but which at the end of the war had not been taken by the Israelis.

GCO could not be reached by telephone, as their phones are disconnected. Mabarrat declined comment on the case.

Imam Elahi, the leader of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights, hosted a meeting of Muslim leaders immediately after the closing and confiscation, where the leaders complained of concerns that very public raids alleging terrorism could easily spark anti-Muslim sentiment, which the Muslim community can ill afford. Speaking to TMO on Monday, Imam Elahi explained that while he had “had no idea of the existence of these organizations” before they were raided, but said that in the press conference at IHW “we talked very frankly and seriously about the subject of our concern about any action like that that might bring a confusing message to the community.”

“Our concern,” said the imam, “is that this kind of action may bring more Islamophobia and more prejudice.” He noted that he sees now that in the wake of several high-profile government raids, fundraising is more difficult than it was in the past for his mosque, although he emphasized the distinction between mosques and the charitable organizations that have thus far been the targets of investigations. This has a “negative impact on charity giving among people.”

Imam Walid echoed this sentiment, explaining that the Islamic Center of America had conducted a large scale fundraiser for southern Lebanon and had deliberately given the money raised to a non-Muslim charitable organization in order to allay any suspicions.

This raid follows a larger trend.

GCO has now joined the small unfortunate group of “Specially Designated National (SDN)” or “Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT)” organizations listed by the Treasury Department (according to Guidestar, an American organization which tracks American not-for-profits).

The other seven are Al Haramain Islamic Foundation Inc. (SDGT-tax exemption revoked), Benevolence International Foundation (SDGT-tax exemption revoked), Global Relief Foundation (SDGT-tax exemption revoked), Goodwill Charitable Organization Inc. (SDN-remains tax exempt but assets frozen), Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (SDGT-tax exemption revoked), Islamic American Relief Agency–USA (SDGT-tax exemption revoked), Kindhearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development (SDN-remains tax exempt but assets frozen), and The Rabbi Meir Kahana Memorial Fund (SDGT-tax exemption revoked).

Mabarrat was, by the admission of its own website, organized by Sheik Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, a prominent cleric based in Lebanon who is the marja (religious authority) for millions of Shi’a Muslims. Fadlallah, however, has also been tied to Hezbollah and does not deny this assertion on his website. In a Washington Post article posted on Fadlallah’s website, David Ignatius interviews Fadlallah and describes him as “the spiritual leader of the Hezbollah fighters whose suicide bombs drove U.S. troops from Lebanon in 1984.”

Imam Dawud Walid of CAIR Michigan explains though that in fact Mabarrat and Hezbollah have competing interests and go to the same pool for money. Hezbollah, he says, has a vast humanitarian relief wing and thus there is some natural tension between them and Mabarrat, just as there would be between any two organizations with some competing interests. Although Imam Fadlallah is sometimes called the spiritual guide of Hezbollah during the 80’s, Imam Walid explains that “today the spiritual guide of Hezbollah is without doubt Hassan Nasrallah.”

These raids are somewhat surprising in light of the relative unimportance of the two organizations.

GCO listed gross receipts of $168,000 in 2005 (the last year for which their online Form 990 was available), and Mabarrat listed gross receipts of only $954,000 in their tax forms for 2004. The two previous years for each organization are similar–in consideration of the huge scale of the 2006 war with Israel, such amounts of money are relatively insignificant, and this raises the question whether the FBI raided these two Shi’a organizations as a “shot across the bow” of the Shi’a community, which until now has remained relatively shielded from government investigations and aggressive surveillance.

Perhaps this is an unintended consequence of Hezbollah’s perceived victory over Israel last year, or possibly a precursor to the Bush administration’s future plans toward Lebanon’s large Shi’a neighbor, Iran, which has been popularly expected to respond to any attack on its territory or interests via Hezbollah proxies against the United States.

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