Monday, July 21, 2008

Charity Treasurer Sentenced to Prison for Failing to Disclose Encouragement of "Jihad" on Form 990

Last week, a federal district court sentenced the former treasurer of a defunct tax exempt charity to eleven months in prison for failing to disclose that it used some of its donations to publish a newsletter promoting "jihad" according to a report in the Boston Globe.  The prosecution was ill-conceived, according to the defendant's attorney:

Mubayyid's lawyer, Michael C. Andrews, said after the sentencing that the prosecutions of Mubayyid and two other leaders of the group were "ill-conceived and born, in part, out of fear of Muslim organizations" after the Sept. 11 attacks. He said Mubayyid was innocent and will appeal.  Reading a statement in court, Mubayyid, an Australian citizen of Lebanese descent, said his family raised him to help people less fortunate than himself. That is what Care International did when it solicited donations on behalf of Muslim widows and orphans and victims of strife around the world, he said. "It was not meant to increase the number of orphans and widows," he said, denying allegations by US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan's prosecutors that the solicitations also promoted terrorism.

The "strict scrutiny" of charities associated with Islam or the middle east is worrisome, it seems to me.  There has to be hundreds, if not thousands, of tax exempt organizations run by well-meaning but uninformed people who routinely fail to make all required disclosures on their 990's or 1023's.  The heightened scrutiny calls to mind the "collateral damage" described in the OMB Watch Report we blogged last week:

Vanessa Dick, Advocacy Coordinator at Grantmakers Without Borders, explained that the government is not targeting its counterterrorism efforts properly.  She noted, "The counterterrorism framework set in place after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has unfortunately been abused by the executive branch and some in Congress.  Instead of focusing on reducing or eliminating poverty, inequality, oppression, strife, and other root causes of terrorism, the government has lobbed unfounded accusations at the nonprofit sector and has inaccurately claimed that charities are a significant source of terrorist funding."

One reason why this case is particularly worrisome is because, according to an NPR (and the U.S. government) report last week, (audio version) we in the United States don't even understand the benevolent aspects of "Jihad" -- the word has been bastardized to refer to violent attacks on civilians -- and  yet this case prosecuted a charitable representative for encouraging "Jihad.  Soon, we will make it a crime to engage in CWM (Charity While Muslim).


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