Saturday, October 29, 2005

It Doesn’t Add Up

Few people may have realised that the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has a charitable foundation attached to it. The Muslim Council of Britain Charitable Foundation (charity number 1084651) was established in 2001 to spread Islam and educate the public about it, as well as to ‘relie[ve] poverty, sickness, distress and suffering.’ The website of the Charity Commission allows you to examine a charity’s financial records and those of the MCB Foundation are fascinating, revealing a very poor track record of submitting accounts on time (a statutory requirement for charities). Their accounts for 2001 and 2002 both arrived extremely late — an example of management failure.

Furthermore, if one examines the list of trustees for the MCB Foundation, among them is to be found Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary-General of the MCB. Sacranie is also a trustee for Balham Mosque (charity number 271538) and when one examines their records, things are even more poorly managed — they have not yet even filed their accounts for the year ending 31 March 2004. Perhaps Sacranie is too busy with his media and political work to carry out his legal responsibilities as a trustee?

The ease with which the Charity Commission website enables one to examine charity records led us to ask another question. Of the MCB’s 400 or so affiliate organisations, how many have charitable status? Having established that, we could then explore how many of those also had their accounts out of date. The results were extremely interesting. By carefully trawling the Charity Commission’s Register of Charities on 21 October 2005, we discovered that among the MCB’s affiliates, 139 organisations have charitable status, allowing them a number of legal and tax related privileges. However, there are also responsibilities: the trustees of a charity have a statutory duty to submit their Accounts and Annual Returns on time. We examined the Register of Charities entry for each of the 139 MCB affiliates in question and discovered that 48 (34.53%) have some accounts outstanding; their trustees have failed in their statutory duty to submit financial data on time.

The full analysis can be downloaded (as a PDF), but here are just a few examples. The Al-Asr Scholastic Research Establishment (charity number 1050383) has accounts missing for the entire period from 1 April 1997 to 31 March 2005. In similar vein, the Dudley Muslim Association (charity number 1094858) has submitted no accounts since it was registered on 2 December 2002. Even the Muslim Doctors and Dentists Association (charity number 327741), presumably packed with professionals, has five years worth of accounts missing. And so the list goes on: from mosques to schools, charitable trusts to community projects, more than 1 in 3 of MCB affiliates with charitable status have poorly maintained, out of date accounts.

To provide a little context, we decided to produce some control figures. What percentage of all charities have poorly maintained accounts? Are MCB affiliates better or worse than the norm? To answer this, we chose 20 charities at random and examined their financial records — you can download a spreadsheet with those figures (PDF link). Of these, 3 had holes in their accounting records, a figure of 15%. Thus MCB affiliates would appear to be twice as likely as other charities to have accounting problems. What about religious charities? Perhaps MCB affiliates are too concerned with the hereafter than with accounts in the here-and-now? For our second set of control figures, we chose 20 Christian charities at random and examined their records (PDF link). In this case, only 2 had gaps in their accounts, a figure of 10%.

To summarise: on average, 15% of charities appear to have problems maintaining accurate financial records. The Christian charities we surveyed were slightly better than this norm, at 10%, but MCB affiliates were more than twice as likely — a figure of 34.53% in fact — to have poor accounts.

What is the explanation for these figures? From the data we have available it is difficult to say if what we are seeing is sheer incompetence, utter disorganization, or, more worryingly, corruption. However, it does reflect badly on the MCB and once again illustrates the need for them to instigate a code of conduct for affiliates. Those with poor financial management need to be encouraged to seek proper training and accreditation; if they repeatedly fail, the MCB should eject them from its list of affiliates. However, since the MCB Secretary-General himself, Iqbal Sacranie, is himself a trustee of two poorly managed charities, this change may be a long time in coming.

Sher Khan, Chair of the MCB Public Affairs Committee, has warned Muslims to be careful about what charities they give to:
It is very important that when you choose your charity you check your money really is going to those most in need.
We could not agree more. Given the figures above, it would seem that if you donate to an MCB affiliate, there is a more than 1 in 3 chance that your money will not be properly accounted for. In short, if you want to give to charity and ensure that your funds are wisely used, it would seem best to avoid many of the charities affiliated to the MCB.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sacranie, Yassin and Gandhi

We have seen before how the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and its spokespersons are often at best confused and, at worst, disingenuous, when it comes to the activities of certain radical Muslims. For example, the MCB have previously suggested that the Islamist writer and thinker Maulana Mawdudi was a harmless moderate and that the radical Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir are peace-loving. Today we add a third example to our growing collection; Sheikh Yassin, founder of Hamas. When he was assassinated by the Israelis the MCB published the following on their website:
The Muslim Council of Britain condemns in the strongest terms Israel’s criminal assassination of Shaykh Ahmad Isma‘il Yasin, the renowned Islamic scholar and founder of the leading Palestinian Resistance Movement – Hamas.
Whilst Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary-General of the MCB, went further. In an interview with John Ware on the BBC Panorama programme in August 2005, Sacranie compared Yassin to others who had “fought oppression”:
John Ware: It’s one thing supporting the Palestinians and it's another, isn’t it, supporting the theological justification which Sheikh Yassin gave to the murder of civilians.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: He may have given that ...
John Ware: Well there’s no may about it, he did, he was the spiritual leader and the ideological leader of a terrorist movement.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: In your terms, if it means fighting occupation is a terrorist movement, that is not a view that is being shared by many people. Those who fight oppression, those who fight occupation, cannot be termed as terrorist, they are freedom fighters, in the same way as Nelson Mandela fought against apartheid, in the say way as Ghandi and many others fought the British rule in India. There are people in different parts of the world who today, in terms of historical side of it, those who fought oppression are now the real leaders of the world.
So Sacranie thinks that Sheikh Yassin is like Gandhi? Being unsure how much Sacranie actually knows about Gandhi, I thought I would take this opportunity to follow his lead and compare the lives — and sayings — of the two men in question.

Sheikh Yassin: a very short biography

Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Yassin was born in 1937 in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine. As a young man, he attended Al Azhar University in Cairo where he joined the Muslim Brotherhood. Throughout his life, Yassin vehemently opposed peaceful conciliation with Israel, arguing that the land of Palestine belonged to Muslims until the Day of Judgement and thus there could be no negotiation. In the 1980s, he founded Hamas (or radicalised a pre-existing, moderate form of the organisation, depending on whose account you read) in order to launch and support a jihad against Israel (the Hamas Charter is available online here). Hamas drew heavily upon the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood and enjoyed financial support from a number of states, not least Saudi Arabia. Yassin was finally killed by the Israelis in March 2004.

Sheikh Yassin: a small collection of his sayings and teachings

On the centrality of military struggle:
We will never lay down arms, and will continue fighting against the Israeli enemy.
It is the duty of every Muslim to participate in this struggle against Israel, this jihad:
Every Muslim is demanded to go to Jihad with himself and with his money, and if he can’t fight, he must do that with his money. We accept every Muslim in the world to go to Jihad with us, whether or not he was an Arab. The last martyrdom operation in Tel Aviv was carried out by a Muslim brother from the UK.
This jihad strikes fear into the heart of the Israelis:
I assert that Israel is desperate after the martyrdom and Jihad operations that shook its foundation.
Women and children may be killed by these attacks, but this is simply collateral damage — and besides, the Israelis kill innocent women and children as well, so it is justified:
My brother, certainly we don’t target women, children or the elderly in our operations. But the “Mujahed” goes out to find a concentration of soldiers and military men, whether in civilian or military clothes and attack them. This is our first and last target; the military, the settlers and the intelligence officers. Some children may have fallen by mistake. If you go back to the lists of killed children on both sides, you will find that, statistically, for every Jewish child killed, four Palestinian children are killed by the Israeli army; its tanks, planes and settlers.
Muslims who suggest that suicide bombings are unIslamic are wholly mistaken:
Questioner: What do you say to those scholars and Sheikhs who still claim that “suicide” bombings are haram (religiously prohibited) and who call for an end to resistance as they merely cause more suffering for our Palestinian brothers?
Yassin: I can’t categorize them with scholars and Sheikhs, because they worked for the interest of the enemies of Islam. Martyrdom operations are unanimously agreed upon by the trusted Sheikhs of Islam and have many examples in the history and Sirat of Prophet Muhammad.
And if Israel is defeated and the Palestinians have their state then what — will it mean peace? No, the jihad will continue and must continue — hence the need for a strong Palestine:
What I want is not a meaningless and weak state shredded into bits by settlements but a victorious and sovereign one capable of waging jihad.
A further insight into Yassin’s ideology and methodology can be seen by examining the character of Hamas, the organisation which he set up (or radicalised) in the 1980s:
[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad
Hamas Charter Article 13
Israel is to be entirely eliminated:
Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors.
Hamas Charter Article (Introduction)
The Jews are not merely responsible for the problems facing the Palestinians, but the world as a whole:
They stood behind the French and the Communist Revolutions and behind most of the revolutions we hear about here and there. They also used the money to establish clandestine organizations which are spreading around the world, in order to destroy societies and carry out Zionist interests. Such organizations are: the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, B’nai B’rith and the like. All of them are destructive spying organizations. They also used the money to take over control of the Imperialist states and made them colonize many countries in order to exploit the wealth of those countries and spread their corruption therein. As regards local and world wars, it has come to pass and no one objects, that they stood behind World War I, so as to wipe out the Islamic Caliphate. They collected material gains and took control of many sources of wealth. They obtained the Balfour Declaration and established the League of Nations in order to rule the world by means of that organization. They also stood behind World War II, where they collected immense benefits from trading with war materials and prepared for the establishment of their state. They inspired the establishment of the United Nations and the Security Council to replace the League of Nations, in order to rule the world by their intermediary.
Hamas Charter Article 22
In short, Hamas — and Yassin — have argued that Israel has no right to exist, that Palestine should be cleansed of Jews from the Jordan to the sea, and that a Palestinian State, run on radical Islamist lines, should replace it entirely.

Let us now turn to Gandhi.

Gandhi: a very short biography

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in 1869 to Hindu parents in Western India. At the age of 19 he went to London to study law and, after qualifying as a barrister and being admitted to the Bar, returned to India. Failing to find work, he accepted a posting to South Africa where his firsthand experience of the persecution and discrimination faced by Indians led him to involvement in the Civil Rights movement. It was in South Africa that he first developed his platform of non-violent protest and in 1906, called on his fellow Indians to defy the law requiring all Indians to register with the government but, importantly, stated that they should suffer the punishments for so-doing and should not use violent resistance.

On his return to India he soon took charge of the struggle for independence from British rule, sticking throughout to his policy of non-violence — he was highly critical of violence by both the British and by Indians resisting them. Indeed, when Hindu or Muslim compatriots engaged in acts of violence against the British or each other, he would famously fast until the violence ended. Many riots would end simply by his presence, such was his popularity and stature.

Gandhi: a small collection of his sayings and teachings

These speak for themselves, revealing the thoroughgoing commitment to non-violence that was at the heart of Gandhi's philosophy:
Peace is its own reward.

Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.

It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion.

I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.

I am prepared to die, but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill.

The only virtue I want to claim is truth and non-violence.

Non-violence and cowardice are contradictory terms. Non-violence is the greatest virtue, cowardice the greatest vice. Non-violence springs from love, cowardice from hate. Non-violence always suffers, cowardice would always inflict suffering. Perfect non-violence is the highest bravery. Non-violent conduct is never demoralising, cowardice always is.

Non-violence and cowardice go ill together. I can imagine a fully armed man to be at heart a coward. Possession of arms implies an element of fear, if not cowardice. But true non-violence is an impossibility without the possession of unadulterated fearlessness.

The hardest metal yields to sufficient heat. Even so must the hardest heart melt before sufficiency of the heat of non- violence. And there is no limit to the capacity of non-violence to generate heat.

The badge of the violent is his weapon, spear, sword or rifle. God is the shield of the non-violent.
Conclusion: a comparison or a contrast?

Both Gandhi and Yassin sought independence for their people. But there the comparison ends. Gandhi wanted a free, united India in which Hindus and Muslims could live side by side; Yassin sought the Jews being driven into the sea. Gandhi eschewed violence and was utterly committed to peaceful resistance; Yassin argued that violence was an important tool for achieving his political ends. One can contrast the two men, but there is no comparison.

So what was Sacranie thinking of in his unguarded comment to Panorama? Was it a naive ignorance of the facts of the lives of these two men that led him to claim that Yassin was like Gandhi? This is suggested by his description of Gandhi “fighting” the British, a statement only someone wholly ignorant of Gandhi’s life would make. However, was Sacranie’s comparison also a cynical political manoeuver, an attempt to connect the two men so that those who do not know Yassin’s life and writings would assume he was ideologically opposed to any form of hatred or fighting? Only Sacranie himself can answer such questions about his motivation in that interview.

Let me leave you with a quotation from another advocate of non-violence:
‘Gandhi was inevitable. If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore Gandhi at our own risk.’
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr