Reframing the Issue and Cultivating U.S.-based Muslim Humanitarian Relief Organizations
26 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2012
Date Written: March 20, 2011
Funded by Muslim-American donors, legitimate U.S.-based Muslim charities for decades provided crucial funds and services in geographic areas ravaged by natural disasters, many with Muslim populations. These charities’ humanitarian aid, offered directly or through local non-governmental organizations, benefited the affected people, winning their gratitude and allegiance during the rescue, relief, recovery, and reconstruction operations following tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, and other such catastrophes. Their assistance also conserved and expanded opportunities to provide development aid to these same regions and individuals, not only to improve their communities and lives but also to secure their hearts and minds.
The U.S. government’s “war on terror” dramatically impacted these constructive influences and relationships. The post-9/11 counterterrorism laws and their stern enforcement fomented fear and anger among Muslim-Americans, substantially diminishing their goodwill toward the government. The government’s actions also engendered an inhospitable philanthropic environment for Muslim-Americans. These resulted in a significant reduction in Muslim-Americans’ charitable giving to legitimate U.S.-based Muslim charities for humanitarian relief and development aid abroad without a commensurate expansion in their giving to U.S.-based secular charities. The chilling effect on legal overseas assistance efforts to extremely needy Muslim populations has increased opportunities for foreign terrorist organizations, including those with dual militant and social welfare purposes, to obtain funding through unregulated or under-regulated channels. These conniving organizations then provide post-disaster and development aid to these especially vulnerable people, capturing new adherents. For years, the Muslim-American community has asserted without apparent success that the relevant counterterrorism laws and the government’s actions violate their rights protected by the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses. This article advocates that new strategies to address these pressing issues should be considered. It first suggests reframing the underlying issue for “the court of public opinion” and policymakers as a governmental denial of a specific core human right: human dignity. It then proposes that a step toward restoring such human dignity could be for the government and the Muslim-American community to collaboratively work to cultivate new legitimate U.S.-based Muslim humanitarian relief organizations as responders to natural disasters affecting Muslims abroad. Implementation of these approaches might help reclaim the hearts and minds of disaffected Muslim-Americans, as well as set the stage for rebuilding the longer-term loyalty of Muslims assisted overseas.
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