Written by Student Rights on 14 September 2012 at 12pm

Huffington Post UK: Charity should be commended not commandeered

By Rupert Sutton

13th September 2012

One of the most enduring tropes of British student activism over the years has been the willingness and determination to support those worse off than themselves.

The UK's Muslim students are often at the forefront of this, with Islamic Societies frequently some of the most successful student groups at raising money during annual Charity Weeks.

However, this altruistic nature can be exploited by those with an ulterior agenda, or can lead to funds that are raised with good intentions on UK campuses being funnelled to organisations with less than charitable motives.

The potential pitfalls that await students are highlighted in a current campaign being run by City University Islamic Society to raise money to build water-wells in Pakistan in memory of a former society member.

With the group having raised over £2000 in recent weeks, the power of campus fundraising can certainly be seen, yet the charity that they have chosen to donate this money to has had a chequered history where the issue of extremism is concerned.

The Ummah Welfare Trust has previously given money to Interpal, an organisation designated by the US Treasury in 2003 as one of several organisations that "provide support to Hamas and form part of its funding network in Europe".

Interpal, known as the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund, has also been investigated three times by the Charity Commission over alleged links to the Palestinian terrorist group.

It has been cleared of supporting or aiding Hamas each time, though in 2009 the Commissionordered Interpal to dissociate from the Union of Good, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Group.

It also appears that the Ummah Welfare Trust has worked alongside the Al-Salah Islamic Association in the past, described by the US Treasury in 2007 as "one of the largest and best-funded Hamas charitable organizations in the Palestinian territories".

The fact that the charity chosen by these students in this case has been accused of having such links demonstrates the ease with which the best efforts of students could end up being exploited.

However, this is not the only way in which the desire of students to help their fellow Muslims can be taken advantage of.

Instead, it is more likely that events raising money for the victims of overseas conflict, such as the current internal violence in Syria or Burma, can bring them into contact with extremism.

Last Saturday an event at the Waterlily Banquet in East London called 'A Night for the Rohingya' potentially did just that. A charity dinner to support Burmese Muslims, it had been promoted via Facebook to students in London and Leicester.

Playing on the emotions of students with misleading and hyperbolic promotional material which would be absurd were it not so tragic, the organisers suggested that "up to 27,000 Rohingya Muslims have been slaughtered".

This is despite the latest UN article on the subject stating that violence had left "at least a dozen civilians dead", the Guardian referring to "scores of deaths" and the most recent Amnesty International story saying that "unofficial estimates exceed 100".

The lack of an international response to the ethnic cleansing and sectarian violence against Muslims in Burma has been rightly criticised around the worDld, yet to exaggerate the situation to this extent has no benefit for the Rohingya people.

Instead, it is used to incite anger and hatred of those responsible, with one video found by Student Rights on a student society Facebook page referring to Buddhists as "those devilish, evil monks".

It also cheapens the deaths of those individuals who have been killed, and exploits the suffering of those driven from their homes, by fictionalising a very real conflict.

Perhaps most worryingly, it provides an opportunity to use charitable events to promote extremist speakers to young people, the emotive and distressing language drawing in those who would otherwise stay away.

Speaking at the Waterlily at the weekend was Uthman Lateef, a former Director of the Hittin Institute, who has claimed of Muslims that "we don't accept homosexuality...we hate it because Allah hates it".

He was also found in 2009 to have told an audience at a mosque in East London that "if we are teaching the way of life of the disbelievers, of the kuffar, Allah will bring humiliation on us" and that people should beware of being misled by those advocating forms of Islam including a "democratic Islam".

Joining Lateef was Dr Khalid Fikry, alleged to have written this tribute to Omar Abdul Rahman,described by terrorism expert Quintan Wiktorowicz as "the former mufti of Islamic Jihad and the Gamiyya Islamiyya...currently serving a life sentence for conspiracy to commit terrorism in the United States".

Dr Fikry is also resolutely sectarian, and has claimed that the "Shia are one of the worst and greatest enemies against our Ummah nowadays", stoking communal division amongst the UK's Muslim communities.

The exaggeration of the troubles of Muslims around the world to draw young people into events featuring intolerant speakers should rank alongside the dangers posed by charities which channel funds to paramilitary groups.

In both cases extremists take advantage of the philanthropy of students to achieve their aims, yet this should not deter students from charitable actions. Instead, it should spur us into highlighting the risks that they face.

Both our universities and deprived people overseas are better off for the politically aware and compassionate Muslim students who study at them, and we should do all that we can to ensure that they can continue their activities safely.