ISPU Policy Brief: Selective Enforcement of Material Support Laws Against Muslim Charities

Printer-friendlyPrinter-friendly EmailEmail
September 15, 2011

As part of its Post9/11 series, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) published an issue brief, Countering Religion or Terrorism: Selective Enforcement of Material Support Laws Against Muslim Charities, that describes ways in which the prohibition on material support has been used to disproportionately impact Muslim charities and their donors and beneficiaries.

Written by Texas Wesleyan University Law School Associate Professor Sahar Aziz, the brief notes how the combination of a preventive paradigm used to fight terrorism has combined with fear and prejudice to "effectively criminalize[d] otherwise legitimate charitable giving, peace-building efforts, and human rights advocacy." Aziz says the prohibition on providing material support law is the linchpin of counterterrorism efforts, since it is "so broad and vaguely worded that they effectively criminalize activities that would otherwise be constitutionally protected." Since the law has no intent requirement, "humanitarian aid delivered to noncombatant civilians living under the control of a terrorist organization can be illegal based on the unproven theory that it frees up resources to redirect toward violence."

Noting that seven out of nine U.S. organizations shut down for supporting terrorism since 9/11 have been Muslim charities, Aziz criticizes the lack of fair procedures for such groups to know and respond to the charges against them. In looking at the breadth of the material support law, she notes that the Holy Land Foundation was convicted of providing material support to Hamas based on the fact that the government alleged the local charities they donated to are controlled by Hamas, even though they are not on any public government terrorist list.

Because the government has rejected proposals for reform offered by the charitable sector, Aziz calls on the U.S. government to reassess its strategies rather than continue to employ “fear-based narratives to persuade the public to keep pouring billions of dollars into flawed and ineffective national security projects.”