Religious groups spend nearly $400 million on D.C. advocacy

WASHINGTON — The number of religious advocacy groups in the nation’s capital has more than tripled since the 1970s, with conservative groups seeing the biggest growth, according to a new report.

Together, faith-based lobbying and advocacy groups spend $390 million a year to influence lawmakers, mobilize supporters and shape public opinion, according to the report, released Monday (Nov. 21) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

There are now as many Muslim advocacy groups as mainline Protestant groups, and evangelicals and Roman Catholics constitute a strong 40 percent of religious lobbyists in and around Washington.

“Religious advocacy is now a permanent and sizable feature of the Washington scene,” said Allen Hertzke, a political scientist at the University of Oklahoma and the primary author of the report.

Hertzke’s report surveyed 212 religious advocacy groups, ranging from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the American Jewish Committee to the American Friends Service Committee (the Quakers).

Using financial reports from public tax forms, Hertzke said the biggest spender is the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which spent $87 million on advocacy in 2008. U.S. Catholic bishops were second, with $26.6 million spent in 2009, followed by the Family Research Council, with $14 million in 2008.

The Muslim American Society boosted its budget by 29 percent, and the American Islamic Congress by 41 percent, between 2008 and 2009 as Islamophobia intensified in the form of opposition to mosque building and the so-called Ground Zero mosque.

Appeals court reinstates conviction of 3 Boston Islamic charity leaders accused of conspiracy

BOSTON — A federal appeals court has reinstated the conviction of a Libyan man and two associates accused of conspiring to dupe the U.S. into granting tax-exempt status to a defunct Muslim charity by hiding its pro-jihad activities.

The court Thursday reinstated the jury’s guilty verdict against Libya’s Emadeddin Muntasser (ee-MAH’-de-din mun-TAH’-sehr), Samir Al-Monla and Muhammed Mubayyid. They led the defunct Boston-based Care International Inc.

A jury convicted them in January 2008. But a U.S. District Court judge overturned the tax conspiracy conviction, saying the evidence didn’t support the verdict.

The district court will sentence Al-Monla and re-sentence Muntasser and Lebanese national Mubayyid.
Mubayyid’s attorney says his client was deported after serving his original sentence. The others’ attorneys didn’t immediately return calls for comment.

Prosecutors defend Islamic charity case conviction

Federal prosecutors acknowledged that the government blundered in the prosecution of Pete Seda, an Oregon man convicted of helping to smuggle money through an Islamic charity, but said Friday that the errors weren’t serious enough for a new trial. Court documents filed late Friday contain the government’s first accounting for its failure to tell defense lawyers for Seda that the FBI paid a Southern Oregon man for information and discussed paying the informant’s wife, who was a witness against Seda.

Seda, born in Iran, is a U.S. citizen convicted in September of tax fraud and conspiracy. He was accused of helping to smuggle $150,000 out of the country 11 years ago through the arm of the Al-Haramain charity he operated in Ashland—the charity was declared a terrorist organization by the government. The government said the money was meant for Muslims fighting the Russians in Chechnya.

Dutch Tax Investigation Targets Turkish Bakeries

February 22 2011

The Netherlands’ anti-fraud agency (FIOD) has completed a study of 500 bakeries with owners of non-western origin, and found instances of irregular bookkeeping, illegal employment, tax fraud, or hygiene issues in many of the Turkish bakeries investigated. The tax authority began the investigation last fall together with the justice ministry and welfare authorities. According to the Telegraaf’s coverage of the investigation, 85% of the bakeries investigated were Turkish, and of these 60% displayed cause for concern. Responding to the study, the Turkish business association pointed out the problematic nature of a study which targeted non-western businesses, stating that a study limited to Turkish bakeries “doesn’t make sense”.

ISNA-Canada accused of money mismanagement

Devout Muslims donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to one of Canada’s largest Islamic organizations on the promise that the cash would be used to help the poor. But only one in four dollars donated to a special pool of money at the Islamic Society of North America Canada (ISNA Canada) actually reached the needy. ISNA Canada draws in close to $1 million in charity donations a year. The audit looked closely at one portion of those donations, an obligatory alms giving called Zakat and Fitrah meant to aid the needy. The audit found that of about $810,777 collected over four years, only $196,460 went to aid the poor.

ISNA Canada is embroiled in controversy, with the audit revealing the practice of giving free perks to family members of a top official; the improper issuing of charitable tax receipts; and the diversion of charity money to private businesses. At the centre of it all is long-time secretary general Mohammad Ashraf, who has recently announced he is stepping down.

The ISNA Canada headquarters houses the city of Mississauga’s most visible mosque and provides a variety of services, including a Muslim high school and a halal meat certification agency.

Merchants of menace: Making millions selling fear of Islam

According to an investigative report by The Tennessean’s Bob Smietana, anti-Muslim groups are making millions selling fear of Islam to ultra-conservative Christian audiences across the country. Smietana reports on the emergence of “a multimillion-dollar industry of self-proclaimed experts who spread hate toward Muslims in books and movies, on websites and through speaking appearances.”

The report focuses much of its attention on Washington D.C.-based SAE Productions, which according to tax documents collected nearly $4 million in revenue in 2008 for “researching alleged ties between American Muslims and overseas terrorism.”

The report includes tax documents on five other “anti-Jihad” organizations, including the Californi-based David Horowitz Freedom Center, which raised more than $1 million in 2008 from its “Terrorism Awareness Project” and its Web-based “Jihad Watch.”

France wants to apply possible burqa ban for tourists

France’s government announced it would apply a proposed ban on face-covering Islamic veils to visiting tourists as well as residents, even as skepticism mounted over the legality of the plan.

Junior family minister Nadine Morano said visitors would have to “respect the law” and uncover their faces, prompting critics to speculate whether Saudi luxury shoppers would be forced to unveil themselves on the glitzy Champs-Elysees. “When you arrive in a country you have to respect the laws of that country,” Ms. Morano said on France Info radio. “If I go to certain countries I’m also forced to respect the law.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday backed a strict public ban of the veil, commonly referred to in France as the burqa, eschewing more moderate proposals that focused on limits in state institutions such as schools and town halls. The draft bill will be presented to the cabinet next month.

If the European Court or domestic courts strike it down, Mr. Sarkozy would suffer his second constitutional defeat in the space of a few months — late last year; his plan for a carbon tax was rejected because its many loopholes violated the principle of equality.

New system of achieving points in order to obtain permanent permit of residence may exclude religious organizations

Just a few days after the government and Danish People’s Party presented a new law for foreigners in Denmark – a much debated system of obtaining points in order to get a permanent permit of residence – the bill seems to run into problems.

According to the bill a foreigner will need to obtain a score of 100 points in order to obtain a permanent permit of residence. Points can be obtained by having a job, speaking Danish, knowing Danish history and culture, engaging in voluntary organizations etc. Organizations in which one can volunteer and thereby obtain 15 points were supposed to be selected from the tax authorities’ list of charities. However, The Islamic Society in Denmark is on that list and several MPs of the government parties as well as MPs from Danish People’s Party will not allow Muslims to obtain points by volunteering in the Islamic Society in Denmark. During the Muhammad Cartoon Crisis the Islamic Society in Denmark played a facilitating role in the riots and several politicians say they suspect the Islamic Society in Denmark of being fundamentalists.

This creates difficulties in choosing which organizations should be approved as part of the new system of obtaining points. A solution could be that no religious organization should be part of the system but MP Naser Khader refuses this and says that many Muslim organizations are promoting integration of foreign Muslims into Danish society. The bill hasn’t been formally presented to the parliament yet and a heated debate on whether the bill can pass is expected.

Dutch Freedom Party unable to form coalition

Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) abandoned attempts to form a majority coalition in the town of Almere after it emerged the largest party in municipal elections March 3. No other party was willing to accept the party’s controversial agenda. As a result, the Freedom Party will stand in the opposition. The party also enjoyed success in the Hague during the recent elections, and local leader Sietse Fritsma announced that it is open for “all constructive proposals” from other parties in the city to form a ruling coalition.
Divisive issues preventing a coalition include the party’s demand for urban “commando” presence on the city’s streets, a headscarf ban in public buildings, and local tax cuts.
Earlier this week Wilders faced opposition from the mayor of the German town Monschau after spending the weekend in the region. Mayor Margareta Ritter said that the politician was not welcome in the town, as she was concerned that his presence would “tainted her town with the suspicion that it was sympathetic to his views”, DPA reports

Wilders Proposes “Headscarf Tax”

Controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders told parliament on Wednesday that Muslim women should pay to wear a headscarf. He suggested that any Muslim woman who wants to wear a headscarf should have to apply for a license and pay 1 000 euros for the privilege, Radio Netherlands and DPA report. Wilders says the money raised would go toward women’s emancipation programmes. He added the fine was meant to “demotivate” people from wearing Muslim attire. Wilders, leader of the liberal-right Freedom Party PVV, made his remarks during a parliamentary debate about the government’s budget plans.

DutchNews and Euranet covered the angry responses of other politicians to the proposal, reporting that Liberal Democrat leader Alexander Pechtold “asked himself if Wilders was serious”. The politician called Wilders’ proposal xenophobic and racist. GroenLinks leader Femke Halsema said the speech was “vulgar” and Minister of Housing, Communities and Integration Eberhard van der Laan called it “hysterical”.