Headquarters for the UK Charity Commission
The UK’s Charity Commission works on a premise that undermines any investigation before it starts. If members of a charity openly associate with extremists or terrorists, for example, instead of challenging the charity’s status, the Commission defends the trustees, thereby legitimizing the charity’s misconduct. As a consequence, government bodies empower extremist groups by presenting them as honest actors.
International Islamic Link is a British charity based in London, and is part of the Babul Murad Centre, an institution strongly supportive of the Iranian regime. Until recently, International Islamic Link described itself as the “office of his eminence Hazarat Ayatullah Nasir Makarem Shirazi.”
A recent Charity Commission response to complaints about International Islamic Link was, bluntly, a whitewash.
Hazarat Ayatullah Nasir Makarem Shirazi is also known as Ayatollah Shirazi, one of the most important religious figures in Iran. After the 1979 revolution, Shirazi served in the Assembly of Experts, which drafted Iran’s Islamist constitution. Since then, although he has refused to serve in any government post, he is considered an important part of the clerical regime.
Shirazi, in 2010, claimed that Israel was planning to destroy Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque: “What we have here is yet another Israeli plot; an evil plan not only to judaize the city of Jerusalem by eliminating its Islamic identity,” he alleged, “but also to destoy the holy mosque of al-Quds and replace it with the Temple of Solomon.”
Shirazi further states that, “the Holocaust is nothing but superstition, and Zionists say that people of the world should be forced to accept this.” His website is replete with descriptions of “sly, deceitful Jews,” “Jewish profiteering” and claims of “Jewish plans to exploit the common people.”
In 2009, as part of the Council’s ‘Building Stronger Communities’ Strategy, Ayatollah Shirazi’s charity, International Islamic Link, was given £15,000 by Brent Council, a local government body in London, to promote religious tolerance.
William Shawcross, Head of UK Charity Commission
As soon as this misuse of taxpayers’ money was revealed, however, all references to Ayatollah Shirazi were removed the charity’s website. Further, Ayatollah Shirazi’s own website also removed several of the pages detailing his belief that the Holocaust was a myth invented by Jews to gain support for the Zionist project.
Despite the charity’s attempt to cover its tracks, Jacob Campbell, UK Director of the Stop the Bomb campaign, lobbied a number of politicians to pressure the Charity Commission into action.
The Charity Commission, however, works on a premise that undermines any investigation before it starts. Their mission statement promises it will “work with charity trustees to put things right if they go wrong.” In other words, even if a charity’s trustees entertain inappropriate ideas — or as in the case of charities such as Interpal, if members of the charity openly associate with senior terrorist figures, for example — the Commission does not seek to challenge a charity’s status; rather it defends the trustees, thereby legitimizing their misdeeds and empowering these groups as honest actors.
This week, the Commission’s “Pre-Investigation Department” responded to Jacob Campbell and the other complainants. The “Pre-Investigation Department” concluded that:
My team wrote to the charity on 8 November regarding the apparent close links between the charity and Ayatullah Nasir Makeren Shirazi. We asked the trustees to confirm what links the charity previously had with Ayatullah Shirazi and provide details of the charity’s current relationship with the Ayatullah Shirazi.
We received a full response from the trustees dated 21 November stating that the charity has no private or public link with Ayatullah Nasir Makeren Shirazi. In their response the trustees adequately demonstrated that they acted quickly and responsibly protect the charity by removing references to an individual that could have called into question the charity’s independence.
The trustees have satisfied the Commission that they have not, and do not intend to provide a platform to anyone who maintains extremist views and that they are aware of their legal duties in respect of this matter. I can confirm that we have now closed our assessment of this matter.
It is unclear what extraordinary piece of evidence was presented to the Commission that convinced them International Islamic Link had managed, in a matter of weeks, to change its existence from being the private office and mouthpiece for Iranian luminary Ayatollah Shirazi to having absolutely no link to the cleric whatsoever. The Commission has not yet responded to requests for further information.
In an age where violent political and religious extremism is thriving, the approach of the establishment has become dangerously simplistic, appearing merely eager to avoid confrontation. We can sum up their reply as: “Of course they can’t be bad – when we asked them they denied it. So, of course, that’s that.”
On occasion, in fact, this is their reply. When a British organization called Limmud, which organizes a series of large Jewish conferences in the UK, decided to invite Dilwar Hussain of the Islamic Foundation to speak, a leading Limmud organizer dismissed the criticisms of the invitation out-of-hand:
The Islamic Society – and even the Islamic Foundation – is about as decent as any Muslim organisation might be. They express themselves strongly against extremism and they categorically condemn suicide bombing under any circumstances
The chairman of Hussain’s Islamic Foundation, Khurshid Ahmad, is a vice-president of the extremist Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islami and a supporter of Bin Laden. The director is Dr. Manazir Ahsan, who helped coordinate the riots against Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses. The Islamic Foundation continues to be the leading publisher of books by Abul Ala Mawdudi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, whom Lord Carlile noted, in his government paper on preventing violent extremism, was a dangerous influence in the radicalization of young Muslims.
In the case of International Islamic Link, Brent Council, to its credit, has stated that it has “not commissioned this organization since and have no future plans to fund them.” While the provision of “tolerance” funds to an openly intolerant charity seems to have ended, it is nevertheless unacceptable that a mouthpiece of an extreme Iranian cleric can enjoy the financial benefits and public legitimacy afforded through charitable status. Further, if International Islamic Link applies for public funds in the future, its claim to be free of extremist tendencies is now bolstered by the Charity Commission’s injudicious exoneration.
Trusting extremists to be honest about their extremism seems a particularly naïve and self-destructive approach, especially as Islamist groups learn to exploit the system instead of boldly calling for its destruction. The decision by government and others to tackle extremists by asking them for their thoughts on the matter has become a dishonest litany that, in the end, only emboldens extremist groups.