Muslim American organizations have adopted three positions on the issue of accepting money from foreign individuals or governments There are those who have accepted money from foreign governments including Libya, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, UAE, Kuwait and many others. Then there are those who claim that they donâ€™t accept money from foreign governments, yet they accept money from foreigners and who knows if the foreigners are acting on behalf of governments or any agency. The third category involves those who have no stand on this issue–they accept foreign donations when it is convenient and reject it when they see any political complications for their actions. There is no doubt that the bulk of the Muslim work in the US is built on the money Muslim organizations and individuals received from foreign governments or individuals.
A fourth category of individuals and organizations has started emerging recently that believe that there is nothing wrong in accepting foreign or domestic money as long as itâ€™s cleared by the US administration. Several Muslim groups are now the recipients of grants given by the State Department. Several individuals are contracted by various branches of the administration to speak the party line.
Seemingly, we are heading towards a situation where most Muslim American organizations or individuals would be receiving funds from either foreign governments and individuals or our own administration. In the absence of accountability, transparency and democracy in most organizations, it would be really impossible to determine the real agenda of any of them as all of them would be dependent on governments or individuals linked with government for their survival.
The budgets of many Muslim organizations run into the millions. Much of this is spent on paying the salaries of staff or supporting the travel arrangements of speakers, etc. In some organizations, the salaries of higher ranking office-bearers run into the six digits, including perks. Initially, most organizations begin with the intention of serving the interests of the community, but circumstances often lead them to serve the interests of those who are on the staff. Every time the funds run low, they have to resort to new gimmicks to find more funds. It is in these situations that money from governments foreign or domestic becomes handy. It is easy money and obviously, the recipients are obliged to serve the interests of the donors.
How should we deal with this issue? Under the present organizational structure, it is almost impossible to find a satisfying answer. In the absence of the involvement of average Muslims in organizational activities, accountability and transparency are non-existent. There are not many organizations who reveal their real income and justify their real expenses. Those who ask questions about money and organizational accountability are often labeled as bad guys and totally ignored or made irrelevant by the faction controlling the organization.
We need a debate on this issue. We need to hear the arguments of each side before we reach to a final conclusion. Clearly governments who give funds have strings attached. If the State Department is giving funds to a Muslim organization, it is not expected from that group to oppose the State Department on any issue of significance. Even though guidelines of right behavior may not be issued directly, it is understood that the State Department expects something in return. The recipients know well what that something is. Currently, according to State Department sources, about 200 Muslims are working as independent contractors. They are paid air fare and daily allowances and are expected to talk positively about the policies pursued by the department. They include academicians, attorney, activists and religious leaders as well.
If a person has taken a position on an issue on the basis of his or her own understanding, it must always be welcomed, but if the position is the result of favors offered to that individual, then it must be questioned because the motives are different. Unfortunately, our community has many such people who promote the agendas of others in the name of Islam and Muslim interests without realizing that they are stifling the community and harming the national and communal interests.
These and many other related issues should be the concerns of Muslim Americans. We need to determine once and for all if we want to run our affairs on the strength of funds given by sometimes autocratic rulers and governments.
Are we extensions of State Department or the FBI or are we an independent community that takes a position on the basis of principles rather than on the basis of political expediency?
Our sense of responsibility to Muslims and Islam prevents us from publishing the names of those who receive regular funds secretly and openly from several law enforcement agencies or the State Department. Many a time, these institutions give soft money to a few trusted individuals who then make personal donations to the organizations without revealing the real source. In one such incident, an individual was given about quarter of a million to give to an organization, but he gave only one hundred thousand dollars, pocketing the rest of the money. Obviously, the donors were very angry and they threatened to reveal his past unless he works more closely for them.
We donâ€™t have to name the people or organizations, but we can discuss the issue in general terms and educate ourselves on the real consequences of various actions. At stake are our principles and dignity and of course the future of our children.