Asma Gull Hasan has what is no doubt meant to be a moving op-ed in today’s Times. Commemorating the beginning of the Ramadan fast, she tells how out of place she now feels as a practicing Muslim in America. In particular, she complains that her mother can’t fulfill the seasonal religious duty of almsgiving by donating “to feed a Muslim family in Bosnia” without getting her name on a list at the Justice Department as a possible supporter of terrorism.

Governmental interference with religious practice is to be deplored, but in all fairness most of the responsibility here must rest on the terrorists who use charitable money in their ventures and on the failure of the mainstream Islamic world to decisively separate itself from them. It’s not necessary to believe that every organization accused of supporting terrorism is in fact doing so to suspect that some charitable money is going to support terrorism, in ways that may or may not be known to its donors. (Or, more likely, ways known by some and suspected by others, while a third group remains oblivious.)

The money doesn’t have to buy bullets, either. The Saudi-based charities that support the families of Palestianian suicide bombers are paying blood money just as much as if they were buying bombs, because they are maintaining the incentive system that keeps the bombers coming. C-4 is cheap; martyrs cost money. (Reportedly $35,000 each on the current Gaza Strip market.)

I don’t know who gets that Bosnian money, or who decides who gets it. But the fact that it was given in good faith doesn’t mean that it isn’t used for evil purposes. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if some money collected right here during Ramadan wound up building a new house for a jihadi’s mother or a false passport for an al-Qaeda operative, and it’s the clear duty of the American government to prevent that if it can.

Now before my non-Muslim readers start feeling complacent, it should be pointed out that money is collected in exactly the same way in the United States for NORAID (Irish Northern Aid), a front group for the IRA.

See NORAID Online

Irish Northern Aid continues to support the struggle for a united Ireland and works with the Republican movement in Ireland to help former political prisoners. Through Coiste na n-Iarchimí (The Ex-Prisoners Coordinating Committee), we provide financial support for organizations that assist ex-POWs and their families with personal, family and career counseling, job training and support in fighting the social and economic discrimination they face because of their status as veterans. We continue to assist the families of current Republican political prisoners, as well as, the families of volunteers who have died for their country.

NORAID isn’t the only example, of course. The anti-Castro terrorists of Omega-7 used to collect money openly in South Florida, though currently they don’t seem to have a website. [The Contras, of course, didn’t have to ask for money; your contribution to their terrorist activity came out of your withholding.] But that argues only that the US government isn’t always as diligent as it should be in ensuring that money collected here doesn’t fund terror elsewhere. It certainly doesn’t show that cracking down on such activity in a specifically Islamic context after 9-11 is either unfair or imprudent.

As to Ms. Hasan, I bet that if she looks really hard she can find a charity for her mother to give to that she can be reasonably certain isn’t funding mass murder. If not, perhaps she could start one up.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com