Posts Tagged ‘euphemism’


Word of the week: Fida’

April 22, 2010

When describing financial matters in the Islamic world, we here in the West use many euphemisms like using “charity” for zakat, or “extortion” for jizya.

When Muslims forcibly capture non-Muslims in the world today, and demand conversion to Islam or money as a condition of release, we have taken to calling those events “abductions,” “kidnappings” or “hostage-taking,” and the money demanded is a “ransom.”

Those terms are reasonably accurate descriptions of what happens to non-Muslim minorities or Western travelers in Muslim controlled parts of the world today, and I’ve used those phrases many times myself.

However, the farther one steps back, the more inadequate the term “ransom” becomes to describe what the jihadists are doing.  Random House defines ransom as “the redemption of a prisoner, slave, or captured person, of captured goods, etc., for a price” (emphasis mine). In the world of the jihadists, redemption is not only “for a price,” but for Allah.

Verse 4 of Sura 47 of the Koran reads, “When ye encounter the infidels, strike off their heads till ye have made a great slaughter among them, and of the rest make fast the fetters.  And afterwards let there either be free dismissals or ransomings, till the war hath laid down its burdens.”

The decision on whether to release or ransom the prisoner of war depends wholly on whatever will benefit Islam the most at the time.  As Robert Spencer pointed out in his “Blogging the Qur’an” series:

The same verse goes on to call for the taking of prisoners and allowing for “either generosity or ransom” of prisoners of war. This has been enshrined in Islamic law: ‘Umdat al-Salik, a manual of Islamic jurisprudence certified by Al-Azhar University in Cairo (the most respected authority in Sunni Islam) as conforming “to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community,” lays out four options for prisoners, in line with this verse: “When an adult male is taken captive, the caliph considers the interests … (of Islam and the Muslims) and decides between the prisoner’s death, slavery, release without paying anything, or ransoming himself in exchange for money or for a Muslim captive held by the enemy” (9.14).

The term “ransom,” which carries some religious connotations in English, nevertheless expresses a primarily financial or profit motive to the abduction.  The jihadists are certainly trying to raise revenues by holding non-Muslims hostage, but they are basing their actions on what they perceive to be the needs of Islam.

Using the Arabic word in 47:4, fida’an (فداء), or simply fida’ (also meaning sacrifice or redemption), may be a more appropriate term than the sanitized, secular “ransom.”

But don’t expect the mainstream media to start using the word “fida’” anytime soon to describe the demands by jihadist captors around the world today.  Fida’ is a money machine for jihad and a blood bath for non-Muslims.  And it all comes from the Koran.


Bureaucrat blurs terror & ordinary crimes

January 28, 2010

David T. Johnson, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs delivered a speech last week entitled, “The Escalating Ties Between Middle Eastern Terrorist Groups and Criminal Activity.”

His full speech is worth a read, but three passages from his remarks that I’ve excerpted below are worth special attention and correction.  [My observations are bracketed, bold, and green.]

The first problem is that Johnson exaggerates the role of drugs in financing terrorist organizations.

In recent years, many of these (terrorist) groups have focused almost exclusively on using narcotics as a means to finance their activities. [Groups such as?  Even senior U.S. officials concede in unguarded moments that most of the Taliban’s revenues come from donations, not from drugs.]  As the international community clamped down on state-sponsored terrorism and pressured governments from financially supporting terrorist organizations, many groups resorted to drug trafficking and other illicit activities as sources of revenue. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 19 of the 44 groups that the U.S. Government has designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) participate in the illegal drug trade and many also engage in financial and other forms of crime.

[Like I said earlier this week, some observations about the connections between drugs and terror are valid, and some are mere hyperbole.  “Participate” does not equal focusing “almost exclusively on using narcotics as a means to finance their activities.”  None of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations—Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, and Hamas—have focused almost “exclusively” on narcotics.  The Taliban comes close, but even that is an arguable and possible outdated viewpoint.]

Secondly, Johnson exhibits typical Western short-sightedness about hawala:

A convergence of crime and corruption can also pave the road for terrorist organizations to finance their terror, as was the case in Bali, Madrid and Mumbai. In particular, terrorist financiers are not only concealing their financing assets through complex transactions in the formal banking system, but also harnessing centuries-old money laundering tactics. They exploit informal value transfer mechanisms such as hawala or hundi and trade-based money laundering, and use illegal cash couriers as bulk cash smugglers, particularly in countries with non-existent or weak anti-money laundering enforcement practices.  

[With all due respect, sir, hawala did not finance the terror in Mumbai.  Hawala is a type of transaction—a verbal wire if you will—but fundamentally it is not a revenue source.  It is a transfer; the question is, a transfer from whom?  Most reports have indicated that Lashkar-e-Taiba funded the Mumbai attacks, and yes, LeT transferred funds via hawala, but LeT did not obtain their wealth through hawala.  LeT’s money came from zakat donations”.]

Lastly, Johnson repeats the conventional wisdom about the role of state sponsorship of terrorism:

In the Middle East, and other parts of the world, the United States is working with partner governments to develop effective, democratic, civilian-led and skilled law enforcement and justice sector institutions. Hamas and Hizballah continue to finance their terrorist activities mostly through the state sponsors of terrorism , Iran and Syria, and through various fundraising networks in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. The funds channeled to these organizations frequently pass through major international financial capitals, such as Dubai, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Zurich, London, or New York. Hizballah also continues to profit from the drug trafficking groups in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.

[Don’t get me wrong—state sponsorship by countries like Iran is significant, and I have blogged about state sponsorship many times myself.  But according Hezbollah itself, most of its revenues come from the khums, the Shia Islamic 20 percent tax on all profits, which originates from Iran without necessarily being “state sponsored.”  It would be more accurate to say “Islam sponsored.”] 

Overall, Mr. Johnson did not acknowledge the true sources of terrorist revenue.  He only referenced the ushr obliquely, and he didn’t mention zakat or khums at all, which are the true revenue sources behind the trends he described.

I don’t mean to pick on David Johnson.  He’s got a tough job which mostly involves anti-drug enforcement, so naturally his bias is to perceive terrorism as the twin brother of drug trafficking.  And actually his speech is more detailed, honest, and informative than the spin job we were treated to last October by David S. Cohen.

Still, it seems that our public officials and media are too afraid to say the word “Islam.”  It’s far easier for them to talk about “narco-trafficking,” “money laundering,” and “state sponsorship” instead.  They have effectively “de-Islamized” discourse about the financing of terrorism.


The (almost) weekly word: ‘ashir

January 20, 2010

You don’t see many references to ‘ashirs today.  But it’s an important concept within Islamic tax law.

“Amil” is the common term for tax collectors under Islam, but there many different words in Arabic and other languages depending on what type of Islamic tax is being collected.

In his matchless Mohammedan Theories of Finance, Nicolas Aghnides wrote, “The ‘āshirs are the collectors stationed by the imām on the public road in order to collect the zakāt of Moslem traders, as well as the tolls imposed on the dhimmi and harbi traders who pass him.”

Islamic customs duties, which are considered as zakat on articles of trade (and are sometimes referred to as ushuur because of the 10 percent rate assessed against non-Muslim traders), are a significant source of revenue for the Bayt al-Mal.

From the standpoint of tax administration, this type of zakat poses unique difficulties for the tax collector.  The standard zakat on monetary wealth is paid once during Ramadan, and is based off of the payer’s total net worth for the year.  But with the customs zakat, the tax collector does not know the net worth of the trader (who is a foreigner), or how many times the trader will enter a particular city to buy or sell goods, so the collector cannot automatically assess the zakat rate of 2½ percent of net worth on the trader.

Instead, the tax is levied on the value of the goods intended for trade.  But how do you keep a trader from being taxed for the same goods several times by different officials?  In theory, each ‘ashir has his own jurisdiction, and the caliph wouldn’t deploy more than one ‘ashir to the same area.

But this definition isn’t just some morsel of irrelevant historical trivia.  Once you understand the concept of ‘ashir, the violence and “extortion” we see throughout the Muslim world comes into stark relief.

Remember this story of “extortion” of truckers in Afghanistan by the Taliban?  If you think of zakat as just the 2½ percent wealth tax, of course theft from the truckers looks like extortion.  But if you truly understand Islamic finance, it appears that these truckers are passing through the jurisdiction of the Taliban’s ‘ashirs.

The Associated Press scoffs at the Taliban for “euphemistically” designating these payments as zakat.  But it seems that it is the Taliban who has the more accurate, historical understanding of the breadth of the zakat, and the organization that is guilty of using euphemisms is the Associated Press.


Al Qaeda demands “protection payments” from the U.N.

January 6, 2010

“Armed groups”?  What rubbish.  The mainstream media do us no favors by downplaying the Muslim identity of these “armed groups.”  The demand for “protection money” isn’t much different from a demand for jizya.  Would it be so difficult for news reporters to put these developments in the proper context of Islamic fundamentalism?

The source of my frustration is this piece of sanitized reporting, which comes to us from the AP via the New York Times:

GENEVA — The U.N. food agency is stopping aid distribution to about 1 million people in southern Somalia because of attacks against staff and demands by armed groups that aid organizations remove women from their teams, the agency said Tuesday.

The World Food Program is moving staff and supplies to northern and central Somalia from six areas in the south that are largely controlled by the al-Shabab Islamist group, said Emilia Casella, a WFP spokeswoman. The U.S. State Department says al-Shabab has links to al-Qaeda…

At least four of WFP’s staff have been killed over the past 18 months, and militants threatened and attacked three of its offices in the south.

Armed groups have also increasingly been demanding that the WFP and other aid groups remove women from their staff and pay tens of thousands of dollars in protection money to guarantee the aid workers’ security, said Casella.

The agency had tried to resolve the demands of armed groups through meetings with village elders, but was unable to win the necessary guarantees for the security of its staff and protection of its humanitarian work, she told The Associated Press.

”It’s up the armed groups who control that area to provide the assurances that our staff will be safe and that humanitarian principles will be maintained,” Casella said…

It could have been worse:  the UN could have actually paid the “protection money.”  But it’s telling that they thought they could resolve the demands through meetings.


For freedom, Filipino pays ransom

December 29, 2009

Brave Abu Sayyaf rebels wear ammo belts (and ski masks)

Again, Islam and the Koran permit imposing ransoms for jihad.  Thankfully, this Filipino educator escaped a jihadist organization with his life.  But not all of Abu Sayyaf’s victims have been so fortunate this month.  This story arrived from the Philippine Inquirer on Christmas Day:

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines–It is a happy Christmas for the family of a kidnapped Basilan university official after all.

After spending 14 days in the hands of his captors, Dr. Orlando Fajardo was finally freed, rejoining his family a few hours before Christmas.

Basilan Vice Governor Al Rasheed Sakalahul said Fajardo, vice president of Basilan State College, was set free between Tipo-tipo and Tuburan towns around 9:30 p.m. Christmas eve Thursday.

Sakalahul admitted that the Fajardo family shelled out P100,000 to the kidnappers but refused to call it ransom. He said it was “board and lodging fee.”

The kidnappers initially demanded P20 million in ransom but lowered it to P3.5 million.

“No ransom was paid except for the P100,000, which was given by installment,” Sakalahul said.

Suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits snatched Fajardo inside his canteen, which is just across the university compound in Isabela City.

Meanwhile, the fate of Chinese nationals Oscar Lu Tan and Michael Tan, who were kidnapped in November, remained uncertain.

Certainly the euphemism for ransom used here, “board and lodging fee,” will catch on with Western media.  And they can call the jizya an “exemption fee.”  (That is, exemption from death.)


Media whitewash hawala in Italy

November 22, 2009

As the investigation of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks expands throughout the planet, Italy has arrested two men involved with financing the attacks.  A Pakistani father and son who ran a “money transfer agency” are accused of transferring money to the 26/11 assailants the day before the attacks began.

Newspaper accounts (AP, Agence France-Presse, The Times), briefly summarize the arrests, briefly reference the Mumbai connection, and refer to the problem as “concealment” or “fraud.”

But they have all left out the obvious nexus between this “money transfer agency” and hawala, the Islamic system of debt transfers.

Read the rest of this entry ?


The “richest of the insurgency groups” behind Baghdad blasts?

October 26, 2009

Over 150 people may have died in bomb blasts in Baghdad yesterday.  Somewhere around the eighteenth paragraph of this report, the New York Times finally hints at the culprits of the attack: 

No one has so far claimed responsibility for the pair of bombings, but they were remarkably similar to a pair of coordinated attacks on Aug. 19 that struck the Foreign and Finance Ministry buildings. Those attacks were claimed five days later by the Islamic State of Iraq…

This would be a good time to review just how the Islamic State of Iraq, a jihadist group with foreign (ie, Al Qaeda) leadership, is funded.  Reporting from Britain’s Channel 4 two years ago is worth revisiting:

An Iraqi Security Services report obtained by More 4 News identifies the ISI as the richest of the insurgency groups, estimating that between $1bn to $1.5bn has been collected in revenue by the group through foreign donations, enforced taxation and confiscation of the property and funds of Iraqis (both Sunni and Shia) the ISI accuse of collaborating with the “Crusaders”.

Read the rest of this entry ?


Taliban revenues: reading between the lines

October 24, 2009

Government officials have appeared to be forthcoming this month about the sources of growing Taliban revenues.  In a speech earlier this month, Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing David S. Cohen pointed to drug money and protection payments as major sources of Taliban funding.

The U.S. special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, blamed “individuals carrying money in their suitcases” during an interview with CNN.  Holbrooke, somewhat more intelligibly, has also addressed donations from the Persian Gulf, hawala financing, and charities.

This week Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that certain money exchange dealers are financing terrorism, and said the government will be investigating the matter.

The media have weighed in too with a fair summary of funding sources by the New York Times.  Meanwhile, The Times of London confirmed “protection payments” from the Italian intelligence service to the Taliban.

But what’s missing from almost all of these accounts is any examination of traditional methods of Islamic revenue collection.  Read the rest of this entry ?