The Good Blog


The policies, politics and laws of doing good - from charity's global front lines to bottom lines.

Jihad and Charity

June 23rd, 2016 by Blake Bromley, Bio

The enactment of China’s first Charity Law on March 16 caused me to write a piece on my role in its drafting. However, my international endeavours have not been limited to China.

Last month I attended my third biennial Global Donors Forum of the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists in Istanbul. Through the serendipity of seating arrangements at the gala dinner I witnessed an act of jihad. Al-Waleed Bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud was honoured for his announcement in 2015 that he would donate his entire fortune to charity at an unspecified date. In March 2016 Forbes listed Al-Waleed as the 41st richest man in the world and estimated the fortune he promised to charity to be US$17.6 billion. His daughter attended to accept the award on his behalf.

Immediately after the ceremony, the man sitting on my right, a Muslim from Florida, rushed up to the head table to speak to the daughter. After an intense conversation, he returned to our table.  The man sitting on my left, an academic from Pakistan, then congratulated him on performing an act of jihad. When I asked him how or why what I had just witnessed was jihad, the academic cited a Hadith of the Prophet Mohammad that “the best Jihad is the word of Justice in front of the oppressive sultan”.

The American Muslim had reminded Al Waleed’s daughter that her father was the second biggest shareholder of Fox News. He then argued that Fox News was the single largest purveyor of anti-Islamic rhetoric in the United States. He challenged the propriety of a Muslim not only being silent, but profiting financially, from what he considered to be promulgating hate speech.

On reflection, I realized that what I would have characterized as “speaking truth to power” was instead characterized as “jihad” based upon an academic’s knowledge of Mohammad’s hadiths.

In January I had been in Iraq where the jihad encountered was much more violent. On my previous trip I heard car bombs exploding within earshot. This time there were concrete blast walls throughout Najaf and no cars were allowed in the vicinity of my hotel out of fear of car bombs. People with homemade wooden carts carried my suitcase the several blocks from the road to the hotel.

My porter was a 22 year old Shiite originally from Mosul. When Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS)  took control of Mosul, a Sunni neighbour with whom his father had a quarrel, identified him as a Shia to ISIL and accused him of wrongdoing. ISIL beheaded his father and mother in front of him and his two sisters. They fled to Najaf and he was now trying to earn money to support his sisters. Stories of this nature are tragically common in Iraq today.

I went with colleagues who performed their Maghrib evening prayers (salah) at the Imam Ali Mosque. During the half hour I spent there on an ordinary Wednesday evening in January, the coffins of at least a dozen persons killed while fighting ISIL were brought in. I was told that it is normal for dozens to be killed daily.

In recent years I have spent time in Iraq and neighbouring countries, discussing both the practice and theology of charity with religious and government officials. The highlight of my January visit to Najaf was a personal meeting with Grand Ayatollah Sistani. The security in going in to meet Ayatollah Sistani is intense because he has a multi-million dollar bounty on his head from Sunni extremists. I was accorded the privilege of a private meeting with the most senior Shia cleric in Iraq because of work I have done helping Canadians support charitable activities in Iraq. However, the content of our meeting was certainly not about the legal subtleties of charity law. As this 88 year old cleric exhorted me on religious issues, I was moved to think that had I been in a similar meeting with my missionary father when he was of the same age, the focus would similarly been on the listener’s soul rather than the law.

My travels in the region have helped me understand the tragic consequences of the on-going strife. Operating charitable programs in such troubled regions is terribly dangerous. However, it is not the physical danger which inhibits charitable activities from abroad as much as the concern that charitable money supplied by Canadian individuals and organizations might be used to fund terrorism. Consequently, the areas of greatest need have been abandoned by foreign charities out of fear that they might unintentionally transgress some rule of engagement in the “war on terror”.

Unfortunately, ISIL and Al Qaeda have not abandoned these regions – and are pro-active in providing their own charitable services. For example, they destroy charitable institutions such as government funded hospitals. Thereafter, persons injured by their violence have no alternative other than to turn to the terrorists for medical assistance. Who among us would refuse to take our sick or wounded children to a terrorist who can offer medical treatment. Because original and external charities are unable to offer desperately needed services, the residents become dependent on whomever does provide even the most rudimentary assistance. We need to find ways to carry on international charitable activities in regions where terrorists operate. Failure to do so is contributing to our losing the “battle for hearts and minds” these regions and even contributes to the self-radicalization of Muslim youth in Canada.

Blake

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Categories: Charity, Religion
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China Enacts Charity Law

April 15th, 2016 by Blake Bromley, Bio

Last month, China enacted its first Charity Law. The National People’s Congress voted 2,636 to 131 in favor of a law which begins the process of creating a pathway for civil society organizations in China to become legal persons registered with the government so they can raise funds and carry on charitable activities.

Days earlier, it was my privilege to be in Beijing at a private dinner as the only foreign guest of a small group of legal experts who have worked on this law since it was proposed in 2005. I have made approximately 50 trips to China since 2005, meeting with the drafting committee at the Ministry of Civil Affairs and other experts. From a government recognition perspective, the high point of my participation in this process was having Vice Minister Dou Yupei come to a working meeting and accord me the high honour of calling me the Norman Bethune of China’s charity law.

Actually, I had been involved in China’s charity law much longer than anyone in the room that day. In January of 1990, I had been hired by the Ministry of Civil Affairs (using Ford Foundation funding) to travel to Beijing and consult on an earlier attempt to pass such a law. Although I made multiple trips to China in the following few years, that attempt was abandoned and not picked up again until 2005.

When I read the law, I find that I am pleased more by what is missing than what is included. Earlier versions had provisions which constrained charities and were more intrusive in regulating and monitoring their activities. It was a struggle to have these provisions removed and, in the end, some remain which restrict independence and flexibility.

The greatest challenge for this law is for its concepts and values to be “rooted in Chinese soil”. In my opinion, simply importing legal words and concepts from Canada would lead the average Chinese person to consider it a foreign construct. If it is truly to succeed in promoting giving and championing charitable activities, local people must embrace it as a Chinese creation. The tension between creating a law which met international standards and appealed to foreign donors and one which reflected the mores of ordinary people in contemporary China was a constant theme of my meetings with Chinese officials. Ironically, I was often the one arguing for sensitivity to local conditions while the bureaucrats pushed for a law which would receive at least an A- in a charity exam at Harvard Law School.

The drafting of the charity law in China has been my most prolonged involvement in advising on charity law in Communist countries such as Russia, Vietnam, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic etc. The process of thinking through social policy and legal principles in an entirely foreign social and political environment with no recourse to religious traditions such as Christianity, Judaism or Islam to inform values and giving is a very challenging exercise. When one focuses on the evolution of the common law of charity from a historical and societal perspective, one learns how much Biblical teaching on ameliorating the suffering of the poor as well as teaching on tithing and giving has shaped our law.

One of my fondest memories is early in the process getting deep in the weeds describing “pious causes”, pre-Tudor monasteries providing healthcare and education, chantry endowments and the funding provided by tithes, firstfruits and both obligatory and voluntary giving. After awhile, the head of the drafting committee interrupted me to say, with a big smile, “Blake, China is not going to introduce freedom of religion just so that it can jumpstart charity and giving”.

The Chinese government feels safe with Confucianism because of its emphasis on social harmony and secular humanism; but it has no philanthropic tradition. Buddhism’s philanthropic tradition does not have the power of the Abrahamic religions; and is politically problematic if the path leads to the teach of Tibet’s 14th Dalai Lama.  It would be extremely unwise to even mention Falun Gong.

This process has also given me a profoundly deeper understanding of the law. Thinking through the concept of “public benefit” and policy issues with a sensitivity to the political environment and potential for social unrest from activists is different than the same exercise in China. (Although, the Chinese did love CRA’s program of attacking environmental and other charities in its “political activities” audits.) Operating in a civil law rather than a common law country provided another challenge.

I suggested to the Chinese that, since the law was now passed, my advice was no longer needed. They immediately said that implementation of the law was more important than the mere drafting of it and asked me to continue consulting with them.  I look forward to what I will continue to learn as this process evolves.

Blake

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Blake on the Huffington Post: CRA “Gotcha” Audits Need to Stop

October 22nd, 2014 by admin

In a recent piece I pointed out that when the Minister of National Revenue issues a Notice of Intention to Revoke, a charity must appeal to the same Minister who issued the Notice. There is no guarantee of an independent appeal process. The Appeals Branch of CRA’s Tax and Charities Appeals Directorate does not even go through the motions of opening a new file. The file number assigned by the Charities Directorate auditor remains the designation of the file throughout the so-called appeal process.

This ineffective appeal process becomes even more frustrating when one recognizes that revocation frequently proceeds on insignificant administrative issues rather than on substantive issues such as political activities. When government or industry officials want a charity closed down, they have little interest in the way they achieve revocation. All they care about is whether, at the end of the audit, they can raise their martini glasses and say GOTCHA.

Read more…

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Categories: Audits, CRA, Charity, Compliance, Politics
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