Opinion: Charities under fire in times of terrorism

Nick Cater, a consultant and writer: catercharity@yahoo.co.uk

As the past year has shown, these are strange times. Liberty is a flexible concept, identity is something to be monitored and recorded, and religion and race are matters for mistrust and fear rather than faith and pride. A charity's work in certain fields for certain clients risks putting the organisation and those it helps in the frame.

Charities are both under suspicion - take a look at funders' questions about how money is spent in places where criminal records checks don't exist and receipts are uncommon - and becoming suspicious. If you query global charities' tightening security systems - some even rule out consultants and contractors from their insurance and health policies - you might well be met not with an explanation but with the demand, "Why do you want to know the answer?"

Perhaps we all need a small dose of Islamic fatalism and to recall that few terrorist incidents have either caused enormous casualties or directly affected many charities. But the response to terrorism is killing thousands upon thousands and dumps charities slap bang in the centre of the crossfire. Could it be that the terror of terrorism is worse than the real thing, and the treatment far more fatal than the disease?

And perhaps we should remember that in taking advantage of open societies, terrorism is also a signal that freedom - and the choice to do evil as well as good - still exists. But the only way to prevent terrorism is not just to destroy all liberty, but also to erode the independence, neutrality and impartiality that many charities value - especially those in free-fire zones.

As terrorists vent their hatred, frustration and anger at how others run their lives, the bombs on the Tube revealed that - both before and after the blasts - we enjoy dynamic, diverse and positive societies that live and breathe, care and protect, and in which charities play an important, even vital role.

In caring for causes and beneficiaries, charities need also to defend themselves and the societies in which they can flourish. In a world so tense that innocent civilians are gunned down in their homes, that defence won't involve declaring war, greater surveillance, ID cards, internment or the abandonment of human rights.

It might just involve charities' strengths: openness, dialogue, listening, negotiation, reconciliation and being willing to make sacrifices in the cause of peace.

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