Saturday, April 12, 2008

Funding and the Muslim third sector - part two

Now here comes the Preventing Extremism funding. The government has just announced that the Preventing Extremism fund is to be increased to 70 million over the next three years and this means an increase of up to threefold. There are two contradictory problems that face us here. The first is that as interventions go, this intervention of 70 million into the Muslim voluntary sector over the next three years is a massive intervention – and we should definitely be monitoring it. It is a deliberate act of intervention into the collective Muslim will.

The first point to recognise is that Muslims are not the only ones who are seeking this money. Organisations such as Inter Faith Forums are also seeking this money and unfortunately not everyone who seeks this money is doing so with benevolent motives, as I have found out. This whole process needs to be monitored from the Muslim community perspective.

The second point is that the money is tainted. The experience of some projects already funded suggests as such. Even if one has good ideas and they are well-implemented and achieve some of their objectives, the fact that the money comes from the government’s counter-terrorism budget damages the credibility of the project and those associated with it.

The third point is that the money and power of government can sometimes be demanding. If the project being funded cannot withstand the dictates of government for fear of loss of funding or simply a lack of independent spirit then it can be forced to accept aspects to its project which may damage the project or its delivery – this is especially since the civil servants working on this seem to be fresh and therefore quite ignorant of the consequences of their strategies. Again, there are examples of this.

All of which returns us to the fact that remains which is that many groups will be selected for funding through this funding stream. The alternative would be to mainstream concerns on Muslim disadvantage within the major departments.

Instead, my considered suggestions are:

a) to monitor the projects being selected and delivered

This can be done by finding out which officer at your government office is responsible for this and then which officer at your local council is responsible for this and asking questions of them. If the answers are not forthcoming, you can consider the use of freedom of information requests.

b) to consider applying while remaining independent

I would suggest focusing on Imam training in cultural literacy, volunteering as sadaqah and mentoring of youth at risk of offending.

It is probably useful to have some critical tension between points a and b.

But perhaps with all of this funding, we return to the subject of one of my previous posts. Muslims are not short of money, alhamdulillah. There is no reason why we cannot adopt a stance of financial independence on at least some of our core concerns. We could then at least make sure that we are not dependent upon funding from government for what are important projects, and decide to take on partnership working with government on a project by project basis.