Published September 01, 2011
WASHINGTON – The cousin of the U.S. Army psychiatrist accused in a shooting rampage at a military base in Texas has created a Muslim charity that denounces violence in the name of Islam, and is using the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks to draw attention to the foundation.
Philanthropy experts said it is rare that the family of someone allegedly responsible for such violence would take such a step, rather than a victim's relatives.
Nader Hasan is the cousin of Maj. Nidal Hasan, who is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the November 2009 attack at Fort Hood, Texas.
The Nawal Foundation is intended to "unite people against violence in the name of Islam unequivocally, and embrace American patriotism." Nawal is an Arabic word for "gift."
Nader Hasan, a lawyer, declined Wednesday to discuss his cousin. The charity is starting up just days before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against the U.S. The website does not mention his family's connections to the Fort Hood attack.
"No violence in the name of Islam. Ever," the website says.
Nidal Hasan could face the death penalty if convicted in a military trial set to start in March.
At a military court hearing last year, witnesses testified that a gunman wearing an Army combat uniform shouted "Allahu Akbar!" -- "God is great!" in Arabic -- and opened fire in a small, crowded medical building where deploying soldiers were receiving vaccinations and having medical tests.
Experts predicted the charity will face serious challenges raising money.
The director of the Center for Philanthropy and Public Policy at the University of Southern California, Jim Ferris, said relatives of victims typically launch charitable groups to prevent a similar tragedy.
"A lot of giving is sort of emotional (from) people who have a lot of empathy for the victim or concern for the issues," Ferris said. "It's not quite the same when you don't have the victim."
The charity also will run into reluctance from the Muslim community, experts said. Allegations of wrongdoing by other Muslim charities may taint perceptions of the foundation's work among potential donors, said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Some of those charities have been accused of steering money to groups opposed to U.S. interests.
"There's a lot of concern that organizations might divert some of the money or might not be entirely legitimate," Alterman said. "There's an additional level of scrutiny within this community. Who do you want to support? And if you give support are you going to end up with the FBI knocking at your door?"
One relative of a Fort Hood victim, Leila Hunt Willingham, said she supports any group that promotes peace and patriotism.
"If this is their true intention, I think it is a wonderful and hopefully an educational example for those who may judge and think all Muslims are violent," said Willingham, whose brother Spc. Jason Dean "J.D." Hunt was killed.
Nader Hasan said his foundation is in the process of incorporating in Virginia and filing for tax-exempt status with the International Revenue Service. He said he recognizes the obstacles and supports curbing rhetoric suggesting that Muslim-Americans must choose between their faith and their country.
"Silence is an enemy and it's very, very tempting," Nader Hasan said. "I wanted silence and I could go back and turn my back on what my family member did and go on with my life and not speak."
Instead, he said, he chose to create the charity.
"It was a huge part for me personally. Others want to portray the majority Muslim voice," Nader Hasan said. "But I never thought I'd be advocating for Muslim America. That's not me."