The Nigel Farage fiasco has opened the lid on the dark side of UK banking, which frequently targeted Muslim bank account holders with impunity.
In the wake of Nigel Farage’s hasty ejection from Coutts Bank, debanking has been the topic du jour among those concerned with civil liberties in the United Kingdom. Suddenly, from across the political spectrum there have been loud proclamations about the latent dangers and injustices of a banking system that without any transparency can remove one’s access to a bank account with impunity.
As this incident gained media traction, it is likely that the compliance departments of every major bank were reviewing their files and systems, double and triple checking that they too had not debanked any figures who were likely to cause a stink in the press. The last thing they would want is to come unstuck with similar allegations of unfair treatment. However, this is where the largely unacknowledged side of the debanking system must be brought up. The majority of debanked individuals in the UK are Muslims, and for well over a decade the mainstream has allowed this to go unrecognised.
Every day in the UK hundreds of bank accounts are closed as part of the same debanking process that Farage has now taken up as personal cause. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) acknowledged under a freedom of information request that in 2016-2017 alone, over 45,000 accounts were shut down by banks. This total has been growing relentlessly in subsequent years, with over 343,000 closed in the 2021-22 financial year alone.
When individuals or businesses have their bank accounts closed in this scheme, it is common for them to receive no explanation as to why, or what they have done to upset the risk analysts within the banks. However, when pushed, the blanket answer occasionally given is that it is related to money laundering or terrorism. This is where British Muslims frequently find themselves the victims of an apparatus that not only fails to ensure equitable access to financial services for all, but instead appears to malign minority voices by design.
Across British Muslim civic society, citizens, charities, and activists have borne the brunt of debanking for decades with little to no explanation. There are some stand out examples, which have been notably absent in Farage’s excoriating speeches regarding the state of the British banking system. As these challenges persist, some proactive solutions are emerging within the financial sector to address these disparities. For instance, ethical sharia compliant investment platforms are providing an alternative for British Muslims by offering an avenue that aligns with their religious beliefs and ethical standards
The Finsbury Park Mosque in North London was caught up in its own debanking crisis in recent years when HSBC closed their account with no explanation and blacklisted the mosque from taking their custom elsewhere. No laws had been broken; no suspicious action had been noticed. Instead, the risk assessment algorithms put in-place by HSBC, by their own admittance, made a false accusation that there were grounds to suspect the mosque as having connections to terrorism.
This same system, in the same year, led to the bank being ordered to pay damages to a Muslim activist, after it decided that the person in question too was connected to terrorist actions with no evidence. Islamic Relief, one of the largest Muslim charities in the country, was similarly debanked by HSBC, stymieing their work to deliver aid to earthquake victims and refugees around the globe. In 2016, the Co-operative Bank unceremoniously shut down the Friends of Al-Aqsa, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, and 25 further pro-Palestinian groups, without explanation, public out-cry, or investigation.
None of these examples posed a threat to anybody, nor did they break any laws or terms of service with the bank. The likely explanation, as posited by Fadi Itani OBE for the Muslim Charities Forum, is a culture of discrimination against charities because of their names, and who they seek to help. These mainstream Muslim organisations with no criminal associations were debanked without grounds, and the same situation is faced by scores of regular people every day across the country. The only link between each example given was their Muslim faith and the fact that each had been previously, and spuriously, denounced online as being linked to malicious foreign governments and groups, which were all disproven.
Yet, the risk assessment departments continue to take them seriously. Reports of alleged misdeeds online are taken as seriously as criminal investigations under the current system. This is not helped by the fact that notable figures, including Farage himself, frequently use their platforms to castigate and reprove everyday Muslims who are minding their business, as both an external and internal threat to the country.
When false accusations like those are taken seriously, then actions like wanting to help Muslims in need abroad, or even sharing a name with somebody you have never seen or met, become offences worthy of being debanked. Unfortunately, lacking Farage’s wealth and influence over the media, these peoples’ livelihoods, reputations, and wellbeing, are damaged considerably with no acknowledgement of the injustice in the mainstream.
Since debanking entered the public consciousness, there have been many calls for further action to help regular British Muslims who face this problem continually, with little response. The Muslim Council of Britain have written to the Prime Minister, Chancellor, and other ministers urging them to adopt a universal protection of banking rights following an impartial review, so that Muslim individuals can be spared the grave impact of the arbitrary withdrawal of banking services.
The government has recently announced measures to prioritise protecting the freedom of expression in the banking system, and to introduce ways of challenging a banking closure, however none of these moves acknowledge the fact that the only group in the country to be disproportionately affected by the issue are Muslims. The government appears unwilling to address the fact that Muslims are largely the ones suffering from this system, and the system itself favours defamatory claims and exceptionally draconian responses over creating a balanced process for risk assessment.
When we look at the debanking process and the people it affects, it is clear that there is a double standard at play. When a Muslim is accused of anything, whether it is the crime of sharing a name or wanting to do charity work in the Muslim world, or whether they are falsely flagged as a risk, or whether they genuinely are a bad actor, all are treated with equal weight and severity.
The current system would be intolerable even if it was “only” persecuting people for political views, as Farage claims he was targeted, but the fact that Muslims are regularly selected for seemingly no other reason beyond their faith and ethnicity is discriminatory and a shocking abuse of power. From the Prime Minister to the media, when debanking began to affect one affluent established figure there was outcry. But why have they been silent when this same issue affected countless British Muslims and the organisations they run and support?
SOURCE: TRT WORLD
Ibrahim Khan is a published author and Islamic finance and investment specialist. He is currently the CEO of Islamic Finance Guru and its sister investment company Cur8 Capital.