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Muslim leaders decry bank account closures

August 15, 2014

Outraged by the decision of HSBC to close the accounts of clients who may be at risk of laundering money, evading sanctions, or financing terrorism, one of the trustees of the Ummah Welfare Trust (UWT) has called for a boycott by “Muslim brothers and sisters” and “their contacts” against the British bank.

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies also condemned the closure, saying it sets the precedent that such accounts can be “closed, without reason, at any time.” The Daily Mail notes that several Muslim Britons have taken to social media outlets to call HSBC’s decision “racist,” while the targets of the closures have blamed “Islamophobia.”

These knee-jerk and vitriolic responses are similar to the reaction of prominent individuals like Olympic medalist Mo Farah, who claimed that an attempt by Barclays to end a business relationship with one remittance company last year could mean “death to millions of Somalis,” and from U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) who screamed, “It’s wrong to close off the lifeline!” during a protest against banks in Minnesota that ceased remittance services to Somalia in late 2011.

Can we not have a civil and intelligent conversation about why the accounts have been closed, and what regulatory pressures brought this to bear, without spoiling for a confrontation and casting HSBC’s leaders as a bunch of ignorant bigots?

The targets of the closures purport to be upset that they were not given an adequate explanation for the account closures. But that’s a catch-22. If HSBC had disclosed the reasons for its suspicions—if hypothetically it had said that UWT operates two programs in Gaza that are administered by Hamas operatives—then UWT would probably claim that the disclosure was baseless and defamatory, and that the matter should have been handled in private.

Or if HSBC had maintained the accounts, HSBC’s leadership would be hauled before Congress again and asked to explain why it still operated accounts on behalf of controversial entities like the Finsbury Park mosque and UWT.

This is a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, and damned for the manner in which you did or didn’t do it.

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