It would appear to be no coincidence that the latest wave of financial sanctions targeted against Muslim charities coincides with Israel’s renewed killings of Palestinians in Gaza. Several Islamic organisations in Britain have suddenly found that their bank accounts have been closed without any explanation by HSBC including Ummah Welfare Trust, Finsbury Park Mosque and The Cordoba Foundation.
This comes after Barclays closed the campaign groups Cage’s accounts and the Co-operative Bank’s similar action against Helping Households Under Great Stress (Hhugs) charity [provides financial, emotional, and practical support and advice to Muslim households impacted by counter-terrorism, national security and extremism-related laws]. There have also been parallel closures of personal accounts linked with the charities.
Political pressure against Muslim charities linked with aiding the Palestinians is nothing new, with Interpal suffering a string of interventions and impediments over the past two decades often stemming from false allegations raised by the US Treasury Department, and all of which have been proven false but at a great cost. Ummah Welfare Trust also had its accounts closed during the previous Gaza massacres in 2008, when it banked with Barclays.
Research Director of Cage, Asim Qureshi, has no doubts there are “forces at play that are seeking to cripple organisations at the heart of Muslim community.” He goes as far as suggesting that the actions smacks of “religious discrimination and Islamophobia” at a time when there is an increase in so the so-called ‘war on terror’ and perceptions of political Islam as a growing threat.
“That organisations that have supported the Palestinian cause should be targeted at a time when Israel is being condemned by the UN and others for targeting a civilian population amid the horrendous death toll in Gaza will only fuel suspicion and outrage,” Qureshi suggested. He points also at “irresponsible comments” made by William Shawcross, head of the Charity Commission who claimed Muslim charities had a “problem with ‘Islamic extremism,’” and that it was “inevitable that Muslims will perceive this as part of a wider strategy by the Government and the Commission to stamp out critical voices of dissent.”
Ummah Welfare Trust has reassured its supporters that, in response, the charity “will increase its support to the orphans, widows and injured civilians in Gaza through its other bank accounts.”
HSBC has denied that it was Islamophobic, saying that discrimination against customers on grounds of race or religion is “immoral, unacceptable and illegal” and that it has comprehensive rules and policies in place to ensure “race or religion are never factors in banking decisions.” Yet following the financial crisis, banks are rarely viewed as having any scruples with morality. After being fined nearly two years ago for failing to maintain an effective programme against money laundering from Mexican cartels, HSBC admitted that it had carried out a global review of its relationship with customers and that charities were “no exception.”
Prime Minister, David Cameron, is among those who have frequently praised the role of Muslim charities. “Muslims give more to charity than any other faith group,” he said in his speech at the annual The Muslim News Awards for Excellence in March. “Charity is one of the things that Islam is all about,” Cameron also said at the beginning of Ramadan in June. The “spirit of giving” was all year round and during the fasting month it came to the fore. “I am so proud when I hear, every year, about the millions of pounds raised for good causes for those less fortunate than us here in Britain, and those who are suffering in wars and in famines overseas.”
The arbitrary closure of bank accounts associated with Muslim charities is in sharp contrast to Cameron’s praise. While the finger is being pointed at the US Department of Justice and the pro-Israeli lobby, the British Government also seems to be a willing accomplice rather than standing up to the political pressure. The fallout seems to be directed at preventing humanitarian aid reaching Gaza, which has not only been under a crippling blockade for almost a decade but is suffering from the latest destructive Israeli attacks.