Opening a bank account for an Islamic institution faces great difficulties in Britain (Reuters)

On the morning of October 2014, <>, Marcus Peel, assistant chief of police for England and Wales, walked out of the Central Criminal Court on Old Bailey Street in central London to confront reporters in apparent frustration: "The police have accepted the fact that Mr. Moazzam Big is innocent of the charges we have brought against him."

Bell's frustration was the result of the failure of the efforts of the police, prosecutors and various British security services over the long months of 2013 and 2014 to prove the charges against human rights defender Moazzam Pig, who heads the rights firm Cage in Britain.

British police were accusing Big of attending a training camp with jihadist groups in Syria, and possessing documents related to terrorist activities and terrorist financing, the trial preparation session lasted only 5 minutes before the prosecution confirmed the lack of evidence to convict Pig, who was in detention for 8 months at the time.

Big's name had begun to circulate 12 years earlier, after he was arrested in Islamabad in February 2002 and imprisoned at Guantanamo for three years before being released without charge.

A Big judge pursued the British government for complicity in his imprisonment and torture, and the government reached a financial settlement with him to close the case in 2010. But since leaving Guantanamo, Big has been associated with Cage's rights organization, which is known for handling Muslim issues in Britain and around the world, especially sensitive ones with which other rights organizations avoid clashing.

Therefore, when the investigation into Pig's activities began, British investigators saw logic in opening an investigation into Cage's organization as well, and one of the negative consequences of the widely publicized investigation was the closure of Cage's bank account.

But despite Moazzam Pig's acquittal and dropping all charges, and the Finance Ministry's confirmation that Cage's organization will not be included in any terrorism-related cases, Cage, 10 years after the investigation began, still has no bank accounts, which has drastically affected her relief and human rights work in Britain and around the world.

Most Pig during his departure from prison in Britain (AP - Archive)

Stop the money!

What happened with Cage is far from unique, as many Muslim institutions and activists face the same problem, as the authorities continue to close their accounts without justification.

As the harassment against Cage began, many activists and Islamist organizations received letters from banks informing them that their accounts had been closed, arguing that they posed a risk to banks, without providing any explanation for what this meant.

For example, the accounts of London's Finsbury Park Mosque, the Cordoba Foundation and its director, a British-Iraqi activist Anas al-Tikriti, and the Nation's Welfare Association, a relief organization that operates in more than 10 countries, including Afghanistan and Palestine, have been shut down.

Those affected faced consequences, including delays in delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nepal in 2015, which faced delays in delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nepal.

At the same time, British authorities began investigating the Muslim Brotherhood's links to terrorism, following the military coup that ousted former President Mohamed Morsi from power in the summer of 2013.

The British Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, announced the investigation in April 2014, and within three months, messages of account closure reached activists and Islamist organizations.

The BBC quoted a senior government official at the time as saying that "there is a clear link between the closure of bank accounts and the investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood".

Targeting Islamic Organizations

The media spokesman in the Cage Organization Anas Mustafa to Al Jazeera Net, that despite the absence of any charges for any of the Islamic institutions, there is a deliberate and unfair targeting of British Islamic organizations, which constitute a small percentage of civil society organizations in Britain.

A study published in the fall of 2017 by researcher Ismail Patel found that data for 2013-2014 show that investigations by the British Charity Commission, the official committee responsible for managing the affairs of civil society organizations, targeted Islamic associations for 44 percent of its investigations that dealt with organizations with a religious background.

Patel points out that Muslim associations are more vulnerable to investigation than Hindu and Jewish associations, although some of these non-Muslim organizations have been subjected to societal accusations of extremism.

The Battle study also noted that 38 percent of all disclosed official investigations initiated between January 2013 and April 2014 were about Islamic associations, even though Islamic associations represent only 1.21 percent of the sector.

The study concludes that the Muslim community in Britain is facing great pressure that began after the September 11 attacks, and escalated sharply after the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt, prompting British institutions, whether the Charity Commission, banks, or even the British government to deal with Islamic organizations as accused until proven innocent!

U.S. political pressure has also prompted banks to close some accounts, and no detailed explanation or direct evidence has been provided to justify the decisions.

Difficult challenges

For example, Cage cannot rent a hall for a Ramadan event or iftar, as the charity committee pursues the owners of the venue, and it is almost impossible to obtain permits to hold events in municipal facilities in different British cities.

Islamic organizations are trying to break this grip of bias by reaching out to other banks and trying to open different accounts. Cage tried to open accounts in all of Britain's major banks, such as Lloyd's, Barclays, the Bank of Scotland, and even virtual banks like Monzo, but its efforts failed.

One of the most important explanations behind the experience of Islamic organizations is the practice followed by banks to check the background of people and organizations before allowing them to open a bank account with them, as they resort to global security lists to refute requests to open accounts. Indeed, in most of the aforementioned cases, fingers are pointed at the World Check list.

Cage escaped accusations linked to terrorism-related cases (social media)

The flaw is in the system

Financial institutions around the world rely on a British database owned by the company Revini-Tiff, called World Check, which can be described as an international list of risk assessments of individuals and institutions, and one of its most important and influential classifications is the classification of "terrorism".

Government bodies and the most famous and important banks in the world rely on the World Check database to determine their actions with individuals and institutions, and assess the risk of dealing with them, which means that WorldCheck has a hand in all decisions of financial institutions, starting with determining the interest rate for credit cards, through approving loans or financing major projects, and not ending the impact on the decision to open or close the account in the first place.

WorldCheck ratings have central value in the global banking system, and can determine a person's career or perhaps their entire life.

The big disaster is that the data sources that WorldCheck relies on can be described as unreliable at best, and biased or false at worst.

In a report, journalist Peter Auburn found that World Check relied on Wikipedia, personal blogs, and news agencies of countries with interests hostile to the interests of Muslims in Britain, such as the United Arab Emirates, which has designated a number of British institutions as terrorist institutions, although this designation has not been adopted by Britain and almost the entire world.

For example, a BBC investigation indicated that HSBC faced pressure from the UAE government to close the accounts of Islamic institutions such as the Cordoba Foundation.

Its founder and president Anas al-Tikriti, whose father was one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq, received a letter from the bank closing the Cordoba account, and said that the bank also wrote to family members, including his children aged 14 and 12, and it turned out that World Check was based on the UAE's claim that the Cordoba Foundation was a terrorist institution.

One of the victims of these lists was the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, and the mosque's trustees, Khalid Omar and Mohammed Kuzbar, questioned the motives for closing their foundation's accounts, claiming that the closure was the result of a defamation and Islamophobia campaign targeting Muslim associations in the UK.

Mohammed Kozbar said that the bank did not communicate with them before sending the account closure letter, and that the letter damaged the reputation of the mosque, and it was later found that the vague reason behind the decision was the classification of the mosque among the list of terrorism on the World Check, and mosque officials raised the case to the court and succeeded in winning it, but this did not stop the bank's intransigence with institutions.

They broke the law

An Al Jazeera investigation as part of the "What is hidden is greater" program also revealed that the sources used by the database to designate thousands of people as terrorists relied on terrorist lists from countries that violated international law and human rights laws, including Israel, and lists issued by Western right-wing anti-Muslim actors.

For example, the account of the Palestinian Return Center was closed several times between 2009-2014 without clear reasons and it turned out that the center was also classified as a World Check terrorist organization, which the Israeli Ministry of Defense had previously designated in 2010 as a terrorist and illegal organization with links to the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas).

Majed al-Zeer, a British passport holder who filed and won a lawsuit in London against the designation, also named the list is a political activist and head of the Palestinian cause, both of which show how World Check allows governments to retaliate against their opponents.

Following the start of the Israeli war on Gaza, the Charity Committee announced that it was investigating the activities of 70 Muslim associations on charges of hatred of Jews and anti-Semitism.

The government is involved

Anas Mustafa says his organisation and many Muslim organisations in Britain live like "the one standing by the road waiting for someone to deliver him." He said with dismay that organisations were moving from bank to bank, and had approached all banks in Britain, and all attempts to reach out to the government were in vain.

He adds that British governments, one after the other, deny the larger anti-Islamic context in which these practices take place, despite this hostility that underpins all these practices.

A shopkeeper has the right to refuse to sell a banana or apple to a customer, and the British government deals with banks on that basis.

Banks are not the fruit market

Societies in most Western countries, including Britain, are described as cashless society, which means that an individual needs a bank account and a card to conduct his simplest daily transactions, from buying supplies, to paying bills, rent, electricity, the internet and phones, and even buying homes and establishing projects.

Charities rely on banks in essence, as they usually rely on donations from supporters for their annual funding or even for their regular activities, which the state has fought in various ways.

The Charity Committee had opened investigations into some of the funders of Islamic foundations, including major donors, such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which funded about a quarter of Cage's annual budget.

Due to investigations and harassment, the foundation stopped supporting Cage, which led Cage to sue the Charity Commission, win the case, and reach a court decision refusing to give the British Charity Commission the right to block support for any other charity.

Despite that victory, the rise of the right, political tension, and the inflammatory media campaign against Muslims did not allow it to be exploited to achieve long-term stability for Islamic institutions.

The matter is also more complicated for these institutions, and they see what is happening as an official or semi-official attempt to dry up the sources and stop funding them altogether.

Anas Mustafa says Cage, for example, relies on thousands of Muslim British citizens "who donate 10 pounds, 20 pounds a month, or 100 pounds every Ramadan, which is almost impossible in the absence of a bank account for the foundation."

The French solution

British Muslim organizations tried to find different ways to deal with the problems that result from closing their accounts, but the British government would not have accepted this!

For example, you can see a representative of an Islamic organization in Britain carrying a bag of money to go to a bank to deposit the electricity bill money in the account of the electricity company, then move to another bank to deposit the rent of the institution's headquarters in the account of the owner of the headquarters, and then to a third bank to reserve a place for breakfast or dinner party! All these times, neither bank employees nor even beneficiary companies will deal with this method of transferring funds with sufficient flexibility.

But through the English channel, France was able to find a solution, unfair to some, but it remains a solution!

In 2020, the French authorities closed the accounts of the Islamic charity "Baraka City" in the wake of the Paris attacks, but nevertheless, the authorities provided the institution with the possibility of opening an account in the French central bank, with severe restrictions, and under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Finance and the Treasury, to verify every financial transaction, whether it was paying the Internet bill, or building a school in Africa!

Some representatives of Islamic organizations in Britain say that the French solution may help facilitate some of the transactions of their organizations, but the British government insists that there are no solutions in its hands!

Muslim organizations, including Cage, have called on the government to give them accounts at the central bank, the Bank of England, but said the central bank does not have a policy of giving accounts to individuals and institutions, and the state says it cannot force banks to open an account for specific institutions or individuals. Which proved not to be true at all!.

The right is from us and we are from it

In July this year, controversial British politician Nigel Farage, who had led a successful Brexit campaign, announced that his 43-year-old bank had informed him of his intention to close his account for "political reasons".

Farage claimed the shutdown amounted to "serious political persecution", claiming that British banks were "part of large institutional conglomerates that did not want Brexit to materialize".

But Britain's Conservative government, which seeks to appeal to supporters of right-wing and racist nationalist ideas, has declared its support for Farage.

Statements in support of Farage have been issued by several government ministers, including the finance minister, the culture minister and others, despite previous assurances obtained by Muslim organisations that the finance ministry does not interfere in the bank's private affairs.

Although the truth of the matter was later revealed by the BBC that Farage was using a bank for the wealthy, setting a limit of one million pounds, the amount in the depositor's account should not be less than him, a condition that was not met in Farage's accounts, his case was quickly resolved, and officials said they extracted assurances from the banks not to target Farage and allow him to open his accounts.

Anas Mustafa believes that British Muslim organisations might benefit from Farage's dealing, and said that they intend to reopen the file with banks again in light of recent developments and the British government's intervention, but he was not optimistic about what could result.

Now, the Muslim community continues to face unfair measures by suing World Check, removing the names of terrorism suspects based on WAM reports and bloggers, circumventing damaged Islamic institutions, and paying their bills by going to banks.

Source : Al Jazeera