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Artillery Row

No debanking double standards

Claims of hypocrisy are evasive and wrong

Is there a double standard over debanking? That’s the contention of a Guardian article which points out that, while there has been a furore about Nigel Farage losing his account with the bank Coutts, the closure of accounts of Muslim organisations “nearly a decade ago” has had little “public acknowledgement or support”.

The Guardian names the debanked Muslim organisations or individuals as the Finsbury Park Mosque, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Mohammed Kozbar (the chair of Finsbury Park masjid), and Anas Altikriti (the CEO of the Cordoba Foundation).

Complementing this is a Guardian comment piece by Miqaad Versi, the spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, who says the issue has affected many Muslims, citing the further examples of Islamic Relief and Friends of Al-Aqsa. The only thing linking these groups, he says, is that they have been the subject of “smears in the media”, which force them to have to challenge “spurious associations with terrorism”. 

Versi challenges Farage, who he says “regularly maligns and castigates [British Muslims] as a fifth column” to “stand up” for these groups. But are they really the same?

Let’s start with the “fifth column” comment. Although it sounds pretty incendiary, Farage has only seemingly used the term once: in 2015, in the EU Parliament, after the Charlie Hebdo attack. The attack was carried out by terrorists born in France to immigrant parents (as was the terrorist who at the same time attacked a Jewish supermarket). 

He ended that speech, which you can watch on YouTube, by saying that, “we must embrace the vast majority of Muslims, who themselves are horrified by the civil war that is going on within Islam”. In that context his choice of words is understandable and far from the regular maligning which Versi claims.

What about the Muslim groups or individuals who were debanked?

What about the Muslim groups or individuals who were debanked? Finsbury Park mosque was, between 1997 and 2003, effectively under the control of the hate preacher Abu Hamza, who in 2015 was found guilty of multiple charges of terrorism. During his time there, the mosque attracted several terrorists. It was primarily this history, included in a confidential database, which led to the debanking. Far from being ignored however, the debanking was covered in the press and the owners of the database eventually had to pay damages. 

As for the others: Mohammed Kozbar has been pictured meeting with senior Hamas figures; Islamic Relief was banned by Israel over links to Hamas; Friends of Al-Aqsa is run by a man who saluted Hamas for fighting Israel; Anas Altikriti co-founded a group with senior Hamas figures; and the chairman of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign was, you guessed it, pictured with Hamas figures. In Britain Hamas is a proscribed terrorist organisation. There are good reasons therefore why banks might not wish to be associated with them. 

All this — as well as a similar article in the New Statesman complaining that nobody cares that “sex workers” are also sometimes denied banking — misses the point. It isn’t that banks can’t choose their customers but rather the how and why of doing so. 

It’s worth remembering that when Farage first complained about losing his bank account, the BBC’s business editor Simon Jack wrote a story quoting a source at Coutts which said that it was because Farage didn’t have enough money. It was only later that Alison Rose, the now former CEO of NatWest admitted that she was the source at Coutts. 

This wasn’t true however. Farage was able to source the 40-page dossier which led to him being debanked, which clearly stated that it was because “his publicly-stated views…were at odds with our position as an inclusive organisation”. The BBC and Simon Jack have since apologised. That alone differentiates this from the other stories: the CEO of a major bank lied about a former customer, presumably in order to embarrass him, presumably because she doesn’t like him or what he stands for. 

A glance at Alison Rose’s Wikipedia profile shows how important the issues of diversity and inclusion were to her own career. Around a third of the section on her career is dedicated to her 2014 plan to bring in more women leadership at RBS, her 2018 review for the Treasury of barriers to women in business, and her 2019 policy paper for the government on female entrepreneurship. No doubt some of this played a role in her receiving a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2023 New Year Honours.

The Coutts dossier is a grab bag of sources — many risible, such as Peter Jukes or Eastern Eye — featuring all sorts of comments or connections featuring Farage over the years. Among the silliness are Farage’s connection to Novak Djokovic (he doesn’t like vaccines you see) Farage calling King Charles “stupid”, a retweet of a Laurence Fox retweet of a Ricky Gervais comedy sketch about transgenderism, and the telling “04/05/22 — Still pro Trump” as if this was evidence of wrongdoing in itself. 

Although the dossier says the debanking is “not a political decision but one centrered around inclusivity and Purpose” this is clearly splitting hairs. A report in the Telegraph reveals that this is all the result of an equality task force launched by Coutts in 2020 following the George Floyd riots and wider Black Lives Matter protests. In that regard it is part of a wider trend of debanking right-wingers across the anglosphere, including January 6th rioters in America and participants of the Trucker protests in Canada. 

Compare and contrast. Finsbury Park mosque (the most detailed case) involved debanking as a result of a database relying on out of date information about its links to terrorism. It was routine, not targeted. Farage was specifically profiled, the campaign against him went right up to the CEO of the bank, and the explicit reason given was his views. There is no double standard, whatever the Guardian might protest. Instead, the implementation of diversity and inclusion policies within organisations is politicising them, leading to disaffection and exclusion. 

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