“Do you experience problems with the bank and do you feel that the Islamic identity is the reason for your problems?” Hotlines of interest groups in a democratic constitutional state have the same function as red flashing lights on the dashboard. Reason to step on the brakes. Especially if it turns out that something is actually going on that needs to be corrected.
In this case, that is the search for terrorist financing by banks, encouraged by the government. This turns out to come down to the pursuit of illusions: that a terrorist or sympathizer can be recognized at all by his spending pattern.
A recent NRCresearch paints a staggering portrait. Banks as gatekeepers and supervisors of the spending pattern of individual citizens and legal entities with a Muslim identity. There appears to be a one-sided suspicion, with the result that mosques and religious organizations are fairly consistently targeted by their banks. Bank accounts are then blocked and probing questions are asked on the basis of buttery assumptions. These have a stigmatizing and intimidating effect – transferring gifts thus becomes a personal risk, which must be explained afterwards. At least if you are Muslim.
While the AIVD at its most recent annual report further noted: “An attack by right-wing terrorist loners or groups is conceivable.” But apparently the bank’s algorithms don’t have room for that.
Discrimination has thus become an established practice, under the guise of counter-terrorism. Is your religious organization being cast in a dubious light on conspiracy blogs or radical right-wing sites? The bank comes to ask what you did to prevent that, whether it’s true or not. In case of doubt, the bank account is closed or you are acutely ‘outside our target group’. Again, if you are Muslim.
It is a corollary of the mandatory ‘KYC’ policy either ‘know your customer’, mainly intended to control the black money and money laundering circuit. But it is also used to identify and counter dubious flows of money to terrorist organizations in a timely manner. A good goal, but it has now been established that attackers cannot be recognized at all on the basis of their banking behaviour. Research shows that this method is inefficient and ineffective. Detecting any suspicious financial patterns is “extremely difficult.” And actually not to be combated this way, let alone prevent it.
So standard practice is ethnic and religious profiling: algorithms that combine Arabic-sounding surnames and specific travel behaviour. The detection efficiency is low, the damage is great. This practice is, of course, unacceptable. Most poignantly, all this has been known for a few years now. Those who carry it out appear to have serious doubts about it. Hennie Verbeek-Kusters, head of the Financial Intelligence Unit, acknowledges that banks increasingly judge customers with a Muslim identity on what they ‘promote’ and whether this is ‘in line with our Dutch legal system’. That is therefore a political-ideological ballot that is far removed from checking the actual financial support of terrorist targets.
“Is the bank a thought police?” is the discussion behind the scenes, she says. To ask that question is to answer it. No. Of course not. There is in principle no need for this in a democratic constitutional state – certainly not staffed by banks. They also fulfill a utility function.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of August 10, 2022
#NRC #banks #thought #police
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