Like many others, I have watched the news regarding HSBC’s scandal with disbelief.

HSBC paid 1.92 BILLION dollars in penalties, and yet avoided having a single one of their executives spend a single day in jail.

People spend time in prison for all kinds of offenses ranging from smoking marijuana to car accidents to expired visas.

The Department of Homeland Security reported in July 16, 2012 that:

“HSBC Exposed U.S. Financial System to Money Laundering, Drug, Terrorist Financing Risks”
The facts are not up for debate:  HSBC engaged in money-laundering of at least 881 MILLION dollars, providing an access to US and world financial markets for Mexican drug cartels and al-Qaeda linked terrorist.
And yet no one, not a single executive from HSBC, will spend a single day in prison.

I should clarify that I am not advocating imprisonment as a solution, as I am critical of the general Prison-Industrial Complex.   But I would like to make a broader point about the double-standard here, the privilege given the largest and most successful of capitalist institutions, vs. well, everyone else—and in particular the most marginalized of groups.

You know what it would have taken for HSBC officials to spend serious time in jail, their assets seized, and have their whole operation shut down?
They would have had to be Muslim.

This, after all, has been exactly what happened to Muslim charities like Holy Land Foundation, which were put through an extensive legal process that resulted in shutting down their operation and having their assets seized.

What the Holy Land Foundation was accused of is peanuts compared to what HSBC has been proven guilty of:  contributing $13 million dollars to schools and institutions that are supported by HAMAS in Gaza.    [HAMAS has multiple branches, some military, some providing social services.]  In comparison, what did HSBC do?

According to the New York Times:  “In 2010, the regulator found that HSBC had severe deficiencies in its anti-money laundering controls, including $60 trillion in transactions and 17,000 accounts flagged as potentially suspicious, activities that were not reviewed. Despite the findings, the regulator did not fine the bank.”

I am not interested in a defense of Holy Land Foundation or HAMAS here, but simply making an observation:   a Muslim charity which raised a paltry sum ($13 million) is destroyed using the full might of the US legal machinery.     One of the largest banks in the world, HSBC, money launders hundreds of millions of dollars, is acknowledged to have put US financial and political culture at risk, and yet they walk away by paying a fine that represents two months worth of their annual profits.

Apparently, you can buy your way out of a verdict.

It is not, as it has been said so often in the past week, simply a matter of being “too big to fail”, or “too big to indict.”

As Forbes (which will never be mistaken for Democracy Now, or the voice of the Occupy movement) asked:

“What’s a bank got to do to get into some real trouble around here?”

HSBC had to say, literally: ““We have said we are profoundly sorry for them, and we do so again.”    Here is how it works for those at the very top of this two-tiered system:   Say you are sorry, pay a billion, and get out of jail.

I wonder if others, specifically Muslim charities, were ever given this option.  Oh, never mind….

HSBC does not represent the 1%.    It is the 1% of the 1% of the 1%.
It is the elite of the elite of the elite that can afford to pay a billion dollars (and 920 million dollars on top of that), and avoid imprisonment.

Muslim charities were not afforded the same luxury.

It is back to business for HSBC.

Apparently you can buy your way out of jail.
And we thought “get out of jail free” cards were just something in the game of Monopoly.
What some of us played as children is actually how the super-elite actually live out their capitalist fantasies.

Cheat, and if you get caught, say you are sorry, pay up, and get back to business.
It’s not just the money-laundering and corruption that eats away at my soul.

It’s the reality of a two-tiered legal and political system, one system for the super-have’s, and one system for the rest of us.
That reality is what represents a bitter inversion and violation of the lofty ideals of the American experiment.

Categories: Beliefs

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Omid Safi

Omid Safi

Omid Safi is a Professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and classical Islam. He leads educational tours to Turkey every summer, through Illuminated Tours:

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