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Western Union Blocks Muslims' Transfer

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    Western Union Blocks Muslims Transfer By Sahar Kassaimah http://www.islam-online.net/English/News/2006-08/30/03.shtml Americans who have not committed any
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 2, 2006
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      Western Union Blocks Muslims' Transfer
      By Sahar Kassaimah
      http://www.islam-online.net/English/News/2006-08/30/03.shtml


      "Americans who have not committed any wrongdoing must be able to
      transfer money without any problems or delays," Ayloush told IOL.

      WASHINGTON — Western Union, a global money transfer agency, has
      delayed or blocked thousands of cash deliveries by American Muslims on
      suspicion of terrorist connections simply because senders or
      recipients have names like Mohammed or Ahmed, drawing rebuke from the
      community as a yet another form of identity harassment.

      Mohammad Kamran Habib, a 29-year-old engineer at Cisco Systems in San
      Jose, California, tried to make a payment to an Arabic teaching
      institution when Western Union blocked his money transfer without any
      clarification.

      "I just enrolled recently in a distance learning program for Arabic
      Language," he told IslamOnline.net.

      "The institute is based in Cairo and the only way for students to pay
      their tuition fees is to send them via Western Union," he explained.

      Habib said he wasn't able to send his money transfer to Egypt and the
      online transaction gave him an error.

      "It didn't even give me a MTCN number which it should do even if a
      response was rejected," he noted.

      Western Union, one of the world's most frequently used money transfer
      services, is based in the United States and owned by First Data
      Corporation.

      Its North American headquarters are in Greenwood Village, Colorado,
      and its international marketing and commercial services headquarters
      are in Montvale, New Jersey.

      The financial services and communications company has 270,000 agent
      locations in over 200 countries and territories.

      Business Justification

      Habib took pains to understand from Western Union official what the
      problem was but in vain.

      "When I called them and explained the situation to them, their
      employee told me very politely that she didn't understand what was
      going on and she tried to approve the transaction because I answered
      all the three security questions she asked me," he added.

      "But she was unable to approve it."

      Habib said that after asking the supervisor, the same employee told
      him that apparently the system is not allowing her to approve the
      transaction because of "business justification"

      He took his complaint to the supervisor, asking why his transaction
      was not being approved.

      "She kept repeating the same thing that her computer is saying that it
      cannot be approved because of business justification."

      Habib, a software engineer, knows that computer programs don't
      automatically know what the business justification is until it's
      defined on the system.

      But when he told that to the supervisor, she refused to give him any
      more information.

      "And to date, my money is still blocked," fumed.

      Delayed

      Another Muslim American from an Arab descent, who requested anonymity,
      said his money transfer was also blocked because his first name is
      Mohammed.

      Like thousands of other Muslims, he was trying to send an
      international money transfer to his brother in Egypt, but he was
      surprised to hear that his money would not be released.

      However, this Mohammed was lucky because his transaction was only
      delayed for one hour.

      "They only asked for identity verification and they released the
      money," he said.

      "It took me one hour to solve the problem, but I am sure it could
      happen again in the future."

      Western Union clerks insist they are simply following US Treasury
      Department guidelines that aim to scrutinize cash flows for terrorist
      links, which apply to money transfers made anywhere.

      Western Union routinely delays or blocks transfers between customers
      whose names even partially match names on the Treasury list, which
      features names that contain hundreds of Mohammeds and Ahmeds.

      According to Western Union, the money is usually released once
      suspects can show identity documents that prove they are not on the list.

      The Treasury Department has defended use of the program, saying it
      plays a vital role in efforts to identify terrorist financiers.

      Some Muslims and Arabs are thinking of alternative money transfer
      agencies from where they can send their wires with less monitoring and
      pressure.

      Many of them are also left wondering if the so-called war on terrorism
      will cause them to actually lose the exact freedom and civil rights
      that such policies are aimed at preserving.

      Eliminate Errors

      The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim
      civil rights advocacy in the US, insisted that the department has the
      right to fight terrorism, but not over Arab and Muslim Americans rights.

      "A comprehensive policy has to be implemented by the Treasury
      Department to ensure accuracy in efforts to fight terrorism and stop
      funneling of money to terrorists," Husam Ayloush, executive director
      of CAIR Los Angeles chapter, told IOL.

      "But at the same time, those Americans who have not committed any
      wrongdoing must be able to transfer money without any problems or
      delays," he stressed.

      Ayloush said CAIR's national office has met with Western Union to
      eliminate errors and ensure innocent individuals are able to transfer
      money without any fears or obstacles.

      "We also urged Western Union to change its forms to include the first
      name, last name and middle initial of the sender and the recipient to
      help reduce false positives that could delay money transfers
      otherwise," he added.

      "CAIR also filed an FOIA request with the Treasury Department to
      become aware of what procedures are used to put the list together."

      Religious Profiling

      Iman al-Asyouti believes these regulations seem like an accusation for
      every single Muslim American.

      "It means that they [the government] treat us as terrorists until we
      could prove the opposite," she said.

      "It seems like a joke to me and I still can't believe that things like
      this are happening here, in America," she fumed.

      However, some Americans believe that these regulations are not
      justified but the natural result of what Muslim extremists have done.

      "Muslim extremists declared a holy war against America. So targeting
      Muslims to protect our country makes sense to me," said Gaby Giuliani, 30.

      "I know, you guys are under strong pressure, but we are also under a
      big threat."

      But Muslims and Arab Americans counter that there must be a better way
      to fight terrorism without tightening the noose around the necks of
      innocent citizens.

      "It is not my mistake that some terrorists have the same name as
      mine," complained Ahmad Najati, a student at a California State
      University.

      "Our government needs to realize that not all terrorists are Muslims
      or Arabs," he said.

      Najati, 21, asserted that American Muslims should not have to pay for
      Muslim extremists' mistakes just as Christian Americans shouldn't pay
      for those of Timothy McVeigh, the terrorist responsible for the
      Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

      "Are they blocking money transfers to people whose name is Timothy or
      McVeigh, too?"

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