On a Bank Robbery

The bank located at the busy corner in the Lebanese capital city of Beirut had only reopened after the traditional closing for an hour at lunchtime. A young woman, no more than 25, entered the building. She seemed like a typical bank customer, and she approached an available teller with a grim smile. She was dressed in a sleeved thin hoodie and wore dark trousers and tennis shoes. All in all, she looked like a typical Lebanese girl. Suddenly, the young woman–whose name is Sally–reached into the waistband of her dark pants and pulled out a pistol. She waved it in the air and announced, “This is a robbery!”

Now, let me say something about banking in non-western nations. While robberies (and usually armed robberies at that) happen in the United States, Americans probably know that, even if the bank is robbed, their money is protected. First of all, there is banking insurance in the US where deposits are guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (a corporation set up by Congress). Then there’s the fact that your money isn’t actually in the bank per se; the amount of actual cash kept at any US bank is not nearly the amount is has on its books. In other words, if every depositor went to the bank right now and demanded cash, the bank wouldn’t have the $100, $50, $20, $10, $5, and $1 bills it would need to give every depositor his or her cash. But that’s not necessarily true in non-western nations. Many of them have only the cash the depositors have put in the bank–the actual cash. In Lebanon, however, the issues runs deeper. There is a major banking crisis brought on by the financial fallout from Covid-19 and the shuttering of an already shaky financial system. Last year (2022), the Lebanese government mandated that customers could not withdraw more than the equivalent of $400 US from banks in any calendar month. That way, the government reasoned, the financial crisis would stabilize because banks would have more money on the books to invest. Actually, the opposite happened. People began not depositing money in the Lebanese banks. Banks began faltering and closing, leading to the people who had money in those banks losing everything they had. The nation has appealed to the International Monetary Fund for help, but funding is short there as well these days.

And that leads us back to our bank robber, this long haired young woman, this Sally, a person with wide eyes and an engaging smile, who brandished the pistol (a pistol that turned out to be a toy one) and demanded money from the bank teller with such fury in her voice that the bank patrons in the lobby were frightened for their lives. And Sally wasn’t alone last year. Lebanon saw more bank robberies and attempted robberies in the year than it had in the previous ten years. In fact, the day that Sally robbed the bank, three other bank robberies happened.

And the demand that Sally made was made by the other three robbers as well. You see, Sally and the other robbers in Lebanon didn’t simply walk in and demand that the cashiers hand over all the money in their tills. No, all Sally and the others wanted was, simply, what was theirs. Yes, Sally and all the other bank robbers last year in Lebanon only wanted the funds that they had deposited there previously.

Sally thus stole from her own bank only what was her own account.

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