The writer argues that despite Hizb’s professed alliegence to non-violent means Hizb provides moral support to groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. (IMU) and that individuals from Hizb do become engaged in jihadi events. This article provides good reasons which Hizb ought to be banned in America. For Central Asia Hizb is the problem.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir: The Solution or the Problem?
by Swati Parashar
The aura of mysticism associated with the activities of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a well known radical Islamic group, continues to baffle security experts across the spectrum. Most recently the group was in news when the British Government decided to ban the Hizb-ut-Tahrir operating in Britain in the aftermath of the July 2005 bombings in London . The decision to ban the group, argue many human rights activists, contravenes the UN Declaration of Human Rights and more specifically articles 19 and 20 which guarantee both freedom of expression and association.
The Hizb-ut-Tahrir is a radical Islamic political group active in several countries in the Middle East, South and South East Asia, Central Asia and Europe . The group was established in the 1950’s in Jerusalem and was perhaps the first to initiate political activism for the Palestinian cause. It was accused of plotting against the various Arab regimes in the region and was banned by most countries, with its members arrested and persecuted. Subsequently, the group then targeted the Muslim community settled in Europe and established itself firmly in the UK , Denmark and Germany . Among the reasons why the members of this radical religious group were granted asylum by the Western countries was a belief by these countries that their interests would not be harmed by the religious and political activism of the group.
Even after 9/11 and the consequent monitoring of radical Islamic groups, the Hizb-ut-Tahrir and its sister organisations like the Al Muhajiroun continued to operate freely in Britain and other Western countries. The West perhaps viewed them as viable political and religious alternatives to the extremist ideology of the Al Qaeda and other anti-Western, pan Islamic religious terrorist organisations.
The Hizb-ut-Tahrir shares the ideology of the Al Qaeda and other religious terrorist groups which claim that the malaise of the Muslim ‘Ummah’ (community of believers) is rooted in the destruction of the Caliphate brought about by the connivance of the Western powers. Only an ideal Islamic Caliphate can bring the Muslims together as a unified community and resolve all the prevailing disputes and conflicts. The perceived but not necessarily implied difference between the Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Al Qaeda is the fact that while the former insists that the end does not justify the means and that the Islamic Caliphate can be ushered in by non violent political activism, the latter has carried out a series of violent terrorist acts, which it claims are justified for the ultimate cause which is to struggle against the ‘kufr’ (non believers) and wage an armed jihad to re-establish the Caliphate.
There is no direct evidence of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir having taken recourse to violence but individual members have rendered vocal, ideological and even material support to jihadi terrorist groups like the Al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Members of this group in Central Asia have been held responsible for the recent political disturbances in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan . There is also some evidence to suggest that after the Iraq war, many of its members have become disillusioned with the non violent tactics and have been advocating a more pro-active approach. Many of its splinter groups, including the Al Muhajiroun of Britain and the Akramiya and the Hizb-un-Nusra in Central Asia have called for a more active involvement in the struggle against corrupt Islamic regimes and the hegemonic Western powers. Some members have also joined jihadi groups.
The moot point is that the group since its inception has failed to provide political and religious leadership to the Muslim community. Fifty years of what they claim as non violent religious and political activism has only resulted in the group being proscribed in most countries in the Middle East, Central and South Asia and Europe without any results to show. In fact it is the Muslim world that banned the group and persecuted the members even before the West began to take notice of their anti-Semitic and anti Western propaganda. The Islamic revolution and awakening as promised by the founder, Sheikh Taqiuddin Nabhani, and his followers has not taken off even after more than half a century of its activities.
To recapitulate, the Hizb-ut-Tahrir prophesied an Islamic revolution in three stages:
1. Culturing individuals in the first stage
2. Interacting with the Ummah in the second stage
3. Finally, taking over the governments.
The most prominent ideological contradiction emerged in the formative years itself when the group began to plot coups against the governments in the Middle East , resulting in their persecution and proscription. Clearly, the first two stages, as propagated by the ideological founding fathers saw only vain attempts to grab political power. These ideological contradictions have cost the Hizb-ut-Tahrir dear, rendering it ineffective in its efforts to create a worldwide community of believers. Secondly, grass roots activism, which would have been desirable in the first stage, has been superceded by elite activism aimed solely at the capture of political power. The situation today is that the group does not have any credibility in the Islamic world and has also lost the support of the Western powers as a possible alternative to extremist groups like the Al Qaeda because disillusioned members and splinter groups are openly advocating the need for an armed resistance and jihadi terrorism to unify the Muslim ‘ummah’.
In such circumstances, the Hizb-ut-Tahrir might not seem as a major threat to peace and security in any region but nevertheless, it is important to keep a watchful eye on the members of this group who are advocating armed resistance. It must not be overlooked that the Hizb-ut-Tahrir has access to material and human resources which if exploited by jihadi terrorist groups can cause more damage than the Al Qaeda alone.
Keeping this in mind what are the possible options before the governments faced with the real and perceived threat from Hizb-ut-Tahrir?
Firstly, there is a lack of in-depth research on the Hizb-ut-Tahrir and its activities. There are a lot of misconceptions and ambiguities related to its organisational structure and its activities. The governments need to encourage research on this group. It is only after 50 years of its existence that some information and debate on this group seems to have emerged!
Secondly, ideology is an important tool that most extremists exploit and it is quite possible to counter them by highlighting the contradictions within their ideological beliefs. This again calls for an understanding of their ideas and beliefs. Most importantly, the Hizb-ut-Tahrir talks about a non violent revolution to bring about an Islamic state structure, but it does not have well grounded theories on the alternate state model that it wishes to create. Public attention must be drawn towards the fact that anarchism has never been successful at any moment of history. Moreover the Hizb-ut-Tahrir has deviated from its original path of cultivating a community of believers before taking over the governments. They talk about a people’s war without the involvement of the people. Revolutions need ideology as well as the support of the masses.
Thirdly, intelligence cooperation is very important in dealing with this group. It is important to know about its cells operating in different countries. This can happen only when governments begin to realise that the members of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir can become a threat if they adopt violent methods and religious fundamentalism and terrorism. It is important to make the intelligence agencies aware of the activities of this group in different countries through shared information, analyses and coordination.
Fourthly, Pakistan has off late been linked to several terrorist attacks including in London and possibly Sharm-el-Sheik. Though the Hizb-ut-Tahrir is proscribed in Pakistan largely because of its anti Musharraf propaganda, it is important to keep a watchful eye on this South Asian State that is the hub of jihadi terrorism and training. It is important to study the activities of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Pakistan and its affiliated groups, individuals and any ISI support that its members may be receiving. There are possibilities that the Hizb-ut-Tahrir members may have developed links with other jihadi organisations operating from Pakistan .
Fifthly, it is important to keep track of its finances. The Hizb-ut-Tahrir receives donations from a large number of charities as well as individuals. Dubious charities and individulas who feed their ideology must be discovered and dealt with.
Tony Blair’s anti terrorism measures after the London blasts include punishing those who incite terrorism by supporting suicide terrorism and violence. This implies a strict watch over the preaching in Mosques etc. The South East and South Asian countries would do well to keep an eye over religious preaching in madrasas and mosques where most of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir brand of ideology is propagated. In addition, many of its members are the disgruntled youth from universities and educational institutions who are attracted to its ideology. Their grievances should be addressed so that they cannot be exploited by groups like the Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
Lastly, the Hizb-ut-Tahrir is well versed in propaganda activism. Its propaganda should be countered by the governments. Its publications and other audio and video materials should be scrutinised and prevented from being disseminated, if they are racist and otherwise detrimental to national and international security. In fact both Denmark and Germany have banned the group on the basis of its anti-Semitic propaganda.
The key words in dealing with the Hizb-ut-Tahrir are effective intelligence and greater degree of public awareness through a strong intellectual campaign. The idea is to expose its ideological hollowness that has achieved next to nothing in the last fifty years. The Hizb-ut-Tahrir does not represent the people in any country even if it projects such an image.
To conclude, it is perhaps the failure of groups such as the Hizb-ut-Tahrir to provide political and religious leadership to the Muslim community that has led to the spawning of terrorist groups. Frustrated by the empty rhetoric of groups like the Hizb-ut-Tahrir which has only served to divide the Muslim community and aggravate the existing problems and conflicts, the youth are taking recourse to extremist violence and terrorism, as noticeable in the London blasts. The Muslim community needs politico-religious activism and leadership to address and articulate their genuine grievances. The Hizb-ut-Tahrir is not the solution; it is a part of the problem.
(The writer is an Associate Fellow with the International Terrorism Watch Programme, ITWP, of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). She is based in New Delhi . E-mail address: email@example.com)