London Gathering Defends Vision of Radical Islam
By JANE PERLEZ August 6, 2007: New York Times
LONDON, Aug. 4 — An international radical Islamic party that has been the focus of increasing concern in Britain launched a frontal attack on its critics at a carefully stage-managed conference in London this weekend that attracted several thousand relatively well-heeled Muslims.
“They say, ‘You preach hate,’ ” said the party’s chairman, Abdul Wahid, a doctor in Harrow, England, to an appreciative audience segregated into his and hers sections. “I preach a hatred of the lies of people in this country that send soldiers to Iraq. I preach a hatred of torture.”
The party, Hizb ut-Tahrir, calls for the return of the caliphate in Muslim countries, the end of Israel and the withdrawal of all Western interests in the Middle East. In the aftermath of the botched terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow, there were renewed calls in Parliament for barring the group, on the ground that though it officially advocates change by peaceful means, its pronouncements can encourage Muslims to turn toward terrorism.
The conference was dedicated to the return of the Khilafah, or caliphate, the organization of Muslim power that held sway for centuries after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
Titled Khilafah: The Need and the Method, it was held at the Alexandra Palace, a 19th-century entertainment complex in grand gardens in northern London, and drew a largely professional audience — IT managers, bankers, teachers. For hours, speakers assailed the British government for linking the group to terrorism, and for too often treating Muslims as terrorism suspects, and drummed at the theme of the need for Muslim rule.
“There is no Islam as a way of life without a Khilafah,” said Kamal Abuzahra, an Islamic academic of Bangladeshi origin, earning a roar of approval and calls of “Allahu Akbar.”
Hizb ut-Tahrir, founded in the early 1950s by a Palestinian judge dissatisfied with the Muslim Brotherhood, has existed in Britain for a number of years and remains legal in other Western countries, including the United States. But it is banned in a number of Muslim countries, particularly those — including Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — that feel vulnerable to its calls for the overthrow of their governments.
The group was banned by the German Interior Ministry in 2003 for “spreading hate and violence,” under a chapter in Germany’s Constitution that is often used to clamp down on anti-Semitism. Hizb ut-Tahrir is appealing the ban.
In Britain, the group’s popularity has waxed and waned, enjoying considerable strength in the mid-1990s when members recall it attracted a crowd of many thousands to a meeting at Wembley Stadium.
A strictly run cell-based organization, the party does not announce membership numbers. It remains potent on British university campuses, frequently fields speakers on television talk shows and runs a Web site that falls short of running into problems with British law.
Some analysts describe the group as “soft jihadists.” Others contend that it veers beyond that. “The only difference between Islamists from Hizb ut-Tahrir and jihadists is that the former are waiting for their state and caliph before they commence jihad, while the latter believes the time for jihad is now,” said Ed Husain, a former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir who has written against the group in a recent book, “The Islamist.”
Tony Blair, when he was still prime minister last year, was urged by the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to ban the group on the grounds that it “brainwashes people, and that leads to violent acts,” a senior Pakistani official said. Pakistani officials sent a similar message to the British Foreign Office last month.
During Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s first question time last month, the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, asked Mr. Brown, the new Labor leader, why Hizb ut-Tahrir had not been banned.
Mr. Cameron said the group was “poisoning the minds of young people and has said that Jews should be killed wherever they are found.”
Mr. Brown replied that he had been in office only a short while and would look into it. But John Reid, a former home secretary, jumped in, saying there was not sufficient evidence under British law to ban the group.
During a lunch break in the sunny courtyard of the palace, people at the conference told of the appeal of the ideology of a caliphate.
“If you look at the political structure in the Muslim world, it’s a police state,” said Mohammed Baig, 28, a second-generation British Indian who is an asset manager specializing in corporate governance and has been a Tahrir party member for seven years. “You have the public opinion underground, and then staged public opinion in the media.”
Most people in the Muslim world want Shariah, the code of Islamic law based on the Koran, he said.
“Our feeling is: what gives Western governments the right to impose a set of values on a people who don’t believe in them?” he said, referring to the United States and Britain pushing for democratic values in the Middle East.
Asked about Hizb ut-Tahrir as a conveyor belt to terrorism, Mr. Baig said: “I’m not going to say Hizb ut-Tahir has been a perfect organization for 20 years. There are people who have come and gone in the organization. An atmosphere was created in the youth in the mid-90s. Mistakes were made.”
Some of the most ardent adherents to the party’s ideas about a caliphate were expressed by women.
Rubina Ahmed, 33, a mother of four who came on a charter bus from Manchester, said, “It’s the in-depthness of the caliphate that I like.” Hizb ut-Tahrir “doesn’t compromise on the values of Islam, and it’s not afraid to speak out for what it wants,” she said.
Why did Hizb ut-Tahir not work for the goal of the caliphate in Britain, asked someone in the audience during a question-and-answer session.
“We focus our work where we can get the quickest results,” said Mr. Abuzahra, the academic.