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The British plot has led to renewed calls for a ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir, writes Rebecca Weisser

| July 09, 2007

LAST week Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said he would look again at whether Hizb ut-Tahrir should be banned in Australia. If Ruddock decides it should, Australia will become the first Western nation to proscribe the shadowy organisation, which is active in more than 40 countries across the world.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair came close to banning Hizb ut-Tahrir two years ago after the July 7, 2005 bombings. But in the end it was decided there wasn't sufficient evidence to show Hizb ut-Tahrir was a terrorist organisation or provided material support to terrorists.

The US came to the same conclusion. In Australia, NSW Premier Morris Iemma has called for the organisation to be banned. But although ASIO has investigated it on two separate occasions, there has never been sufficient evidence linking it to terrorism to outlaw it.

According to Zeyno Baran, director of international security and energy programs at the Nixon Centre in Washington, DC: "Hizb produces thousands of manipulated brains, which then graduate from Hizb and become members of groups like al-Qa'ida. Even if Hizb does not itself engage in terrorist acts, because of the ideology it provides, it acts like a conveyor belt for terrorists."

Wassim Doureihi, a Sydney-based spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir in Australia, last week denied the conveyor-belt claim. When asked on ABC's Lateline whether his primary allegiance was to Australia, he said that as a Muslim his primary identity was derived through his allegiance to Islam. Doureihi said that he supported the line in the Koran that exhorts Muslims to kill Jews wherever they find them, but denied that Hizb ut-Tahrir was anti-Semitic.

He was also confident the organisation would not be banned. "They have conducted reviews previously in this country and in the UK, and there is no basis whatsoever under current legislation to tie Hizb ut-Tahrir to any form of violence," he said.

Probably the most famous member of Hizb ut-Tahrir to become a terrorist is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was the leader of al-Qa'ida in Iraq until he was killed on June 7, 2006. According to New Statesman journalist Shiv Malik, who cited intelligence sources, Zarqawi was a former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, as was the mechanical engineer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged September 11 mastermind who has been implicated in a host of other terrorist plots over the past 20 years including the World Trade Centre bombing of 1993, the Bali nightclub bombings and the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Radical cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed was the leader and spiritual head of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain until 1996, when he split with the group. Bakri praised the September 11 hijackers, has raised funds for Hamas and Hezbollah, reaffirmed the fatwa on Salman Rushdie, called for terror attacks on Dublin airport because US troops transited there on their way to Iraq, and secretly called for nine terrorists to capture a Muslim soldier in the British army and videotape his beheading. He fled to Lebanon after the July 2005 bombings and has been banned from returning to Britain.

When author Ed Husain, a former member of the radical Islamist party, called in May for the organisation to be banned in Britain, his plea fell on deaf ears. But two months later his impassioned demand had been taken up by British Opposition Leader David Cameron, and featured in Prime Minister Gordon Brown's first prime ministerial question time. Cameron accused Hizb ut-Tahrir of "poisoning the minds of young people" and of calling for Jews to be killed wherever they are found.

The role of Hizb ut-Tahrir in the radicalisation of terrorists was demonstrated when it was revealed that four of the seven suspects in the failed terror attacks on London on June29 and in Glasgow on July1 had links to a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell in Cambridge. A Hizb spokesman has denied that anyone detained over the terror attacks was a member of the organisation, but Husain says that the group deliberately withholds membership from some of its associates so it can deny links with them if they break the law.

Another former Hizb ut-Tahrir member, Shiraz Maher, says that engineer Kafeel Ahmed, who drove the jeep into Glasgow airport, and his passenger, Bilal Abdulla, were both actively associated with the Cambridge cell members.

Hizb ut-Tahrir literature openly states that "Islam will naturally be at odds with, or even in conflict with, every other civilisation or ideology". But although Hizb ut-Tahrir has been able to take advantage of tolerant pluralist societies in the West to spread its message of Islamist intolerance, it has been banned in many countries in the Middle East, including Jordan, where it originated.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was founded in 1953 by a Palestinian court official, Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, living in East Jerusalem, which was then part of Jordan. It seeks to establish a global caliphate under strict sharia law. This would include the death penalty for any Muslim who renounced their religion, and a complete ban on adultery and alcohol. Hizb ut-Tahrir is opposed to democracy because it is government by people rather than by God. The only election allowed is that of the caliph by Muslims. The primary role of women is as wives and mothers, and the caliph cannot be a woman. There would be segregation of the sexes and Muslim women would be required to wear a jilbab, a long, loose-fitting garment, plus a headscarf.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is openly anti-Western. Nabhani blamed British plots and Western imperial conspiracies for preventing the return of the caliphate. In his book The System of Islam, Nabhani claimed that the Muslim world had stagnated not because it had failed to westernise but because it abandoned its adherence to Islam and because Muslims allowed foreign cultures and concepts to occupy their minds.

Hizb ut-Tahrir has been compared by Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation to the Trotskyite wing of the international communist movement. Its goals are Islamist but its method of organisation is Leninist.

It has a three-stage plan to establish the global caliphate. In the first phase it recruits members who operate in secret cells; potential members are invited to join only after two years of study. In the second phase, members build support among Muslims for a caliphate and infiltrate government institutions. Once the organisation believes there is support for a caliphate, it will seek to overthrow the government through a coup d'etat, by gaining the support of army generals and other influential people.

Hizb ut-Tahrir has been involved in failed coup attempts in Jordan, Syria and Egypt. It is banned in much of the Middle East as well as in Russia. Its members have been arrested in Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan. It was proscribed in Pakistan but the ban was lifted.

Hizb has not been proscribed anywhere in the West because it disavows violence as a means of establishing a caliphate. It was banned from public activity in Germany after handing out anti-Semitic leaflets that quoted the Koran as saying: "The stones and trees will say: O Muslim, o slave of Allah, here is a Jew behind me so come and kill him."

A Danish court also handed down a 60-day suspended sentence to a Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesman in 2002 for distributing racist propaganda. The leaflet said of the Jews, again quoting the Koran: "And kill them wherever you find them and turn them out from where they have turned you out."

Husain says Hizb ut-Tahrir advocates that British Muslims' allegiance should be to the coming caliph in the Middle East, rather than to Queen and country. "This caliph would instruct us to act as agents of the caliphate in Britain and open a home front by assisting the expansionist state," he explains. "We believed that all Arab governments were not sufficiently Islamic and were liable to removal; entire populations would submit to the army of the caliph, or face extinction."

According to Husain, Hizb ut-Tahrir members believe Britain, France, the US and Russia are enemies and the army of the Islamist state would "march on Downing Street and raise the Islamist flag above Westminster".

The main problem facing Western governments in deciding what to about Hizb ut-Tahrir is that it is extremely careful not to overstep the boundaries of what is acceptable in Western societies in its public statements, while preaching something different to its members.

Although it ostensibly eschews violence, Husain says it actually calls for "an expansionist, violent, totalitarian Islamist state".

Others such as Ameer Ali, the former chairman of the federal Government's Muslim Community Reference Group, claim that while banning Hizb ut-Tahrir in a Muslim country might be appropriate, it is totally inappropriate in Australia.

Ali told Radio Australia in January that the utterances of Hizb ut-Tahrir should be monitored, but banning it wouldn't be a wise move, "because once you ban them they go underground. That is much more dangerous."

Rebecca Weisser is a Sydney-based reporter.

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