Since September the 11th, 2001 President Bush has been telling us that they hate us for our freedoms. However, he has never really been able to define who "they" are. He has never been able to go beyond his talking points to understand who it is that attacked us. His failure to know the shape of the enemy has led us into a major foreign policy blunder in Iraq and away from the struggle before us. His foreign policy and his rhetoric have been hijacked by the neo-cons with damaging consequences. Five years after 9/11 we are still under threat from extremists. In fact, the threat has grown significantly during the last five years in large part due to Mr. Bush’s inaction and his charged rhetoric.
President Bush never misses an opportunity to paint any foe as part of the collective "them" in the War on Terror. Saddam Hussein was "them" so he had to be taken down. Now it is Hezbollah and Hamas, it is Iran and Syria. They must be taken down. Today in his radio address Mr. Bush once again saw red and painted with his broad brush:
"The terrorists attempt to bring down airplanes full of innocent men, women, and children," Mr Bush said.
"They kill civilians and American servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they deliberately hide behind civilians in Lebanon. They are seeking to spread their totalitarian ideology."
While Mr. Bush plays politics to justify his Iraq and Middle East policy the real threat is closer to home and getting stronger.
In the United Kingdom a small but media savvy political party named Hizb ut-Tahrir started to take root in the 1990s. Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation in Arabic) is an Islamist party dedicated to creating an Islamic Caliphate in the Arab and Muslim world. Though it was founded in the 1950s in Jerusalem it really started to mobilize globally in the age of the Internet. Since that time it has started to spread its tentacles across Europe and the Arab and Muslim world. Today Hizb ut-Tahrir has presence in Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Russia, Australia, United Kingdom, the Sudan, Denmark, Germany and other European countries. In some European and Arab countries the group is banned. However, they continue to operate freely in Britain and in many Muslim countries.
Hizb ut-Tahrir claims to be a peaceful nonviolent movement. According to the FAQ on their information website, they plan on achieving an Islamic Caliphate through peaceful means:
Hizb ut-Tahrir is a political party whose ideology is Islam. The party works throughout the Islamic world to resume the Islamic way of life by re-establishing the Islamic Khilafah (Caliphate). The party adheres to the Islamic Shari’ah in all aspects of its work, and takes its methodology from that of the Prophet Muhammad that he used to establish the first Islamic State in Madinah. The Prophet Muhammad limited his struggle for the establishment of the Islamic State to the intellectual and political domains. Hence the party considers violence or armed struggle against the regime a violation of the Islamic Shari’ah.
However, this group has a history of spreading hateful propaganda all over Europe:
In March and April 2002, Hizb Ut Tahrir handed out leaflets in a square in Copenhagen, and at a mosque. The leaflet, which also appeared on the Danish groups internet site, makes threats against Jews, using a quote from the Koran urging Muslims to ‘kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have been turned you out.’ The leaflet also said, ‘The Jews are a people of slander…a treacherous people… they fabricate lies and twist words from their right context.’ And the leaflet describes suicide bombings in Israel as "legitimate" acts of "Martyrdom".
The appeal of Hizb ut-Tahrir lies in its carefully planned and calibrated message. In the West, they try to stay just on the margins of the law. They highlight all the issues most Muslims care about: the Palestinian problem, the war in Iraq, the war in Lebanon, U.S. support for Israel, etc. On cursory observation they appear like any other leftist anti war political party with a pro-Muslim message. However, on closer examination a profile of a hate group emerges. To stay within the law in the U.K. the group has cleaned up some of its official statements. However, a look at their past publications sheds some light on their plans. According to Hizb ut-Tahrir’s since sanitized manifesto (cached page from 2004):
As for the political struggle, it is manifested in the struggle against the disbelieving imperialists, to deliver the Ummah from their domination and to liberate her from their influence by uprooting their intellectual, cultural, political, economic and military roots from all of the Muslim countries.
The political struggle also appears in challenging the rulers, revealing their treasons and conspiracies against the Ummah, and by taking them to task and changing them if they denied the rights of the Ummah, or refrained from performing their duties towards her, or ignored any matter of her affairs, or violated the laws of Islam.
Based on this, the Party defined its method of work into three stages:
- The First Stage: The stage of culturing to produce people who believe in the idea and the method of the Party, so that they form the Party group.
- The Second Stage: The stage of interaction with the Ummah, to let the Ummah embrace and carry Islam, so that the Ummah takes it up as its issue, and thus works to establish it in the affairs of life.
- The Third Stage: The stage of establishing government, implementing Islam generally and comprehensively, and carrying it as a message to the world.
The above goals should be familiar to most readers. These are the goals advocated by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda: the removal of western influence from Muslim countries and then the overthrow of the governments of the Muslim countries in favor of a Caliphate.
While bin Laden hides in caves Hizb ut-Tahrir takes its message freely to the young people of the Muslim world. It targets colleges and universities in the Muslim world looking for recruits to its idea of jihad and of an enduring Caliphate. For example, in Bangladesh, which is a largely secular Muslim majority country, Hizb ut-Tahrir is starting to make inroads with university students and intellectuals.
The group’s presence as a political party in Bangladesh is small but nonetheless vocal. It markets itself as a discussion group to university students and openly holds weekly meetings at the country’s leading universities. It feeds on political unrest in the country and presents itself as a utopian alternative to all the country’s ills. It capitalizes on Muslim grievances and focuses hate and anger toward the West and the country’s own government. The Iraq War offers easy ammunition:
The illegal occupying forces of America and Britain have again unleashed a devastating series of attacks upon the Muslims of Iraq. Intensifying their attack upon innocent civilians they have systematically targeted mosques, bazaars, hospitals, marches and demonstrations. They use missiles, tanks, helicopters and planes to carry out these attacks. They have turned the cities of Karbalaa, Al-Najaf and Al-Kufah, its south and north, and "Al-Falujah" into battlefields destroying whatever stands in front of them. They hound the Muslims in their houses and mosques. Thousands have been mercilessly killed by the kafir [infidel] occupying forces.
However the greatest tragedy today is the role of the rulers of the Muslim countries. While the Muslims of Iraq have demonstrated their bravery due to their iman [faith] in Allah fighting with their bare bodies, our rulers have demonstrated the extent of their cowardice and treachery. These 50 or so rulers stand by while our lands are destroyed and our brothers and sisters are slaughtered. These rulers like obedient servants of America watch the slaughter preventing the sincere and strong Muslim armies to aid the Muslims of Iraq. Rather our armies are used by these traitor rulers to guard their thrones and palaces. These rulers are appointed over the Muslim Ummah to safeguard only the interests of the colonialists and enemies of the Muslims. [Translations by me.]
The tactic is always the same: blame the West and then find a way of tying the country’s government to the West. In many cases, the grievances are legitimate. That is exactly where Hizb ut-Tahrir’s appeal lies. It first voices a legitimate grievance and then pivots the rhetoric into hate.
Hizb ut-Tahrir are masters at capturing the media spotlight and magnifying the smallest hint of a controversy. During the Danish cartoon controversy, it was Hizb ut-Tahrir in Bangladesh and elsewhere that engineered the protest marches for the benefit of Western cameras:
Look closely at the banners in the above photographs. This group never misses an opportunity to market its goals.
In a largely secular country like Bangladesh, Hizb ut-Tahrir will not garner much support and will likely remain in the fringes. However, it need not have a huge following to mobilize hate. Its target audience, university students who are looking to channel their frustration, are the engine that fuel the armies of hate. It is not groups like Hamas or Hezbollah that produced the September 11th terrorists. It was not Saddam Hussein’s Iraq that produced the London bombers of 7/11 or those that are detained in the current terror plot. In all cases it was educated middle class Muslims in their 20s that were the killers. These young men were schooled in an ideology that began with groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir. While the group claims non-violence, its rhetoric green lights violence with a wink and a nod.
No amount of bombing in Iraq and in Lebanon will make us safer while we ignore hate groups such as these. Instead of tackling these groups, the Bush Administration is busily driving new recruits into their fold. While we bomb "them", we let these groups fester in so-called "friendly" countries. The tired "you are either with us or against us" rhetoric of Mr. Bush does not begin to address the terrorist factories in clear view of the world. So, when we say that Mr. Bush’s foreign policy has made us less safe by ignoring the real threat in favor of his neo-con escapade in Iraq, we should point to groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir as clear evidence.
This is not a war we can win with F-16s and Tomahawk missiles. It is not a war for the soul of Islam. It is a war against a small group of extremists with a powerful propaganda machine. Our goal should be to outmaneuver them and isolate them. To do that we need a leader who understands the world beyond the confines of his talking points.
[As a footnote, if you want to get a small taste of how easily Hizb ut-Tahrir is able to appeal to the young people in countries like Bangladesh, read the comments attached to this post about Hizb ut-Tahrir from a Bangladeshi blogger based in London.]
Update: The Guardian is now reporting that 10 of the 19 suspects arrested last week in London may have been targeted by Hibz ut-Tahrir and its off-shoot al-Mujaharoun.
[Cross posted at Taylor Marsh]