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U.K.: Hizb Ut-Tahrir Challenges Government’s Proposed Ban With Offer Of Dialogue

Muslims in Britain have been under a microscope since the July attacks Hizb ut-Tahrir, one of two radical Islamic organizations singled out for critical attention by the British government in the wake of the July London bombings, says it is misunderstood. A raft of antiterror plans proposed by Prime Minister Tony Blair called for the organization to be banned, as it is in Germany. But, at its national conference in London yesterday, Hizb ut-Tahrir insisted it was opposed to violence and terror. And it invited the government not only to a dialogue, but also to join forces in fighting terrorism.

London, 5 September 2005 (RFE/RL) – Hizb ut-Tahrir sets itself far-reaching and radical aims -- no less than the reestablishment of a pan-Islamic caliphate throughout the Muslim world, an idea inspired by the medieval Arabic caliphate, which ruled from Saudi Arabia to southern Spain.

Hizb ut-Tahrir's new caliphate would be ruled by elected representatives and governed by Islamic laws. But, says Dr Abdul Wahid, a member of its executive committee, Hizb ut-Tahrir is not a threat to the West. On the contrary, he says, it is nonviolent and opposed to terror. Its aim now is to fight against a ban.

Imran Wahid, Hizb ut-Tahrir's media spokesman, told RFE/RL: “We intend to continue our work and we’re working very hard to avert a ban, as the British government suggested that it wanted to enforce against us. We know that it is the dictators and tyrants in the Muslim World who have banned the party, and despite that the party has continued in its nonviolent political work.”

Wahid said that Hizb ut-Tahrir has been particularly severely persecuted in Uzbekistan. “After the events in Andijon, we said that the events had been orchestrated by the Uzbek government, in fact to massacre Hizb ut-Tahrir. And from our sources in Uzbekistan we say that maybe as many as 7,000 of our members were killed. We believe this is a massacre, which has been hidden from the world’s media by the Uzbek regime,” Wahid said.

Wahid said that although members of Hizb ut-Tahrir are being tortured on a daily basis in Uzbekistan, it will fight the regime using peaceful means.

But Hizb ut-Tahrir does not make things easy for itself: it refuses to recognize any government in the Muslim world, rejects parliamentary democracy because it says it leads to corruption, and opposes Zionism and the state of Israel. It condemns Western democracy and capitalism, both of which it says are inconsistent with Islamic principles, but insists it will use only lawful means to make its voice heard.

“Hizb ut-Tahrir is an open organization," Wahid said. "And we feel that if governments like the British government are serious in countering terrorism and extremism within the Muslim community, than rather than banning nonviolent political movements like Hizb ut-Tahrir, they should in fact be involved in dialogue and discussion. And Hizb ut-Tahrir is willing to sit down and discuss with anyone.”

But in a Britain still reeling from the London bombings, its not a message many want to hear. Nevertheless, there are some who believe it would be a mistake to close the organisation down, among them Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

“They’re nonviolent, they aren’t involved in terrorism, so it’s a difficult balance between maintaining a free speech and civil liberties, as well as maintaining security," Ranstorp said. "I think that banning Hizb ut-Tahrir is probably just going to push the problem into the underground, less visible for the intelligence services to be able to identify individuals with radical views. So I am not sure it’s the right thing to do.”

It's a view that finds some echo among experts on counterterrorism but it is also one that it out of synch for the moment with the popular mood and a British government looking to reassure its public that it is not being soft on terror.