November 21, 2007

Hizb-ut-Tahrir: Winning Hearts and Minds

The Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir is gaining a foothold across Central Asia and is making its presence felt in Britain and elsewhere.

Governments have banned the group, with its alleged bent towards violence, and the appeal of its charismatic leaders and Islamic ideology.

Founded in the Middle East, Hizb-ut-Tahrir spread to Muslim communities in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan in the 1990s.

The group, which calls itself a political party even though it has no elected members, aims to replace all secular governments with a united front of Islamic governments.

The group professes nonviolence, but is banned in many places and its members are arrested on a regular basis, according to the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.

In Kyrgyzstan, where it is not explicitly banned, Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s growing appeal is attributed to its ability to speak to the social concerns affecting the Muslim population rather than to its own agenda.

Members organize street parties around religious festivals and travel the state making speeches in a “radical, dynamic language” that local clerics seem powerless to counter.

Careful not to say or do anything that will get members thrown in jail, the party’s greatest recruiting tool is the government’s intimidation tactics.

The more the government cracks down on them, the more backlash they create.

Party officials say that in southern Kazakhstan alone, the group’s membership has grown from 2,000 to 30,000 supporters in the last 10 years.

In Uzbekistan, in late October, a court jailed eight men for up to 10 years just for being members of the group. Human rights advocates have since accused officials of torturing them men, and claims that the trial was conducted in a manner contrary to Uzbek law, reports Reuters.

Demonstrators allied with Hizb ut-Tahrir took to the streets of a London suburb last week to protest the state of affairs in Pakistan — not the declaration of martial law, but the continued political dominance of General Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, both of whom the party decries as agents of the United States.

“For us, the biggest problem that Pakistan faces is the influence of the United States of America,” said a spokesman, as quoted by the Slough & Windsor Observer.

“Our vision of an open, Islamic state is described by the Western media and Musharraf as extremism, but it is not,” he added.

Hizb ut-Tahrir once held sway over Briton Ed Husain, whose new book, “The Islamist,” describes his attraction to the party and subsequent membership at the age of 16.

A Bangladeshi growing up in London’s East End, Husain and his Asian friends were regular victims of racist abuse by local skinheads.

Hizb ut-Tahrir “gave me that social network and sense of belonging that Britain didn’t,” he told London’s TES Magazine.

Sources:

“Islamic group quietly builds support in Kyrgyzstan”
Institute for War & Peace Reporting, November 16, 2007

“Uzbek court jails 8 suspected Islamists”
Reuters, October 29, 2007

“Extremism and back”
TES Magazine (U.K.), November 16, 2007

“Protesters take to the streets”
Slough & Windsor Observer (U.K.), November 17, 2007

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