Recently two ex-members of the global Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Ed Hussein and Shiraz Maher , have been heavily courted by the political and media heirachy in the Western countries and more specifically in Britain. The commonality between them beyond being ex-HT members has been their assertion that Western governments have been negligent in ascribing terrorism to merely violent extremism or jihadism. It is their argument that non-violent radicalism has the same propensity to move towards terrorist action.
This is not the first time this assertion has been made. Both Ed Hussein and Shiraz Maher follow the logic of Zeyno Baran from the conservative Nixon Center in the US, where she argued similarly that that the nature of HT ideology had the ‘potential’ to lead to violent action. By insinuating a link between HT and jihadism, Baran concluded that HT had become ‘a conveyor belt for terrorism’. Exactly the same philosophy of argument has been utilised by Ed Hussein and Shiraz Maher. Yet, just as there exists no hard empirical evidence to substantiate Zeyno Baran’s conclusions, both Ed Hussein’s and Shiraz’s reasoning also defies conception and lack’s the evidentiary processes. Suffice it to say that Baran’s and by default Ed Husain’s and Shiraz Maher’s enterprise is comprehensively dismantled by former Swiss civil servant and historian, Jean-Francois in his research paper entitled “Hizb -ut Tahrir--The Next al-Qaeda, Really?” and by the only established research on HT by Exeter university academic Suha Taji Farouki, which categorically discounts their logic.
However, although the base argument is the same, the ex-Islamist insider connection is a new dimension to the subject and gives the impression that there is something we may have missed about HT and international terrorism. We are led to believe that an insider account will overcome the overwhelming conclusion amongst the experts on HT that it is not linked to terrorism borne out clearly through the empirical reality. In fact as I will outline in my article, the attempt to link HT with terrorism lacks evidence and objectivity because in essence it forms part orms part of a broader political strategy engineered by the British Home and Foreign Office towards political Islam and HT in particular. In my articles ‘The Future of Hizb-ut-Tahrir’ and ‘David Cameron and Labour Strategy towards Hizb-utTahrir’, I have detailed the British strategy aimed at moderating HT Britain and bringing it into its domestic and foreign policy nexus. I will also demonstrate in what manner both ex-HT members Ed Husein and Shiraz Maher have been utilised by the UK political and media establishment, why there is a credibility deficit in both these actors and how there is a clear nexus between them in promoting a neo-conservative based UK Home Office strategy in attempting to fabricate a link between terrorism and HT.
Ed Husein : A British Neo-Conservative in Sufi Clothing
Ed Husein dramatically rose to prominence as a result of his book ‘The Islamist’ (Penguin;London, 2007), which charts his journey from radical Islam to Sufi Islam and forms with the backdrop of being an ex-HT member, a blueprint for action against radical Islam. However, the book not only propounds gross factual inaccuracies but as I will demonstrate later, many allegations which lack evidentiary proof. The behaviour and writings of Ed Husein post ‘The Islamist’ are also strongly suggestive that the book was formulated as a blueprint for a more specific onslaught against the core tenets of political Islam including some which command universal support amongst the majority of the Islamic schools of thought. His close relationship with UK Home Office officials and the security agencies raises credible doubt as to the origin of ‘The Islamist’. In his quest against Islamism, Husein claims support by shadowy Sufi figures who lurk in the background and who are unwilling to come forward in person or provide an intellectual reposte to radical Islam and more specifically HT. Who are these figures and why do they need Husein to do their bidding? Are the shadowy figure’s Sufi’s or the Home Office? It is not coincidental that the timing of ‘The Islamist’ coincided with the Home Office’s major push against radicalisation one of which is the backing of Sufism and the set up of the Sufi Muslim Council. This connection is lucidly brought out by Madeleine Bunting in her interview with Ed Hussein when she revealed that his conversion to “secularism” coupled with his Sufi inclination seems to fit quite neatly with this equation.
“There has never been much love lost between Sufism and Islamism - the former criticised as politically quiescent - and one way to read Husain is that Sufi Islam now has a sympathetic hearing in Whitehall and the media, and has the confidence to challenge Islamist domination of the UK Muslim community”(Guardian, 12th May, 2007).
In fact I argue that even Sufism masks Husein’s real political agenda. Ziauddin Sardar in his review of The Islamist is struck by Husein’s atomisation of the Islamist phenomena to HT. The fixation with HT is somewhat understandable considering the history of Husein. However, the obsession to blame it for the environment of terrorism is taking reductionism to its extreme. As Sardar is correct pint out;
“The suggestion that the radicalisation of Muslim youth can be laid firmly on the door of Hizb is also hard to swallow. The anger of young Muslims against the West has a much broader context. There was a great deal going on during the 1990s that agitated young Muslims and brought anti-Western sentiment to the fore - from the first Gulf War to the genocide of Muslims in Chechnya. But Husain sees the world in reductive, one- dimensional terms” (The Independent, 1 June 2007)
On closer inspection however, Husein’s agenda seems more to be borne out of an obsessional hatred for HT, its members and its message, including the core tenets of classical Islam such as the supremacy of sharia, the role of the Caliphate in Islamic governance and jihad as a legal form of resistance and ideological expansion. In pursuing his agenda Husein seems to have adopted the maxim ‘the ends justify the means’ in that even the proclaimed Sufi conversion seems to conceal an underlying real-politik applied though a Darwinian logic in attempting to manufacture a missing link between HT and terrorism. However, even more fundamental than this is the use of HT, radicalism and terrorism to disguise an attack on the very essence of political and classical Islam itself. Husein’s esoteric agenda magnifies the confusion as to his real aim. Hence Sardar points out;
“Hizb ut-Tahir should be banned so that they can take their nefarious activities underground and become even more difficult to tackle. Muslim organisations are secret terrorist sympathisers. Husain doesn't tell us what we should do with them. But I suspect he wants everyone locked up, leaving the terrain open for his brand of neocons to run amok.” (The Independent, 1 June 2007)
Husein’s lack of concern to correct himself even at the advice of his fellow Sufi comrades is the strongest indication of Sufism being a mere cloak. The myriad of distortions and misquotations of the Sufi and other classical texts by Husein has been comprehensively exposed by another Sufi Ust. Andrew Booso in his review of Husein’s book ‘The Islamist’. Booso says,
“Husain’s name-dropping of Hanson and Keller, in particular, seems to be opportunism based on assumptions that are false. Firstly, his definition and rejection of ‘political Islam’ does not hold up to analysis from Nuh Keller’s compendium Reliance of the Traveller, which received a confirmatory certificate from al-Azhar University, whom Husain calls ‘arguably the highest authority on Muslim scripture’. Nuh Keller adds a section entitled ‘The Caliphate [al-khilafah]’ to the original legal manual that he t ranslated (which is called ‘Umdat as-salik).”
http://thetranslators1.wordpress.com/2007/05/21/review- of-%e2%80%9cth islamist%e2%80%9d-ust-andrew-booso-complete/
Husein provides no articulated response to Booso’s elucidation choosing to ignore the corrections and continue with his set agenda. Husein in The Islamist champions Sufi personalities such as Nuh Keller and Hamza Yusuf as charting the correct path for the Muslim’s. Hence it is important to note Booso’s quotes from Nuh Keller in his appendix to Husein’s quoted book Reliance of the Traveller;
It being ‘obligatory for Muslims to rise against’ a leader of the government if he ‘becomes a non-Muslim, alters the Sacred Law – (…imposing rules that contravene the provisions of the religion while believing in the validity of the rules he has imposed, this being unbelief (kufr)) – or imposes reprehensible innovations while in office’, ‘if possible’, and ‘install an upright leader in his place’(see o25.3(a) for a full explanation).
It being ‘obligatory to obey the commands and interdictions of the caliph…in everything that is lawful…even if he is unjust’ (o25.5).
Offensive jihad (see o9.1), with the objective being to fight ‘Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians…until they become Muslim or else pay the non-Muslim poll tax’ (o9.8); and ‘the Caliph fights all other peoples until they become Muslim’ (o9.9).
‘Non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic State…are distinguished from Muslims in dress, wearing a wide cloth belt (zunnar)…[and] must keep to the side of the street’ (o11.5).
The Islamic state not retaliating against a Muslim for killing a non-Muslim (o1.2).
Hence, if Husein was ignorant of his own ideational sources then clearly he was made aware of them by Booso. Yet Husein chose to disregard them and maintain the same line of attack in the media.
Moreover, HTB spokesman Taji Mustafa also had to correct Husein regarding his incorrect assertion over the position of the Caliphate in the texts of classical Islam in general.
“he (Husein) argues that key orthodox political ideas such as the caliphate are alien to "traditional" Islam.., one of the scholars who Husain cites as a new found reference point is the respected Sufi Shaykh Nuh Keller. In his translation of the classical jurisprudential work Reliance of the Traveller he states that the caliphate is "obligatory in itself" and an integral part of orthodox Islamic thinking. There are many examples of Muslim scholars and thinkers more famed for their spiritualism who endorse the ideas of Shariah and caliphate as inherently part of Islam. Husain has chosen to ignore the opinions of these Sufis who agree with those he labels Islamists” (The Islamist Bogeyman, Guardian 14th May 2007)
Bearing the above points by Nuh Keller in mind Husein’s article on the commentisfree blog of the UK Guardian outrightly confirms his position of belligerence towards classical Islam. What is more revealing is that Ziauddin Sardar was not wrong in his labelling of Husein as a ‘neocon’ for he categorically adopted the neoconservative line of attack on the Caliphate and Islamic universalism as comparable to Nazism. In the title he uses the German vocabulary describing the goal of One Nation as (Ein Volke), One State as (Ein Reich) and One Caliph as (Ein Fuhrer). Husein writes,
“Sound familiar? Hizb ut-Tahrir's slogans, reiterated by members during the 1990s - and continued today throughout the Middle East - bear a chilling resemblance to that of t he German Nazi party. The similarities don't end there: ideological totalitarianism, expansionist foreign policy, the designation of women to the private realm, the rejection of democracy, concepts of relationship between party and state, notions of the master race, education system as indoctrination and anti-semitism are all features they both share.”
In fact what does sound familiar is Husein’s adoption of the neo-conservative language and strategy towards the concept of Islamic governance, universalism and the attempted link with terrorism. This is why the logic of neoconservative Zeyno Baran resonates in Husein’s caricature of HT, the insinuation of terrorism and that of the neoconservative elements of the Bush administration as regards the assault on political Islam through vocabulary such as “evil ideology” attached to the goal of a world wide Caliphate. Hussein’s association of Nazism with the notion of Islamic governance and the sharia is well established as part of the armoury of neoconservative thinking towards political Islam. Hussein’s adoption of this line of attack is categorical in his article in the UK Guardian. The following quotations below confirm the adoption:
“We can wait for their state to come about and then confront them as we did the Nazis, at a very late stage and at a high human cost, or we can stop appeasing Hizb-ut-Tahrir and its offshoots and demand: either change, or perish. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye.” (Ed Hussein, Chilling Similarities, Commentisfree, Guardian, 10th July, 2007)
Gen Johm Abizaid;
They will try to re-establish a caliphate throughout the entire Muslim world... Just as we had the opportunity to learn what the Nazis were going to do, from Hitler's word in ' Mein Kampf... we need to learn what these people intend to do from their own words.“ (General John Abizaid (11/05)
Other areas where the attack on classical Islam by Husein are inimical to that found in the neo-conservative literature is related to the disputation of non-Muslims especially jews and christians (Kafir) and the distortion that historical figures such as Ibn Rushd, Ibn Sina and Al-Farabi were incorrectly declared non-Muslim. The neo-conservative aim being to promote these outcast figures as credible sources for Muslims and in doing so demonstrate Islam’s compatability with Greek philosophy and Western civilisation. Husein accuses the founder of HT, Taqiudine an Nabahani of deliberately manipulating classical Islam. However as Andrew Booso in his reposte to Husein clinically points out with examples from the classical Muslim jurists that Nabahani was actually in line with the classical scholars including Sufi’s such as Ghazali in declaring non-Muslims including Christian’s and jews as (Kafir) and Al-Farabi etc as having violated the Islamic doctrine and hence become non-Muslim. Booso states:
“Therefore Mawdudi, Qutb and Nabahani cannot be accused in this specific regard of believing and propagating anything but a standard orthodox belief expounded “and endorsed by jurists throughout time” (http://thetranslators1.wordpress.com/2007/05/21/review- of-%e2%80%9cthe- islamist%e2%80%9d-ust-andrew-booso-complete/)
Booso was also referring to Husein’s attack on Nabahani regarding the Caliphate or Islamic state being an orthodox verified obligation. Booso quotes Nuh Keller in respect of his addition to Reliance of the Traveller regarding the Caliphate;
“This section has been added here by the translater because the Caliphate is both obligatory in itself and the necessary precondition for all the rulings established by Allah Most High to govern and guide Islamic community life.“ (Quotation of Nuh Keller by Andrew Booso http://thetranslators1.wordpress.com/2007/05/21/review- of-%e2%80%9cthe- islamist%e2%80%9d-ust-andrew-booso-complete/)
The logical conclusion of Husein’s distortion is that the classical jurists including their Sufi followers such as Nuh Keller would under Husein’s construction be labelled as the idea bearers for Islamist’s and extremists and ultimately terrorism.
“Would Husein now recommend that Tony Blair outlaw Nuh Keller or ban him from England and declare extreme those that follow Nuh Keller such as Hamza Yusuf and T.J Winter as well as labelling Keller as such himself? “
Thus it was no wonder that Booso had no alternative to dismiss Husein’s Sufi façade;
“It is fair to conclude that the last development of Husein’s character ie the ‘spiritual’ one, that we are treated to is an illusion, because he has recast the ’masters’ in his own image so to speak” http://thetranslators1.wordpress.com/2007/05/21/review- of-%e2%80%9cthe- islamist%e2%80%9d-ust-andrew-booso-complete/)
What becomes clearer upon closer inspection of Husein’ writings is that he is in fact a British neoconservative disguised as a Sufi. Moreover, he explicitly follows the Christian dictum of “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. Hence his underlying position is what he himself declares it to be in ‘The Islamist’ which is secularism in the Western sense;
“Religions are not for governments or states, they are for individuals. The state can assist individuals religious responsibilities, but governments cannot, should not, profess faith” (Hussain, The Islamist)
What is conclusive in the comparative between Hussein and Nuh Keller above is that his position that Sufism undermines HT is a complete fabrication and one which Hussein must be aware of. Hussein has clearly unveiled his position towards the core tenets of Islamic governance along with his neo-conservative secular adoption by openly disregarding the opinions of his own Sufi masters whom he claims represent the true Islam. Instead Husein has clearly chosen to align himself with the historical position of his Home Office allies articulated initially by Lord Curzon in 1924 when he declared;
"the point at issue is that Turkey has been destroyed and shall never rise again, because we have destroyed her spiritual power: the Caliphate and Islam.”
And former British Home Minister Charles Clarke’s position in 2005,
“…there can be no negotiation about the re-creation of the Caliphate; there can be no negotiation about the imposition of Sharia (Islamic) law...”
For this reason the construction of Hussein’s journey from HT to spiritualism and Sufism seems to be a front and one scripted with a clear political agenda. The fingerprints of the UK Home Office are clearly resonant on Husein and his book. ‘The Islamist ’ is in essence a blueprint for action against political and classical Islam and one for which the British political and media establishment have given a blank cheque in terms of support and exposure. Husein’s appearances on the British media with Home Office officials on a first name basis, the books serialisation in the British press and the huge coverage afforded Husein and his book in the Western televised media confirm this analysis. It was no wonder Ziauddin Sardar considered The Islamist as “having been drafted by a Whitehall mandarin as a PR job for the Blair government” (The Independent, 1 June 2007)
Hussein’s mission statement from the Home Office is quite evident. Firstly, to use and promote Sufism in order to neutralise political Islam, to undermine the key tenets of classical Islam and finally, to form a link even fabricate one between non-violent political Islam and terrorism. In executing the mission Husein is afforded prime access to the government and media machinery. The texts of Sufism are to be used if effective, otherwise they are to be abandoned for any argumentation deemed necessary to achieve the mission.
The modus operandi through which Hussein is prepared to execute his mission will be demonstrated later but can be gauged by the example of when in Syria, he alerted the authorities to the activities of HT members from Britain who had enrolled on Arabic courses. In an interview on his website (www.theislamist.tumblr.com) he tried to argue that the HT members were there to foment sedition and therefore it was his duty to alert the authorities. Again in direct contravention of Nuh Kellers point 1 above, he argued that;
“vast majority of the ‘ulama do not regard the governments in Muslim lands to be kufr(non Islamic)…Syria is a land filled with Muslim scholars, many of whom are closely aligned with the government. I love the people of Syria and consider the country to be my second home — if I see trouble and dissension being sown, it is my religious duty to prevent it.” (www.theislamist.tumblr.com)
This is indeed a strange justification considering that the Syrian regime is from the Alawi sect which is considered outside the fold of Islam by the majority of Sunni Muslims. Moreover, the Syrian regime is a dictatorship with a history of brutality against its citizens, especially the Sunni majority. It was Bashar al Asad’s father Hafez al Asad who was responsible for the use of chemical agents against men, women and children in wiping out the village of Hama for Islamic dissent. Hence, the likelihood of the HT members being tortured was extremely high. Being an ex-HT man, surely he must have been familiar with the conduct of the Syrian regime in torturing the movements members.
Husein’s logic however is not erratic. It seems carefully constructed to legitimise the sensitive issue of Muslim’s affiliating themselves with Western and pro-Western regimes against Islamists (those that seek Islam in state and society). The proof of this deliberation rests firstly on his complete silence on what even a sizeable portion of non-Muslim’s have described as Western state terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine etc. Suspiciously, Husein raises no concerns over well documented terrorism charges against and Western complicity in fostering jihadism for policy goals, not only in Afghanistan and Bosnia but on British soil itself. Secondly, his argument on his website, based on an incorrect analogy between the situation of the Muslim’s under the governorship of Hajjaj bin Yusuf (661-714 AD) in Iraq. He advises the Muslim’s to be patient, endure the suffering and not work against the governments in the Islamic world as had been the case under Hajjaj bin Yusuf. Husein states;
“Just as the Ahl al-Sunnah persevered through the tyranny of Hajjaj bin Yusuf, we should counsel Muslim rulers, exercise sabr, be abundant in dua, and work for political change with and not against the hukkam. In this pursuit, we should seek guidance from that centuries-old repository of cumulative knowledge: the traditional Muslim ulama“ (www.theislamist.tumblr.com)
This analogy does not hold water from two perspectives. Firstly because Hajjaj bin Yusuf was not the Caliph or the head of an Islamic state and secondly the current rulers in the Islamic world do not fall under the rule for Caliph’s, for which the rules for co-operation and revolt are considered different and well defined in Islamic law and pointed out quite categorically by Nuh Keller above. Moreover, in the case of Syria, the regime is not even considered as Muslim by the majority of the Sunni world.
It is unlikely that this is an oversight. Rather it seems part of Husein’s deliberate agenda to confuse, undermine and derail the course of political Islam. As I will demonstrate later, Husein’s wider distortions feed into a specific application in relation to fabricating a link between non-violent political Islam and terrorism. The picture of Husein which emerges is of an opportunistic actor searching for a role. Coincidentally, the Home Office had a script on HT and terrorism that needed an actor. Sufism was the make-up, the title was ‘The Islamist’.
Shiraz Maher: Supporting Actor
The case of Shiraz Maher is an interesting one. Unlike Husein, Maher was a prolific writer for Hizb ut Tahrir in Britain (HTB) demonstrating a sound understanding of HT ideology. Hence his dramatic u-turn in 2005 from doctrinal Islamist to secularist must have taken HTB completely by surprise. Maher first came to prominence as “reformed” ex-HT Islamist through his publication of an article in Prospect Magazine wherein he argued that UK Universities had failed to acknowledge the extent of Islamic extremism on the campuses despite the report by Anthony Glees and Chris Pope, "When Students Turn to Terror" (Social Affairs Unit). Since then he has been working in the background as a consultant for the BBC on political Islam and although preceded Ed Hussein as the original ex-HT defector was overshadowed by the publication of The Islamist, until now. However, Maher’s own opportunism starts with the issue of his Maher’s official account of when exactly he joined HT which has been disputed by people who claim to have known him. Within a comment on Maher’s article in the New Statesman entitled, “Glasgow bombs: the Doctor I knew”, the person under the name of Sajid writes;
“Brother Shiraz why are you dishonest over the one matter you should know best. I note that in this article you have tried to avoid the lies in your previous accounts of your "recruitment". You have now admitted that when you moved to Leeds you "already knew about Hizb ut-Tahrir". However that is not what you wrote in the Times Higher Education Supplement [3 February 2006] when you said that you first met HT at Leeds University where you were "recruited". Did we not attend HT study circles in Birmingham Central Mosque together for several years when you were at Solihull School and I was at King Edward's? You had first approached members of HT many years previously when you lived with your grandfather in Harborne in 1994. I remember that you asked to join HT at that time, but rather than ‘recruit’ you , HT merely explained its thoughts to you, and did not make any efforts to meet you again. Many years later you again actively approached members of the party at a mosque in Leeds. In the article last year in THES you alleged that you had been approached at university - I am glad that you have now admitted in this article that your previous account was inaccurate. With so much dishonesty why should anyone now believe your account?” (New Statesman, 12th July, 2007)
Why was there a need for Maher to provide such contradictory accounts. Is it an attempt to cover tracks in order to reinvent oneself? Or is it more sinister? Whatever the answer, the issue of credibility has already been raised.
The attempted bombing of Glasgow airport catapulted Maher directly into the global media limelight. The British media had brought him in from the cold. Why? Not because he knew the Glasgow bomber Dr. Abdullah, but because he knew him in the capacity of a Hizb-ut-Tahrir member. Ed Hussein’s Home Office script had just found a supporting actor. Maher took the opportunity and locked himself into the narrative. Until now Maher had made no connection between HT ideology and terrorism. Rather the focus was on protecting liberal values through attacking HT’s goal of an Islamic Caliphate and the supremacy of Sharia;
"Hizb ut-Tahrir is, after all, ostensibly non-violent and committed to open discussion, so can it really be that dangerous? I suggest that it is…Hizb ut- Tahrir is no paper tiger. It is a revolutionary movement seeking to overthrow governments in the Muslim world, establish a caliphate and then wage jihad on other nations." [Times Higher Education Supplement]
Crucially however, the opportunism is confirmed by the fact that he had kept quiet about his association with jihadists in the past and had argued vigorously as a HT member that its methodology was non-violent and no link had ever been established between HT and terrorism. Whilst a member of HT Maher states;
“Disillusioned at the failure of her agents to suppress the Islamic da'wah we now see the colonialist states taking direct action against the Hizb. Despite vain attempts to slander the Hizb and associate her name with terrorism the German government much like the Uzbek, Jordanian, Syrian, Egyptian administrations has failed to show demonstrate any such link. Islam is the only ideological solution to capitalist exploitation and hegemony. Unfortunately even the supposedly democratic west - the bastion of liberal democracy and free speech - now fears this growing and unstoppable call."[http://184.108.40.206/search?q=cache:ezY- FZ8NFHkJ:www.paklinks.com/gs/archive/index.php/t- 86574.html+%22shiraz+maher%22+ban&hl=en&amp;gl=uk&ct=cln k&cd=22]
It is not surprising that Maher has vigorously tried to remove these statements from the internet. The question which naturally arises from the quote is that despite HT’s ideology remaining consistent for over fifty years, no terrorism connection was ever found. HT’s ideology has not changed so what has? Maher as with Ed Hussein provides no answers to this question. Moreover, since according to his own admission Dr. Abdullah had been radicalised by jihadism before his introduction and also according to his own admission Abdullah had rejected the non-violent methodology of HT and refused to join HT, Maher is totally disingenuous in declaring that the ideology of Islamic dissent and HT ideology in particular is a precursor to terrorism.
“And so it was through my involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir and its ideology of extremist political Islam that I came to befriend Bilal, the would-be bomber. That's why I believe it's wrong to distinguish between "extremism" and "violent extremism" as the government has been doing in recent months. The two are inextricably intertwined. Without movements such as Hizb creating t he moral imperatives to justify terror, people like Bilal wouldn't have the support of an ideological infrastructure cheering them on. And, I believe, it's a fallacy to suggest that the culpability of agitators and cheerleaders is any less than for those who actually carry out acts of t error.” (New Statesman, 5th July, 2007)
Yet the closeness to the narrative of The Islamist is unmistakable,
“Islamist terrorism does not exist in a vacuum. Like other social phenomena, it operates within a wider infrastructure, designed to achieve specific ends. In this case, that is the political ideology of Islamism, an idea distinct and different from Islam the religion. ” (New Statesman, 12th July, 2007)
“The political ideology of Islamism”, “Islam the religion”. Sound familiar? Once the fog is removed it is clearly recognisable that Maher has been scripted by the Home Office to play supporting actor to Husein. The issue is not terrorism but a concerted attack on the ideas of political Islam and specifically those concerning the Caliphate, Islamic Universalism and jihad. Thus it is no coincidence that Maher ‘s timing of his article in The New Statesman on the 12th of July coincided with Husein’s articles in Newsweek and the Guardian in the same week, concurring that;
“Islamist groups thrive on preaching a separatist message of Islamic supremacy, which concerns itself with reversing the temporal decline of Islam and challenging the ascendancy of the west by reviving a puritanical caliphate.” ((New Statesman, 12th July, 2007)
The Methodology of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Violent Action
The Islamic world is a melting pot of various movements committed to Islamic revival. However, the Islamic movement is not a unitary block. The commonality of its final goal masks the trenches which exist between the movements related to the understanding of the political reality and the methodology required to bring about the final solution. The politics of Islamism is fundamentally contested. These contestations are evident not only in the literature base of these movements but also in the practical application of their strategies. In order to correctly evaluate any movement there has to be an objective reading of its ideational base and an empirical appreciation of its methodology and strategy in practice. At the same time a cautionary principle must be adopted in that the study of movements is not a scientific one. One cannot confine the movements to the realm of a laboratory and hypothesize. In the real world the Islamic movement is a live cosmopolitan shopping mall. People tend to move in, out and around different movements, picking up a host of ideas on the shopping trip. For instance in the public circles and Friday sermons organised by the various movements, the audience will consist of a plethora of interested parties affiliated to different persuasions and organisations. The attendance of a person from one school of thought in the activity of another does not in any way imply a wholesale conversion. Such an argument would indeed be nonsensical and a twisted distortion of everyday human behaviour in the life of all societies. Yet it is with this twisted logic that the war on terrorism is evolving and more succinctly the logic of Zeyno Baran, Ed Hussein and Shiraz Maher against Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
The basis of this deviant logic has nothing to do with international terrorism. Baran’s agenda is a fresh application for the ‘politics of fear’. This is a Raeganite ‘war of ideas’ paradigm which was applied successfully against Communism and now blasts against political Islam. The Hudson Institute, The Nixon Center and other US prominent think tanks were indeed established on the very premise of fighting a war of ideas against Communism and the Soviet Union. In this paradigm, radical Islam is substituted for Communism as the primary “evil”. Baran’s agenda for this war against HT under this ill defined model becomes suspiciously apparent not only in the Nixon Center’s and the Heritage Foundation’s superficial and deliberate mis-reading of the HT ideology and politics but in the collusion with anti-HT, non-democratic but energy resourceful states and governments in Central Asia.
Ed Hussein and Shiraz Maher however are not in the same league as Baran. Whereas Baran is an engine for US policy, Husein and Maher are simple pawns that seem to have prostituted themselves in the Western led battle against political Islam. In my article “The Future of HT in Britain”, I situated Ed Huseins book ‘The Islamist’ and his heavy promotion as an insider as part of a British strategy towards bringing HT into mainstream politics domestically and utlitising it for foreign policy goals externally. In my follow up article “David Cameron and Labour’s Strategy towards HT”, I have identified four areas of this strategy which is not to proscribe but to maintain the threat of proscription in order to moderate and engineer HT’s British branch such that it can be utilised for policy purposes. One of the elements of this strategy is to maintain the possibility of a fabricated link between terrorism and HT through employing ex HT members such as Ed Hussein, Shiraz Maher and in smaller measure ex-Muhajiroun member Hassan Butt. The heavy engagement by the UK Home Office, security services and the media of these ex-members has not gone unnoticed. The comments on the various websites where their articles have been published indicate a trust deficit by Muslims and non-Muslims alike regarding the agenda’s of these characters largely brought about by the contradictions, inconsistencies and inaccuracies in their accounts and testimonies. Moreover as I will demonstrate the conceptual positions of both Husein and Maher in framing a false case of terrorism against HT are untenable and as argued above seem to be motivated by factors other than a desire to address the real causes of terrorism.
Before I embark upon a refutation of Hussain and Maher’s edifice which attempts to link HT with terrorism, it is essential to understand exactly what HT ideology is towards violent action. HT’s theoretical premise for its methodology is openly detailed in its books. It claims to strictly follow the stages of the Prophet Mohammed in his political journey from the Arabian city of Mecca to the establishment of the Islamic state in the Arabian city of Medina. This journey according to all the books of HT was a non-violent one involving the building of a popular base through dawa(interaction) and then the installment of an Islamic government built on the support of the popular base and the intervention of the people of influence and power. Because this methodology has been considered a derivative from the Islamic sources through a process of ijtihad (jurisitic exertion), it is considered a divine obligation and deviation from it haram(prohibited). HT’s strict adherence to this methodology is a widely understood reality. Moreover, HT has been the thorn of jihadists in condemning their use of violence as a methodological tool. In their exchange with the jihadists’ which can be gauged from various websites, HT members argument rests on the argument that the disciples of Mohammed who were subjected to varying degrees of torture in Mecca wanted to respond with violence but were strictly prohibited in doing so by the Prophet Mohammed.
The concept of violence does not occur in the realm of methodology but in the realms of jihad, a word and a concept which has been a long standing thorn in the history of Western experience with Islam. Jihad which has many definitions indeed has a violent application. However, according to HT ideology this is confined to the realms of self-defence and the last resort in the ideological expansion of the state. In this sense apart from the styles used and the basis of motivation, one would find it difficult to distinguish this conception from the practice of ideological states in the international arena. Western neo-colonialism and the application of democracy by force in Iraq being a prime example. HT rejects jihad (physical struggle) as a means and method to bring societal and state transformation. However, it judges the response of violence in the form of Jihad as legitimate in the case of aggression against and occupation of Islamic territory such as Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq. In these cases the response of resistance to Western occupation and policy is not novel to the Islamic movements, it has a broad measure of support amongst the Muslim masses.
The crunch issue here is that even despite the acceptance of the duty of individual jihad (fard ayn), HT maintains that the fundamental solution remains the resumption of Islam and the establishment of the Caliphate. For this reason it does not initiate jihadist activity as a movement. According to Suha Taji Farouki,
“Hizb ut-Tahrir has been calling with mounting intensity for the eradication of Israel by jihad since the early 1980s’, but this means calling for action by the Muslim states, the Muslim masses and the armies of Muslim countries, and not the party itself organizing the jihad – in fact, it calls on them to re- establish the caliphate so that jihad can be launched.” (‘Islamists and the threat of Jihad: Hizb al-Tahrir and al-Muhajiroun on Israel and the Jews’.In Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 36, No. 4, October 2000, pp. 21– 46)
It is the concept of Jihad upon which Ed Husain builds his accusation of terrorism against Hizb ut Tahrir. In an article entitled, “I know how these terrorists are inspired”, Husein claims that HT’s proclamations of jihad is what laid the groundwork for terrorism in the UK;
“The rhetoric of jihad introduced by Hizb ut-Tahrir in my days was the preamble to 7/7 and several other attempted attacks.” (The Telegraph, 2nd May 2007)
The problem is that the rhetoric he was referring to was indeed true, but it was under the aberrant leadership of Muhajiroun head Omar Bakri Mohammed. After removing Omar Bakri, HTB reverted initially to its original understanding of Jihad outlined above and subsequently distanced itself from any such rhetoric by removing all references to Jihad even on its website. This fact has been acknowledged by Husain. Moreover, HTB has gone out of its way to list and detail on its hizb.org.uk website, the opinions of prominent Western ambassadors and analysts familiar with HT in different parts of the world such as Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who have confirmed the adherence of HT to its non-violent methodology despite the extreme levels of torture and repression against its members. Expressions of violence against the Israeli state and the Western forces in Iraq, Afghanistan etc are not restricted to HT but resound widely in the Islamic world as a mobilising concept against occupation only. Again as Nuh Keller’s points above clearly illustrate, jihad is an established concept in Sufi discourse even relating to the offence by an Islamic state and ideological supremacy. By attacking the concept Husein puts himself against the vast majority of recognised Islamic scholarship, yet again proving that Sufism is merely a mask.
Fabricating the Link With Terrorism
Finding no hard conceptual or empirical evidence linking HT with violent activity, terrorism or even the methodology of jihadism, Husein then takes his argument to the illogical,
“As long as it remains legal for extremists in Britain to plan and finance Islamist attempts to mobilise the Muslim masses in the Middle East, and prepare an army for "jihad as foreign policy", there will always be a segment of this movement that will take jihad to its logical conclusion and act immediately, without leadership” (The Telegraph, 2nd May 2007)
As highlighted above even from the Sufi discourse, Jihad as an individual duty against occupation and aggression as well as the foreign policy of the state is well established in the books of classical Islam and leads directly to the Koran itself. Whether Husein agrees or is unwilling to accept the obvious is another issue. The reality is that the discourse with the relevant Koranic authority exists. The prohibition by HT of conducting violent action in order to achieve its political aims would put any of its members involved in such activity outside the fold of its organisation and method and hence they would cease to be a part of it as was the case of those members such as Omar Bakri which went onto form Muhajiroun. For this reason they can no longer be said to be acting in the name of HT. Thus HT was not responsible for Muhajiroun anymore than the Muslim Brotherhood was responsible for Sayid Qutub or the Syrian based Sufi movement (to which Ed Husein himself belongs) was responsible for the British bomber in Israel, Asif Haneef.
The suggestion that because HT expounds the duty of individual jihad in theatres of military conflict, segments will act without leadership is a dangerous logic to expound for any Muslim. If one was indeed to follow this line of argument to its consistent finale then the Koran itself is responsible for international terrorism because of the many verses related to fighting and killing in the realms of defence, a conclusion I am sure Ed Husein will not be rushing to advocate.
With no concrete evidence to frame HT, Hussein has turned to manipulating facts in order to comply with his Home Office set agenda. Two examples of such manipulation stand out in his book “The Islamist”. The first centres around the unsubstantiated allegations that HT was responsible for inciting the murder of a Nigerian student, Ayotunde Obunabi, in Newham College in the 90’s. ( The Islamist pp149-153).
Contrary to eye witness accounts he maintains that it was not about drugs and gangs rather it was about “Muslim supremacist tendencies”. Although he admits he did not get directly involved, he along with a colleague from HT raised the ante. This is a very serious allegation and one in which he has been overwhelmingly contradicted on many forums. On his website Husein asserts that the details of the events were agreed with colleague Maajid Nawaz prior to the release of his book;
“We agreed that the Hizb had created an atmosphere that led to the murder. More than anybody else, Maajid and I were closely involved with developments on campus during those months” (www.theislamist.tumblr.com)
However, the real reason for Hussain’s spin on the murder and his refusal to correct his innacuracy is firmly revealed when he connects it with the terrorism narrative;
“TThe Hizb must accept their part in radicalising young Muslims in Britain, starting with the murder in Newham to the carnage of 7/7 and the 2,000 cases that the secret services are monitoring now.”( www.theislamist.tumblr.com))
Again no direct connection was established. Moreover, Maajid Nawaz’s brother Kaashif Nawaz felt it necessary to intervene in order to correct Hussein’s assumption.
“The murder at East-Ham college was not of a man who was a Christian, but of a man who was high on drugs, and carrying 2 knives with intent on attacking one of the students on campus, he was intercepted by a gang of Muslims, who intercepted him - nothing to do with Islamism or HT, but more to do with gang wars which Muslims got involved in and some HT members tried to resolve.” (Comment on The Islamist: A Review by Kaashif Nawaz)
The second refers to the radicalisation of Tel Aviv bomber Asif Hanif, whom Husein following the assumptions of Shiv Malik in Prospect Magazine, claims had been recruited by HT in Britain but according to intelligence reports had been recruited in Syria but not by HT. On the contrary, it has been alleged by people who knew Hanif from Hounslow that he was not very fond of HT. Rather, whilst in Syria, Haneef who became acquainted with Husein had belonged to the same Sufi movement as him. There is again more than enough doubt to even suggest a link between Asif Hanif and HT. In contrast the evidence linking Hanif with Husein’s own Sufi movement is more pronounced. The case in point merely demonstrates the dubious evidence employed and the lengths to which Husein is willing to go in order to provide the elusive link.
Shiraz Maher similarly follows the flawed logic of Ed Hussein. In a programme for More4, Maher tries to make the incredible claim that the Tel Aviv bomber Omar Sharif had been influenced to commit the action, nine years after he suggested that Sharif had any association with HT. According to Maher;
“The whole mind frame of Omar Sharif [took] an ideological backbone from Hizb ut- Tahrir. His vision of an Islamic state, his anti-west sentiments, all that came from their conditioning…So if he how goes on nine years later to act out an act of violence, who is to blame?” (More4, 15th May 2006)
As with Hussein, having failed to convincingly manipulate the facts in this case that of Omar Sharif, Shiraz Maher maintained the Darwinian hope of one day finding the ‘missing’ link between link between HT and terrorism. According to More4 Shiraz’s sentiment at the time was;
“They are non-violent at present, but they are a threat waiting to materialise.” (15th May 2006)
If over fifty years of HT activity has not provided the proof then exactly what is Maher searching or more succinctly hoping for? It must be noted here that HTB on its website categorically denied as baseless allegations that Asif Hanif or Omar Sharif had any association with HT. Uptil now no proof has been provided for this relationship, a fact that both Husein and Maher seem deliberately to ignore.
Maher and Husein did not have to wait too long for their next opportunity. The failed bombings at London and Glasgow airport in July, 2007 provided the perfect occasion for their endeavour. Maher was co-opted heavily by the print and television media. The reason for this was his claim that whilst a student at Cambridge he had befriended one of the doctors, Dr.Bilal Abdullah, responsible for attempting to ram a jeep into Glasgow airport and now being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The script could not have been more perfect for Maher and Husein. The media and Home Office machinery went into action. Supposedly, they had found the missing link between HT and terrorism. Maher was interviewed on BBC Newsnight for three nights in row and then published his account in the New Statesman. The framing of HT by insinuation was not difficult to decipher. For Maher it was the best self marketing opportunity for his credentials as an ex-Islamist that had occurred since he offered his services as an ex-Islamist Inc. Tom Nuttall, deputy editor of Prospect Magazine which had interviewed Maher and Husein stated that they were finding it hard to cope with the interest generated in these guys. Ignoring the fact that Dr. Abdullah had been of a jihadi persuasion before Maher met him and by Maher’s own admission on BBC Newsnight that Dr.Abdullah had rejected HT’s approach to join the organisation because he disagreed with the non-violent or political methodology of HT. Despite this, the main focus of Maher in his interviews and articles remains the pursuit of fabricating HT’s ‘inevitable association’ with terrorism. Maher writes;
“And so it was through my involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir and its ideology of extremist political Islam that I came to befriend Bilal, the would-be bomber. That's why I believe it's wrong to distinguish between "extremism" and "violent extremism" as the government has been doing in recent months. The two are inextricably intertwined. Without movements such as Hizb creating t he moral imperatives to justify terror, people like Bilal wouldn't have the support of an ideological infrastructure cheering them on. And, I believe, it's a fallacy to suggest that the culpability of agitators and cheerleaders is any l ess than for
those who actually carry out acts of terror.” (New Statesman, 5th July, 2007)
The British government and the security services having sat back and let the media frenzy run riot in creating a hostile Islamophobic environment of distrust towards Muslim doctors and professionals, Ed Husein re-entered the fray. Ed ‘Einstein’ had just come up with a ground breaking theory. The case of the Glasgow doctors had empirically demonstrated that Islamic movements whose membership and leadership consists of medical and technical personnel has the propensity towards terrorism. Amazingly but not surprisingly Husain was allowed an audience for this schizophrenia through the US publication Newsweek. According to Husein’s theory;
“They (engineers) approach the Qu'ran as though it were an engineering manual, with instructions for right and wrong conduct. Literalism and ignorance dominates their readings. This flaw is deepened by the haughty mindset of the engineer or medical doctor that academic achievement, a place at a university, now qualifies him to approach ancient scripture without the guidance of the ulama. To the Islamist engineer, centuries of context, nuance, history, grammar, lexicon, scholarship, and tradition are all l ost and redundant. The do-it-yourself (DIY) attitude to religious texts, fostered by doctors and engineers of secular colleges, produces desperate, angry suicide bombers devoid of spiritual guidance” (Bin Laden’s Army, Newsweek, 10th of July, 2007)
Of course Bin Laden the “engineer” and Zwahiri the “doctor” were predictable case studies in this theory of guilt by professionalism. However, this was merely the starters. The main menu was of course HT. Lo and behold, HT had failed to install a fool proof screening system which detected doctors and engineers. Hence logically they were bound to produce angry terrorists and suicide bombers! Ridiculously humorous as it may sound, this is exactly what Husein argued;
“The rank-and-file of Islamist organizations, the precursors to terrorism, are filled with activists with a technical education. The instructor of my first secret cell in Hizb ut- Tahrir in London was a town planner; my second cell-leader was a medical doctor. Even today, medical doctors manage the British arm of Hizb ut-Tahrir-a global Islamist political party working for the re-establishment of an Islamic caliphate: doctors Nasim Ghani, Abdul Wahid, and Nazreen Nawaz. Globally, the central leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir is a Jordan-based engineer, Abu Rishta. The story of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is similar. When Islamists graduate to jihadist terrorism the profile is equally chilling.” ((Bin Laden’s Army, Newsweek, 10th of July, 2007)
By logical deduction one would presume that in Husein’s own professed Sufi circles there exists either no doctors or engineers or access is denied to them because they have the propensity of DIY literalism and terrorism. Whatever one may think, Ed husein seems to have convinced himself that he had finally found the “missing link”. The detective had at long last found the proof linking Dr. David Bannister with the incredible Hulk. Before one could pronounce Dr. Abdullah, Ed Husein had gone global with his theory.
On a serious note, as the media set about globalising Maher’s association with Dr. Abdullah whilst being a HT member, Husein followed Maher up by using his “professional association” theory to push for a ban on HT in Australia which led the Attorney General to reconsider the Australian position. According to ABC Australia;
“Hizb ut-Tahrir members are alleged to have associated with one of the men arrested over the failed London bombing….Last night on Lateline, a British defector from the group warned Australian members of Hizb ut Tahrir are Muslim extremists and take direction from London.” (ABC 6th July, 2007)
Again, the fingerprints of the UK Home Office were apparent. The co-operation and strategy between Britain and Australia towards HT’s proscription is a long standing one and has generally followed the same trajectory. Again both Maher and Husein were mere pawns in the ongoing strategy which does not look to proscribe HT but merely apply the threat of proscription in order to moderate and ultimately control it. Hence despite his best efforts to link Dr. Abdullah with HT and ultimately with terrorism, like in Britain, Husein met with the same response during his interview and debates. According to Jacob Townsend, research analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and co-author of a paper on the Hizb ut-Tahrir presence in Australia.
“The biggest risk from Hizb ut-Tahrir is if, and I say 'if', it acts as a conveyor belt for extremism, moving people from radicalisation and towards violence ideologies. There is only suggestive evidence, not conclusive evidence that around the world Hizb ut-Tahrir itself has ever been implicated in violence. So, we have to be careful in the sense that on the basis of evidence, 'no', Hizb ut-Tahrir does not authorise or organise violence”. ( ABC Australia, 6th July, 2007)
Having failed in his linkage with Dr.Abdullah, Husein thought he’d try his luck with the “Dr Bannister” theory;
“On a final thought, even here, the leadership of Hizb ut Tahrir as well as the leadership of Mohabist organisations are filled with engineers and doctors.” ( ABC Australia, 6th July, 2007)
In conclusion it seems evident that both Ed Husein and Shiraz Maher have found an extremely receptive audience in the Home Office and the media. The Home Office needed pawns for a specific strategy on HT and the war on terror, whilst Ed Husein and Shiraz Maher needed an opportunity to market their credentials as ex- Islamist insiders with the goal of establishing themselves as authorities on radical Islam and terrorism in general and more specifically HT. However, their reductiveness and obsession in a theoretically and empirically bankrupt mission to link HT with international terrorism seriously puts into question the very nature of their personalities and agendas. The manner in which they have attempted to prove their logic has oscillated from the ridiculous to the comical.
In doing so, they have disconnected themselves with the actuality of a narrative, which puts Western foreign policy and neo-colonialism towards the Islamic world as the prime cause of radicalisation, not only in the West but in the Islamic world. It is quite astonishing that while the majority of the Muslim’s and even non-Muslims vent their frustration and anger over the Anglo-American neo-colonial occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq both Husein and Maher remain silent on the issue. Moreover, the atomised fixation with proscribing HT with the overtly tacit support from the UK government and media machinery frames them within narrative of Western complicity in radicalism and terrorism. In this regards Maher is far off the mark when he suggests that;
“There is no quick fix to the problem of home-grown terrorism, but banning Hizb ut- Tahrir would be an excellent first step, sending a strong signal to aspiring terrorists that Britain has not changed the rules of the game. We no longer play that game.” (The Telegraph May 2nd, 2007)
No doubt Husein and Maher are in need of a reality check. The rules remain as does the game. In essence they remain averse to the actual logic of their argument of guilt by association which taken to its rightful conclusion would connect 9/11, 7/7 etc not with the Islamic movement but with the creation and fostering of jihadism by the Western security services to meet US and British policy objectives in Afghanistan during the 80’s and Bosnia during the 90’s. Bin Laden and Zwahiri were not the creation of HT but of the CIA., Taliban was hot the creation of HT but of the ISI and the CIA, Al-Muhajiroun was not the creation of HT but of Omar Bakri supported by MI5. The use and protection of Omar Bakri, Abu Hamza, Mohammed Aswat, Abu Qatada and Hassan Butt is not by HT but by the British security services. The narrative which puts terrorism specifically in the context of a blowback resulting from the Western use of jihadism has nothing to do with HT.(Please refer to the works of Nafeez Ahmed on the War on Truth )
The unfortunate reality is that the politics between the UK Home Office and HTB is locked in until at least one of the parties decides to change the rules. Until then Maher and Husein will most probably continue to justify their co-option by the UK government and media by maintaining a politics of fear through perpetual efforts at fabricating a link with terrorism along with the doomsday scenario of a Caliphate. As the quotes below clearly demonstrate, behind the actors garb operate British neo-cons disguised as ex-Islamist Inc.
“We can wait for their state to come about and then confront them as we did the Nazis, at a very late stage and at a high human cost, or we can stop appeasing Hizb ut- Tahrir and its offshoots and demand: either change, or perish. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye.” (Ed Hussein, Chilling Similarities, Commentisfree, Guardian, 10th July, 2007)
Copyright © Noman Hanif 2007