In Depth

Hizb ut-Tahrir: should Britain ban radical Islamist group?

Critics argue it is a 'conveyor belt' to terrorism, but the Home Office says it preaches non-violence

Australia and Denmark are debating whether or not to outlaw the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which operates freely in the UK, but is banned in a number of countries including Germany, Russia, China and Egypt.

It has been described as "one of Britain's most shadowy political parties", but the UK government has rejected calls for it to be banned.

What does the group stand for?

Hizb ut-Tahrir, or the Liberation Party, says it is working to unite all Muslim countries under a single caliphate, ruled by one elected leader and governed by Sharia law. A radical Sunni group, it was founded in 1953 by the Islamic scholar Taqiuddin al-Nabhani in Jerusalem and has since spread to almost 50 countries and attracted more than a million Muslim supporters worldwide. 

"The party is secretive and hierarchical, with a network of national branches, each headed by an emir, or leader, who in turn is subject to an overall leader based in Palestine," explains former member Umm Mustafa in the  New Statesman.

Why is it so popular?

The organisation is able to tap into pre-existing fears and anger felt by many young Muslims around the world. "The party's arguments were persuasive," said Mustafa. "It offered a single, simple solution to all the political, social and economic problems of the world." 

Yamin Zakaria, a former senior member of the group, agrees. "They had a very profound analysis of why the Islamic world is in such an abysmal state, how it declined and most importantly how we can elevate ourselves from this position, and break free," he said. 

Why do critics say it should it be banned?

In 2003, a BBC Newsnight investigation found evidence that the group promoted racism and anti-Semitic hatred, called suicide bombers martyrs and urged Muslims to kill Jewish people.

The group is often accused of being a "conveyor belt" towards terrorism and telling young men they cannot be both British and Muslim. Since the rise of Islamic State, comparisons have been made between the two groups due to a shared goal of establishing a Muslim caliphate – although via different methods. 

Hizb ut-Tahrir only came to prominence in Britain during the early 1990s, and at the time, the National Union of Students described them as "the single biggest extremist threat in the UK" and made several attempts to ban them from campuses across the country.

David Cameron has been explicit about his desire to ban to the group, saying: "We are clear that we must target groups that promote extremism, not just violent extremism.  I would like to see action taken against Hizb ut-Tahrir." 

What do supporters say in its defence?

Despite its controversial anti-Western rhetoric, the group claims to be an intellectual political movement. In public, it advocates a policy of non-violence and as Uthman Badar points out in the Guardian: "No Hizb ut-Tahrir member has been prosecuted (let alone convicted) for a terrorism-related offence."

Tony Blair vowed to outlaw the group in the wake of the 7/7 bombings in London, but wasn't able to do so, because only organisations involved in violence or those that directly "glorify terrorism" can lawfully be banned. 

In 2011, the UK's counter terrorism watchdog recommended that that Cameron's government back down on its manifesto promise to outlaw the group. The Home Office even noted that Hizb ut-Tahrir "considers violence or armed struggle... a violation of the Islamic Sharia [law]", the Guardian reports. 

"Having nasty opinions is not a good enough reason legally to ban them," a spokesperson from the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-radicalism think tank told the Guardian. The foundation argues that support for the group has declined significantly."It is far less influential than it was. This is a group that is rushing towards extinction," it said.  

Banning the organisation could inadvertently cause it to thrive again, argues William Scates Frances in the Guardian. "They wear these bans as a mark of honour, as a sign of their legitimacy and the fear their truths inspire," he says.

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