24 October 2005
Dear Mr Cohen,
We read with interest your article in yesterday's Observer entitled "When Harriet met Hizb" and were surprised that your account and subsequent commentary of the meeting between two members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and Harriet Harman MP on Friday September 30th was riddled with so many inaccuracies.
Your suggestion that our members met Ms Harman "begging her to persuade Tony Blair not to take authoritarian measures against their authoritarian sect" is untrue. The purpose of the meeting, like dozens of similar meetings being held with politicians, thinkers and academics across the country, was to express concerns over the whole raft of proposed anti-terror legislation, including the proposed proscription of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic political party with a fifty year plus history of non-violent political work. Both members who attended the meeting expressed clearly to Ms Harman and her aides that they wanted to express these concerns and also correct many of the misconceptions that exist about the position of Hizb ut-Tahrir on a variety of matters.
The insinuation that there is some sort of hypocrisy in our members discussing our views with Ms Harman, a 'woman democratic politician', suggests that we are "damned if we do and damned if we don't". If we do not interact with Western politicians we are accused of being isolationist and clandestine, but when we meet with Western politicians to express our concerns we are accused of hypocrisy. Although you may not be aware, members of Hizb ut-Tahrir met with most UK members of parliament prior to the Iraq war to express the concerns of the Muslim community about the impending military action. Our stand was principled, given that we had been at the forefront of political struggle against the Saddam regime and given that our members had been tortured and murdered in his jails, with the support of his Western masters. Even then we stood up against the replacement of one form of tyranny with another. As the June 30th 2004 "handover" approached, we prepared a dossier highlighting the illusion of the handover and we distributed this widely amongst politicians, thinkers and academics.
We have an accurate account of the meeting from both members who attended the meeting. Our members explained to Ms Harman (who said that she had no previous knowledge of Hizb ut-Tahrir) Hizb ut-Tahrir's vision for the Muslim world and how it seeks to bring about political change when faced with a band of unsavoury dictators and tyrants across the Muslim world. They explained our rejection of violence or material struggle in our methodology. They explained that in the West we wanted Muslims to be active citizens who participated in society while holding on to their Islamic beliefs and practices. They explained that we did not seek to establish an Islamic State in Britain but rather in the Muslim world. They explained our view towards democracy, that Islam obliges Muslims to have representative, transparent and accountable government, but unlike in secular societies, in an Islamic State the source of legislation would be the Creator and not man. They explained our view towards Muslim participation in elections in the UK, that we encouraged the Muslim community to be politically active, not only every 4 years at the general election, but every day of their lives, by participation in local community politics and solving local community problems. Ms Harman asked about the leadership of the party and was informed that the party had an elected leadership in the UK which was open and that open elections were held on a regular basis. The last elections were held in Spring 2004 and were attended by independent observers from the Muslim community. The cordial meeting ended with Ms Harman undertaking to raise these concerns with the Home Office, she subsequently confirmed in writing that she had raised these concerns and was awaiting a reply.
You allege that as our members were leaving the meeting, Ms Harman said, "You're British citizens. Shouldn't you try to play a part in British society?" You then allege that our members replied, "We're not a part of British society? We stay here like guests in a hotel." We completely deny that Ms Harman said this statement or that our members answered in the way you have alleged. This is a complete fabrication , no discussion about this subject even took place in the entire meeting. In addition, our position about playing "a part in British society" has been clearly expressed on many occasions; in our response to the Home Office consultation "Strength in Diversity" we said that our work with the Muslim community revolved around "presenting to them the correct way to live in the west, building our communities on a positive foundation such that our community stands out as a model in achievement and behaviour and participating in the society as 'active citizens' without eroding our identity." It seems that you would like to portray our members as aloof from the society in which they live when it is well known that our members actively participate in the affairs of their communities whether as school governors, teachers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, businessmen, dentists, and so on and so forth.
Your assumptions about the type of regime we envisage in the Muslim world are far from reality. We note that you frequently repeat these assertions in your column in the Observer week after week. The Islamic Caliphate State as envisioned by Hizb ut-Tahrir is not, as you frequently depict, a state that will take society back to the Middle Ages. It is not a dictatorship but is established by the wishes of the people and is a state where the authority lies in origin with the people. The people elect a ruler, the Khalifah, who remains their ruler as long as he fulfils his contract to rule according to the laws in the Qur'an and Sunnah. The state is not a theocracy and the Khalifah has no divine right to rule; rather he can be removed from office if he is found guilty of breaching this contract of ruling. The Caliphate State has an independent judiciary, headed by a Chief Justice and includes a department solely responsible to deal with injustices committed by the politicians of the state. The issue of accountability features very prominently in the Shariah; ruling is regarded as a form of guardianship and a trust, and the causing of oppression by the head of state a grave crime – the corpus of Islamic texts refers to each of these in an unequivocally serious manner. Accountability lays firstly in the general right – and sometimes obligation when the excess is flagrant – of every citizen to take the state to task, secondly in institutions that guarantee the process of accountability continuously takes place and thirdly in a general requirement for political parties. The Khalifah and his cabinet cannot suddenly create new taxes, privatise vital natural resources, detain people with no charge, curtail the right to account government or initiate wars on false pretexts for material gains.
As for the accusation that the Caliphate System will oppress women, nothing could be further from the truth. Islam has clearly defined roles and responsibilities for men and women in society. The Islamic system is such that it allows no room for men to exploit women. Unlike popular culture in the West where society, unfortunately is obsessed with how a women looks and what she wears (usually dictated by men), the Islamic system ensures the woman is valued, not by how much flesh she can show, but by her character and personality. Contrary to your claims of misogyny, women in the Caliphate State will have full access to education, vote in elections, account politicians and be encouraged to perform an active role in society.
The vision for the Caliphate is not that of some fanatical and extreme individuals – rather it is the vision of some of the greatest scholars, intellectuals and politicians of the Islamic world in contemporary times.
We reject your suggestion that the "whiff of violence is there" and your assertion that at worst we are "part of a conveyor belt". We have made our position on violence clear on many occasions and do not accept that political change can be brought about through violence, intimidation or coercion. Even though some Western politicians have asserted their belief that violence against repressive regimes, like that of Uzbekistan, is justified, our Islamic principles would never justify such actions. The idea of the "conveyor belt" pre-supposes that in its opposition to western foreign policy, the party does not provide a detailed methodology to channel the inevitable anger and frustration that is generated: it quite plainly does. We believe there is only one correct method for bringing change – intellectual and political work. The party has issued a clear and consistent call to Muslims to engage in political work and this contradicts the very notion of violent struggle.
We reject your allegation that Omar Sharif "began his journey into the world of slaughter by reading Hizb literature". Sharif had no association with Hizb ut-Tahrir and your suggestion that reading Hizb ut-Tahrir literature leads one "into the world of slaughter" is remarkable. Over 100,000 Muslims across the UK willingly accept Hizb ut-Tahrir literature at mosques up and down the country each week. They would undoubtedly find your linkage between reading our literature and engaging in violence irresponsible. In addition, your analogy with the BNP is also inaccurate "our members are decent citizens who have not been involved in either violence or the incitement of violence."
We also reject your insinuation that our members would not prevent a crime like 7/7 if they had knowledge of it,this is insulting and there is no evidence whatsoever to corroborate this outlandish allegation. Our members, like all Muslims who live in Britain, have a duty of care to their fellow citizens and must ensure that no harm comes to them.
We are concerned that you made no effort to contact our media office in order to establish our account of the meeting with Ms Harman and our view towards the other allegations you raise in your piece. While we are open to legitimate criticism, it is a minimum expectation that our response to such criticism be elicited for the sake of objectivity.
At a time when there is growing misunderstanding and hysteria surrounding Islam and Muslims, journalists owe it to their readers to get their stories right so as not to contribute to the stoking up of misunderstanding between communities.
Dr Imran Waheed
Media Representative – Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain