Over the last few days, following a debate in the House of Commons on 10 July 2013, some media outlets have reported that the UK Government is once again considering taking legal measures against Hizb ut-Tahrir.
The History (in brief)
In August 2005, soon after the July 7th bombings in London, Tony Blair famously announced his “12 point plan”, including a proposal to proscribe the Islamic political party, Hizb ut-Tahrir, before flying out to holiday at Cliff Richard’s holiday home in the West Indies.
The proposal to proscribe Hizb ut-Tahrir was of course flawed from the outset as Hizb ut-Tahrir is a well known Islamic political party that is not involved in terrorism., violence or militancy. The ban never materialised as it soon became apparent that it was not possible, as evidenced by the following statements from politicians and civil servants, for the following reasons:
(1) “There is no apparent case to proscribe HuT because its activities abroad include involvement in terrorism. Indeed it is not entirely clear whether they would be caught under a future criterion of “justifying or condoning violence”. Much of their literature explicitly rejects the use of violence.” [Robert Tinline, FCO, New Statesman, 30/1/06)
(2) “Hizb ut-Tahrir [HT] is an independent political party that is active in many countries across the world. HT’s activities centre on intellectual reasoning, logic arguments and political lobbying. The party adheres to the Islamic Shariah law in all aspects of its work. It considers violence or armed struggle against the regime, as a method to re-establish the Islamic State, a violation of the Islamic Shariah.” [Restricted Home Office Documents 19/8/03, Released to Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain 1/6/05 under FOI Act]
(3) “We have yet to see convincing evidence that Hizb ut-Tahrir as an organisation advocates violence or terrorism.” [UK FCO Minister Bill Rammell, Hansard, 19/4/04]
(4) “In relation to the question from the Leader of the Opposition, I confirm what the Prime Minister said: we have recently carried out two reviews of Hizb ut-Tahrir and we have decided that there is insufficient evidence to ban it. I therefore ask the Prime Minister to stay absolutely on the course that he set today, and to stick by the law and the evidence and not to be swayed by any arbitrary political advantage that he thinks might be gained. May I also tell him…Nothing would be more politically disadvantageous than taking on a case without evidence and losing it. That would confirm all the accusations made against us by our opponents.” [John Reid, former Home Secretary; Hansard 4 July 2007 : Column 955]
Despite Blair’s promise to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, the then Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, went on to exchange views in writing with Jamal Harwood, the then Chairman of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, during the summer recess of 2006. The letter from Mr Cameron said that he was “most grateful for your comments on relationships between Western governments and the Muslim world”.
However later, despite the clear lack of evidence, David Cameron, in Machiavellian spirit seized any opportunity to score political points by threatening to ban the party once he was in Number 10. In 2009, Chris Grayling, the then Shadow Home Secretary, said that he “would immediately ban Hizb ut-Tahrir” [on taking the post] and the 2010 Conservative Party manifesto promised to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Once in Government, Cameron struggled to make good on his promise to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir. In his 2011 report, David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said that he did “not recommend changes to the system for proscription” and in an interview with the Guardian, he confirmed that the Government would drop its plans to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir. Even Lord Carlile, the previous counter-terrorism reviewer, was forced to admit, “I don’t think anything is going to happen … I think the general view is that Hizb ut-Tahrir are best dealt with in public debate rather than by proscription”.
Fast forward to 2013…
…and it is clear that the Government and the proponents of banning Hizb ut-Tahrir are only willing to engage in an asymmetric debate on their terms i.e. one in which Hizb ut-Tahrir’s opinions are silenced rather than debated. Hizb ut-Tahrir of course has welcomed open public debate and scrutiny, evidenced by its senior leaders speaking to parliamentarians in the Houses of Parliament, allowing its views and opinions to be scrutinised in numerous media interviews and challenging political leaders, like David Cameron, to engage in open debate rather than using parliamentary privilege to slur and slander.
The strategy of the government to silence Muslim groups was aptly illustrated in the debate in the House of Commons on 10 July 2013 in which the Government put forward a motion to proscribe Boko Haram and Minbar Ansar Deen. In the debate that followed, in both Houses, there was little said about these two groups but some politicians sought to resurrect the call for a ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir. Keith Vaz, the Labour MP and Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said, “I live in hope that come 2015 and the next election, the organisation [Hizb ut-Tahrir] will have been banned”. Unfortunately, no one in the House of Commons pointed out the irony of Keith Vaz calling for the proscription of a non-violent Islamic political party. After all it is Vaz who has frequently been criticised for his past alleged association with the proscribed LTTE and Vaz who only recently has been spearheading attempts to convince the UK government to deproscribe the terrorist organisation that was responsible for the highest number of suicide attacks in the world between 1980 and 2000.
The Government minister, James Brokenshire, concluded the debate by saying, “However, I want to make it clear to the House that the Government have significant concerns about Hizb ut-Tahrir, and we will continue to monitor its activities closely. Such groups are not free to spread hatred and incite violence as they please. The police have comprehensive powers to take action under the criminal law to deal with people who incite hatred, and they will do so. We will seek to ensure that Hizb ut-Tahrir and groups like it cannot operate without challenge in public places in this country. We will not tolerate secret meetings behind closed doors on premises funded by the taxpayer, and we will ensure that civic organisations are made well aware of Hizb ut-Tahrir and groups like it, and of the names under which they operate and the ways in which they go about their business. It would not be right for me to comment on individual cases, but we keep all organisations of concern under review.”
With respect to these ongoing developments, we would like to make the following observations:
(1) From the outset, it is important to remember that the entire motivation for banning Hizb ut-Tahrir was to further Britain’s cooperation with the likes of President Karimov of Uzbekistan and General Musharraf of Pakistan in the ‘war on terror’. There was and continues to be intense diplomatic pressure from the tyrants and dictators of the Muslim world to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir. Indeed, Blair had personally assured General Musharraf that he would make good on his promise to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir.
(2) Despite Blair and Cameron’s repeated claims that Hizb ut-Tahrir foments violence and that they will therefore proscribe it, no evidence has been forthcoming to substantiate these flimsy allegations. Consequently, the Labour Government and then the Coalition Government seemed to reluctantly acknowledge that the evidence does not exist, that the legal case lacks plausibility and that any ban was likely to be overturned on appeal.
(3) Finding itself unable to ban and silence Hizb ut-Tahrir using conventional legal means, the recent statements from Government suggest that they are exploring other avenues to silence the voice of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Preferring to ban ideas rather than debate them, the Government wants to silence the Muslim community’s criticism of Western foreign policy, labelling those who speak out against colonialism and occupation as ‘extremists’. The Government narrative is to blame Islam to shift the blame away from their foreign policy and provide an excuse to curtail any discussion about Islam’s political ideas.
Over recent years, successive Governments have sought to exert pressure on various facets of the Muslim community, particularly Imams, mosques, Muslim students and Muslim groups. There has been a concerted effort to silence dissenting voices and to pressurise the Muslim community to adopt the Government narrative.
The Government Minister insinuates that Hizb ut-Tahrir is involved in spreading hatred and inciting violence. Yet again, there is no evidence to substantiate these outlandish allegations. The truth is that it is Hizb ut-Tahrir’s main call, the return of the Caliphate in the Muslim world via intellectual and political struggle, that the Government truly wants to silence. This is part of a concerted effort by some Western politicians and thinkers, particularly of the neoconservative variety, to demonise the popular Muslim call for the return of the Caliphate and the Shariah.
The desire of Cameron and others to curb Hizb ut-Tahrir’s public voice through some sort of “soft proscription”, as has been trailed in the media, is proof that there are no arguments or proofs to support their position.
(4) We note that the Government, while threatening to ban an Islamic party which rejects violence as a methodology, continues to turn a blind eye to those organisations whose activists have a lengthy history of political violence such as the English Defence League and other fascist movements. It came as no surprise that the Government cynically used the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich to silence critics of the Government’s foreign policy while appearing to merely look on as Muslim women are assaulted, elderly worshippers are attacked, graffiti is daubed on mosques and bombs are planted outside mosques. Once again, the Government sought to divert any responsibility for creating today’s security environment away from Western government policies in the Muslim world, despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary.
(5) Ultimately, any decision to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir will be made on an expedient political basis rather than a legal basis. Western governments have shown their repeated willingness to discard their legal maxims for the sake of safeguarding their interests. The use of rendition, secret prisons, the use of intelligence obtained via torture and extrajudicial assassination became emblematic of the West’s military and foreign policy post 9/11. Although this disdain for the law was sometimes criticised by British courts, the Government has shown its willingness to abandon the rule of law in favour of its interests, as illustrated by Blair’s decision to halt the SFO inquiry into allegations that BAE had made secret payments to Saudi officials in order to ensure a series of massive contracts.
(6) Finally, in its plan to silence the political work of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Government follows in the footsteps of the oppressive rulers of the Muslim world like Mubarak, Saddam, Karimov and Gaddafi who for decades used similar tactics and worse to stifle Hizb ut-Tahrir’s call for just Islamic governance, a strong economy and an independent foreign policy in the Muslim world.
We note that in the aftermath of Woolwich, the Government was at pains to point out that Muslims should not resort to violence to deal with political grievances. How ironic therefore that it is so willing to ban and censor an Islamic group that does not advocate violence.
17th July 2013