Since May 2007, Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain has come under increasing public criticism from former members and associates. The three most prominent critics have been Ed Husain, Shiraz Maher and Maajid Nawaz. Of the three, Husain has had the widest public impact with his book, The Islamist, whose main target was the Party, becoming a best seller (with apparently over 50,000 copies sold since its release). Perhaps the most authoritative criticism has come from the most senior figure out of the three, Nawaz, who had been promoted to the national executive committee prior to his departure in 2007.
Although all three have mounted strong criticisms of the Party’s political ideology, Nawaz has disagreed with the call made by Maher and Husain for the Party’s proscription under the Terrorism Acts 2000 and 2006. After two reviews since 2005, the government has decided that there is insufficient evidence to ban the group, although it apparently remains under review. There are some grounds for the suspicion that the unofficial policy is really to threaten the Party with a ban rather than actually impose one in order to moderate its behaviour. Any ban would certainly be tested through the courts and would potentially criminalise a lot of young Muslim Britons, drastically polarising the political climate. And it would be a post-war first — banning a non-violent group for subversion, something neither contemplated for Britain’s Communists during the Cold War nor for Sinn Fein during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Nawaz has decided to undertake a detailed rebuttal through his blog, Towards Political Engagement, of the Party’s ideological stance on the basis of Islamic theology. His approach seeks to persuade rather than to coerce and is largely directed at serving Party members, surely the best way forward in a period when Muslims face the stripping away of their legal rights, a process that, like the one the British Irish collectively experienced in earlier times, creates a “suspect community”. Nawaz has concentrated rather less on shifting the common public narrative on Islam than his fellow critics.
Hizb ut-Tahrir has taken measures to smear and tarnish the personal reputations of its critics that go far beyond the limits of free and fair rebuttal. One tactic has been to set up spoiler blogs designed to discredit its critics. The first is the faked blog of Rashad Zaman Ali, another former member from Sheffield, who in fact has never had a personal blog on the net. The forgers have put up fake blog entries in his name, written in a naive polemical tone, answered themselves through posting comments and put up links to organisations seen as highly dubious or suspect in Party eyes like the Sufi Muslim Council, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and the Center for Islamic Pluralism, whose Executive Director is the journalist Stephen Schwartz. The implication is that there is no internal community criticism of the Party that is not politically aligned with American neoconservatism or with a betrayal of Islamic rule, one of two “roles” assigned to these organisations by the Party. This is unsubtle stuff but it is nonetheless effective among the alienated young Muslims the Party targets. There is similarly a fake blog for Maajid Nawaz, Toppled Pyramid. Both fake blogs were set up in September to counteract Nawaz’s real blog, Towards Political Engagement, launched at the end of August. The perpetrators did not cover their electronic tracks sufficiently and the blogs have been traced back to known members of the Party.
More serious are the coded threats of violence which Ed Husain has received like the rap poem penned by a Milton Keynes  member of the Party, Showkat Ali, in June this year, written as a confessional by Ed in the first person:
No ifs no Butts [Hassan Butt]
Some people after me
To stab me in the heart
Like they did Hassan in Manchester
I dread the return of the Caliphate
Who will apply to extradite me
Put me on trial
And then execute me
As a traitor.
This is totally unacceptable behaviour and it should be exposed. It seeks to end all dissent through a culture of implied violence and must be resolutely opposed. Similarly Nawaz has received explicit and abusive emails and death threats over the telephone which he has reported to the police. There is no positive proof to link these abusive acts to Party members, but Nawaz has noted that the emails contain names and references that could only be known to Party insiders.
The wisdom of putting forward a clear Islam/Islamism distinction to the general public that can be politically exploited by anti-Muslim and authoritarian tendencies is unclear. This binary distinction presents a black-and-white version of a complicated picture of change and adaption among Britain’s Muslim groups and movements, and may serve to inhibit rather than open up debate by provoking a defensive reaction motivated by the spirit of exoneration as much as anything else. An overstated case loses its bite: the trick is how to trigger respectful, constructive but sometimes tough-minded engagement. It remains vitally important that detailed discussion of the essential ideological elements of political Islam and their rather tenuous relevance to life in modern-day Britain and the everyday aspirations of most British Muslims takes place. It also has to be a public debate in order to be taken seriously by those who are being criticised; otherwise, in the normal way of such things, experience teaches that it will be swept under the carpet.
Now it is a tall order of business to take these ideas on in public without playing into Islamophobic stereotypes but that is the challenge ahead that faces British Muslims. And, of the three public critics of the Party, it is Maajid Nawaz who seems to have struck the most considered tone. Yet none of them should face deceptive smear tactics, abuse, intimidation or threats of implied violence. Nawaz has said that, in his time on the national executive committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, the leadership endorsed the use of the internet to smear critics of the Party or to pose as non-Muslims on internet fora looking to discredit former members. So this is not a new tactic. No doubt in this case, a factor of plausible deniability may come into play, but it is up to the leadership to control its members and its youth (shabab) to conduct their rebuttals in the Islamic spirit of etiquette (adab) and good character (akhlaq). If they believe their ideas are worth defending then they would not feel the need to resort to these dirty tricks campaigns.
This blog has been republished courtesy of the new City Circle blog.
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 Showkat Ali hails from Milton Keynes but was undergoing teaching training in Birmingham as reported in the New Statesman, 14 June 2007.