Friday, August 12, 2005

COMMENT: Why Hizbut Tehrir (HT) are no security threat in Australia

The tiny movement known as “Hizbut Tehrir” (translated as the “Party of Liberation” and usually referred to as HT) has In recent times gained a large amount of publicity. Following the London bombing on 7 July, evidence emerged that the suspected bombers had some links to HT and the radical Sheik Omar Bakri Mohamed.

HT are now banned in the UK. ASIO is currently investigating HT’s Australian branch to see if it is a threat to Australia. At this stage, the Attorney-General has indicated that he might consider amending anti-terror legislation to allow groups such as HT to be banned.

But are HT really a threat to national security? And who are their representatives in Australia? What sort of following do they have?

We have seen the Doureihi brothers appear on TV and radio attempting to articulate their message. We have not seen any other HT representatives. Why? Simple. There are none.

HT is largely limited to one family. It has few members outside that extended family. Further, it is frequently maligned and attacked by competing radical Muslim political movements.

HT has been attacked by numerous Salafist groups close to bin Ladin. Salafist groups have accused HT of being a crypto-Marxist organisation, of being little more than Muslim Zionists keen to establish an Islamic state at all costs. At one stage, Salafist groups went so far as to claim that HT had legalised pornography for its members.

The animosity between these two sectors of radical Muslim activism is deep-rooted. There seems little prospect of anything resembling reconciliation. But apart from the Salafist cultists, HT’s relations with mainstream Muslim Australians have also been strained.

In recent times, moderators of discussion forums on the website have been openly supportive of HT and Salafist preachers such as Abdur Raheem Green. But this has not always been the case. HT have been a favourite target for lampooning and ridicule, especially in relation to their isolationist views on Muslim participation in the economy and politics.

HT is a fringe group in the Muslim Australian communities. The largest crowds they gather are below 500, many attending to heckle and disrupt HT meetings. For many young Muslims, HT is a temporary ideological pitt-stop on their way to more refined and sophisticated Islamic thinking.

This group sits on the fringe. It is unable to galvanise the support of mainstream Muslim Australians. However, banning the group will trigger an enormous amount of sympathy among many Muslim Australians who find some aspects of HT rhetoric attractive.

HT speaks of double-standards when it comes to human rights and fighting terror. It criticises Western governments sponsoring tyrannical rulers, generals and kings in many Muslim countries. It wishes to see Muslim nation-states returned to the rule of a single Caliph. It wishes to restore some collective dignity to the world Muslim “Ummah” (faith-community). It rejects Muslim involvement in mainstream discourse because it believes all western institutions to be inherently hostile to Islam.

Many of these views resonate with young Muslims tired of seeing their faith maligned and their sentiments ignored by governments and peak bodies. Perhaps one good antidote to stem the perceived growth of HT influence is for Messrs Downer and Howard to start involving Muslim Australians in the foreign policy discourse. Peak Muslim bodies must also open their ranks to other voices instead of relying on keeping the same tired old faces with poor English skills appearing on the screen.

When Australian governments and Muslim peak bodies ignore the views of young people, the youth are often pushed into the waiting arms of fringe groups like HT. 15 years ago, I used to go to youth camps with the Doureihi brothers. In those days, they were young teenagers with sharp tongues for whom a Muslim youth camp was one of the few opportunities they got to escape their difficult household.

Many in the broader community may wonder why few Muslim Australians lambast the Doureihi brothers. Those of us who know their history, their difficult personal circumstances and the manner in which they pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and overcame their restrictions cannot help but admire the Doureihis.

At the same time, many of my and Wassim Doureihi’s generation experienced first-hand the obstacles set for young Muslim Australians wishing to organise activities for their generation. Generally these obstacles were placed in our way by ethno-religious Muslim peak bodies with a first generation migrant mentality. I can understand how the Doureihis ended up where they are. It could so easily been me also.

HT are a fringe phenomenon. A good way to stem their influence is for Australian governments to involve Australian Muslim citizens in the foreign policy process. And for Muslim peak bodies to start listening to Muslim women and youth. A good way to turn HT into a real security risk is to ban them and send them underground. This will galvanise support for HT amongst even mainstream Muslim Australians who feel marginalised and ignored by governments and peak Muslim bodies. Time will tell which way the government inevitably goes.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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