1. Can Hizb-ut-tahrir be defined as a peaceful political movement or a terrorist
group (or something in between) and if so, why?
First and foremost, we have to define what the organization stands for and what
its motives, methods and aims are.
The name, directly transcribed, means the Islamic Party of Freedom. According to
their official internet page, the party is not to be viewed upon as a religious
communion, but as a political party. Their aim is to unite Muslims within a
foundation to erect a caliphate, or as they call it, khilafat. This caliphate
will stretch globally, and in turn develop into umma, which is a Muslim global
community. This vision is according to the HT based upon the life of the prophet
Mohammad and the way he worked to spread Islam throughout the world. To make
this happen, the party’s group has announced three stages that will secure the
construction of the caliphate. First, the HT message must be spread so that
Muslims around the world will be aware of the situation. Secondly, Muslims must
embrace the idea of the umma and understand that a global Muslim state in the
form of the caliphate is the only solution for securing Muslim interests, and to
shape this caliphate according to Muslim will. Third, the umma will develop and
the caliphate will establish.
The party was started in Jordan, by Palestinian refugees in the 1950’s. The
spread to Central Asia came seriously first in the 1990’s, where the activity
first tended to be relatively infrequent. Gradually, the group’s activity became
more widespread. Because of the uprising of unofficial, non-state sponsored
Islam, the group was soon deemed as an Islamic extremist group by authorities in
Central Asia, along with the groups IRP (the Islamic Renaissance Party), which
played an extensive role in the Tajik civil war 1992-95 and the openly militant
IMU (the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan).
One must be aware of that the party differs from the above-mentioned in many
ways. Though the Uzbek regime has openly wielded suspicion that the HT are
involved in criminal activity such as drug trafficking, this has yet to be
proven. Where the IMU openly has launched attacks in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan,
the HT still remains as acting to peaceful methods, by spreading information,
leaflets etc. While the IMU now appears to have split up or reformed in ways
unknown, much by the death of one of the leaders Juri Namangani, and the where
the IRP who played an active role in the Tajik civil war seem to have lost its
edge in recruiting new members and appealing to the citizens of central Asia,
the HT still manages to recruit members on a wide scale, even though the party
has been banned by the Central Asian regimes and has faced severe harsh methods
Though, according to an anonymous interview with one of the Uzbek spokesman
conducted by journalist Ahmed Rashid, the HT addressed in 2002, in spite of
their adopted peaceful way that former members of the IMU would not be rejected
if they applied for membership in the HT, since they share a lot of views, but
differ in methods.
In an interview with one of the British spokesmen for the HT, the party stated
that it does not either condemn suicide bombings, due to the argument of self-defence.
“To condemn this would be to say that self-defence would be immoral”. With this
in mind, and looking to other statements from the group which declare that
violent actions could be a necessity if the group and Muslim interests are
threatened; their definition of “self-defence” remains unanswered. This makes it
hard to label the HT as either terrorist or non-terrorist.
2. Is Hizb-ut-tahrir inherently undemocratic, and if so, is it a threat to the
democratization of Central Asia?
The Hizb-ut-tahrir has openly described itself as a peaceful organization, using
non-violence to achieve their means. Whether this is a policy that will be
assured remains an open question, due to the ambiguity statements by the group.
Since the ideology’s actual goal is to establish a world-stretching caliphate,
one must get a picture of what this caliphate will look like, alongside the
group’s methods. Different spokesmen claim different things. One source
addresses that whence the caliphate is established, the infidels of Islam should
be thrown out (like Jews and Shiites), where other sources claim that “Muslims
have lived alongside with other religions for as long as Islam has existed”,
making it possible for non-Muslims to live in the eventual caliphate.
The structure of the caliphate is, according to me, to be looked upon as a
theocratic state with a strict hierarchy, where women’s’ roles are severely
restricted. The leader, the caliph, would answer to most political decisions,
including domestic as well as foreign policy, the economy as well as the
These ideals are far from democratic. It would be naïve to suggest that only
just because this party is religious, it doesn’t have a political agenda. The
party itself clearly states in their official information that the actions of
the party are purely political, and should be viewed as political struggle.
Because of their anti-Semitic approach, the party is also banned in Germany.
But; should parties be banned because of undemocratic opinions?
One has to ask oneself one thing when dealing with this subject; if undemocratic
ideals should be abolished from the Central Asian agendas, should not the
contemporary regimes be the first to be removed? Definitely, the authoritarian
ideals and structure do nothing to improve an eventual democratic transition,
but the question is whether they actually change already authoritarian agendas.
Emphasis must be placed upon small yet effective ways to build a civil society.
3. Based on the above, what policy toward the group by the Central Asian states
should the EU advocate?
As previously stated, the HT still attracts members not only in Central Asia but
also globally. However, looking at Central Asia and Uzbekistan in particular;
the Uzbek regime has been very repressive toward the HT, by gratuitous arrests,
interrogations, condemning and members being subjected to torture and abuse
while in prison or custody - not only actual confirmed members, but also people
suspected of collusion with the group. Despite of this, the party still attracts
membership. This is important. This means, that even though the Uzbek regime has
launched severe resistance towards the group by violent methods, the HT seems to
gain sympathizers and also members from the population of Uzbekistan and border
areas. The number of actual members varies, but sources speak of at last over 5
000 suspected members in Uzbek jails, over 2000 arrests in Kyrgyzstan and
approximately 500 in Tajik custody, with a huge amount of other members and
sympathisers ranging from 10 - 20000 people and more.
If the attacks on the party will remain at this level, the membership and
sympathizers still seem to increase. Therefore, it will take even harder
measures to eventually stop the HT activity in Uzbekistan which lead to more
arrests and probably, more sympathy from the citizens towards the HT and a
growing discomfort attitude to the Uzbek regime. The citizens are far from
unknowing about the harsh measures, and since the HT even in this situation has
remained a peaceful group next to the IMU, sympathy towards HT is likely to
succeed, eventually undermining the legitimacy of the regime.
Could the Tajik way by incorporating radical Islamism in the parliament be a
solution? This would be a naïve assumption. Thinking that Uzbek President Islam
Karimov would let the HT into the Uzbek government is highly unlikely. But, as
stated, the harsh methods used so far don’t seem to suppress the group.
Therefore, some kind of careful dialogue with the HT from the governments’
initiative seems to be inevitable. Not only to stop increasing recruits, but
also because jailing and torture are not effective ways to achieve information.
Tortured prisoners tend to say whatever, true or not, during interrogations to
avoid pain. Also in the eyes of the surrounding world, further violations of
human rights are despised.
One of the US conservative think-tanks, the Heritage Foundation, suggests that
the support of moderate Islam is essential. Though, one should bear in mind that
the HT and its sympathizers view official Central Asian Islam with scepticism.
The leaders of the regimes were all earlier outspoken Communists before
independence, when turning to Islam. The HT also clearly, with own words, states
that the “west is not to decide what a moderate Muslim is like”. Since the HT
also view Karimov as ‘running errands’ for the infidels, equal trust is unlikely
to be strong.
The HT may attract people, but as many commentators on the subject argue, the
version of Islam they propose is not traditional for Central Asia. The
traditional Sufi Islam and for example respect for graves of Islam saints and
pilgrimages to them, which are integrated parts of much traditional Central
Asian Islam, is viewed upon by scepticism by the HT. The IRP and the IMU have
lost a lot of support, seemingly because a lot of their ideas were alienating
ordinary people. Letting the HT more into the open could actually make people
aware that their version of true Islam does not correspond with others.
4. What explicit policies for the EU itself toward the Hizb-ut-Tahrir do you
I think the group should be treated as any other undemocratic party. Though Tony
Blair openly has suggested that the HT should be banned and deemed an illegal
organisation since the London bombings July 2005, evidence that links the party
with the actual bombings has not been found.
Even though the group certainly may be a source of inspiration for extreme
Islam, opinions should not be seen as crimes. Having examined a lot of the
underground extreme right-wing organisations myself, I have come to the
conclusion that mostly, banned organisations tend to breed stronger in darkness,
making it impossible for groups to be transparent. Clandestine groupings are
distinctively harder to keep an eye upon. Especially when groupings are dragged
out in public, their spokesmen can be interviewed and seriously questioned by
media, something which is a lot harder when remaining hidden.
A problem is that there mostly exist a lot of speculations, rather than actual
facts – an opinion also shared with high Kyrgyz officials. We actually know very
little about this organisation. To attain a better look on the party, open
communication with them is essential – not only because of the situation in
Central Asia, but the party has also gained a lot of supporters globally,
including the European Union. When holding a conference in London hundreds of
participants showed up, and the organisation is keen on using modern technology,
making their opinions and information easy to distribute.