Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), meaning “Party of Liberation,” is an international Islamist movement seeking to unite Muslims under one Islamic caliphate. Founded by Palestinian Taqiuddin al-Nabhani al-Filastyni in 1953, HT considers itself a non-violent political party. HT states that its goal is to peacefully convert Muslim nations to Islamist political systems.HT praises the concept of jihad but insists that it does not use “material power to defend itself or as a weapon….” The group publicly disavows efforts to achieve its goals of a caliphate through violent means. HT has been banned in at least countries worldwide. However, individuals affililated with the group have been linked to violent acts in multiple countries. Some have been involved in coup attempts in the Middle East,9 the murder of a pro-secularist blogger in Bangladesh,10 and spreading anti Western and Muslim-separatist propaganda in the West. HT maintains that its members are political dissidents.
HT has been called a “conveyor belt” for terrorists by Zeyno Baran of the Hudson Institute. Baran notes that HT members, once radicalized by the group’s ideology, are vulnerable to more explicit messages of militancy. One example is British citizen Omar Sharif, who attempted to blow up a Tel Aviv bar in 2003. British intelligence officers found HTliterature in Sharif’s U.K. home. Another example is ISIS fighter “Jihadi John” (now deceased), who reportedly attended events with HT speakers while in university in Great Britain.
HT chapters operate in more than 40 countries, but the group is banned in many Muslim-majority countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. The group is also banned in China and Russia. The United Kingdom has not banned HT. According to Baran, HT’s British chapter in London is the “nerve center” of the international movement. While HT promotes the concept of a caliphate, it does not recognize the so-called caliphate created by ISIS. On July 2, 2015, HT Britain published a statement denouncing ISIS’s June 2014 declaration of an Islamic state because ISIS lacked the authority to create or secure a caliphate in Syria.
Nevertheless, British HT members have reportedly joined ISIS and other militant Islamist groups in the Middle East. Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott accused HT of nurturing “extremism in our suburbs,” claiming that the group justifies terrorism and inspires young men to join jihadist activities in Syria and Iraq. British prime ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron called for banning HT in 2009 and 2011, respectively.However, David Anderson, then the U.K. government’s cindependent reviewer of terrorism legislation, submitted a report to Parliament in 2011 recommending against banning HT as it had not advocated violence.
The British Home Office has also ruled that HT does not advocate violence and that Britain cannot ban the group for having unpopular ideas. The Home Office did concede, however, that HT is anti-Semitic, homophobic, and anti-Western. Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s failure to ban HT in that country prompted his government to propose a law prohibiting speech deemed “advocacy to genocide.” Attorney General George Brandis said the proposed law was aimed at groups like HT. In September 2015, Brandis and the Abbott government announced the “advocacy to genocide” legislation as part of a package to be introduced in parliament later that year. However, later that month, Malcolm Turnbull defeated Abbott for the leadership of Australia’s Liberal party and consequently, for the office of prime minister. Australia’s Daily Telegraph reported in October 2015 that the Turnbull government would abandon its predecessor’s attempts to ban HT and to advance the “advocacy to genocide” bill.
HT seeks to establish a global caliphate and presents its Islamist ideology (based on the writings of the organization’s founder, Taqiuddin Nahbani) as an alternative to both capitalism and secular democracy. HT proposes the restoration of a caliphate as a solution to the problems in the Middle East, with all Muslims living according to sharia (Islamic law) under the rule of an Islamic caliphate. HT insists that it seeks to reestablish the caliphate only in the Muslim world, not “in any of the western countries including the US.” However, HT uses anti-Western propaganda to advance its Islamist objectives. For example, HT blames purported anti-Muslim discrimination in the West and violence against Muslims in Muslimmajority countries on Western domestic and foreign policies. HT seeks to erect a global caliphate.
The group’s strategy to create a global caliphate is divided into three phases. The first phase is to create a core Muslim leadership to guide HT. In the second phase, this core leadership reaches out to the broader Muslim community and convinces them to follow HT’s model of Islam. HT’s extensive outreach activities around the world indicate that the group is currently focusing on this second phase of its strategy. The third and final stage of HT’s mission is regime change. Once HT has obtained sufficient public support for its vision of a caliphate, HT expects that support to facilitate a peaceful transition to Islamist rule. HT doctrine officially eschews violence and believes “Islamic law forbids violence or armed struggle against the regime as a method to reestablish the
Islamic State.” Only the caliph of the Islamic state—a position that does not yet exist—can declare jihad under HT
doctrine. Further, HT believes “military struggle is not the method of reestablishing the Caliphate.”
However, HT does not foreclose the possibility that a transition to Islamist rule could also transpire through a military coup if, for example, enough soldiers were converted to HT’s worldview. Despite hoping for military support to overthrow current regimes, HT still positions itself as a non-violent movement, HT’s doctrine considers military intervention to be outside help (nusrah) since the military is not a direct arm of HT. Analysts studying the HT movement have implicated HT members in failed military coups in Jordan (1968 and 1969) and Egypt (1974). However, HT members did not provide any military support for these coups. In the case of Jordan, HT members allegedly encouraged members of the military to overthrow the government.
Since HT presents Islam as an exclusive socio-political system superior to secularism and democracy, the group urges Muslims to detach themselves from any secular or nationalist loyalties. To that end, HT spreads an Islamist narrative of Muslim grievance and victimhood, oversimplifying the complex global socio-political environment into a single, simple narrative: the West opposes Islam. This narrative can result in an identity crisis for some Muslims, which opens the door for their radicalization, according to a 2007 radicalization study from Denmark’s justice ministry.One possible example of HT-inspired radicalization is the case of 15-year-old Farhad Jabbar in Parramatta, Australia. Jabbar shot and killed a police accountant in October 2015 and reportedly attended an HT event the morning of the shooting. HT Australia denied that Jabbar is a member and condemned the shooting, but it also called “western foreign and domestic policy” the “real cause of violence.”
HT promotional materials have called for violence against Jews. Despite its official non-violent stance, HT has called for violence against Jews. In 2002, HT leaflets found in Denmark urged Muslims to kill Jews “wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have been [sic] turned you out.” A BBC report quoted the HT leaflet further: “The Jews are a people of slander…a treacherous people… they fabricate lies and twist words from their right context.” In 2003, similar anti-Semitic rhetoric resulted in the group being banned from many university campuses in Britain and a complete ban of the group in Germany.
HT supports not only violence against Jews in general but offensive jihad against Israel in particular.HT believes Israel has “occupied Islamic lands”—lands once ruled by Islamic law. Accordingly, HT believes those lands should return to governance by Islamic law and supports jihad as a means to that end. Accordingly, HT views violent acts against Israel as legitimate political protest against Israel’s existence as a state. The organization’s literature has supported Islamist suicide bombings in Israel, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. In 1994, HT’s global leader, Ata Abu Rashta, reiterated this point when he declared that Jews who came to Palestine after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire have no right to live there. He called for all Jews of fighting age in Israel to be “killed until
At least one HT-related person is believed to have attempted a suicide bombing in Israel. British citizen Omar Khan Sharif was reportedly affiliated with an HT splinter group. He began attending HT meetings while at King’s College in London.Sharif reportedly followed former HT leader Omar Bakri Mohammed to his new group, al-Muhajiroun. On April 30, 2003, Sharif and fellow British citizen Asif Muhammad Hanif attempted a suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv bar. Sharif’s explosives failed, but Hanif killed three and wounded 50. HT denied responsibility for radicalizing Sharif. On social issues, HT’s ideology is reactionary. HT dictates subservient roles for women, who are required to obtain their husbands’ permission to leave the house and cannot go outside wearing perfume. HT’s doctrine also forbids homosexual acts and prohibits participation in other faiths’ celebrations, such as Christmas.
HT is a hierarchical organization with as many as 1 million members throughout the world. HT boasts of a presence in at least 33 countries and maintains a central media office in Beirut, Lebanon. Each country has a local chapter led by an emir, who answers to HT’s overall emir, Ata Abu Rashta.61 While Abu Rashta’s exact location is unknown, he continues to lecture at Islamist conferences worldwide and new rhetoric from him regularly appears on HT websites. In each of these chapters, men and women are encouraged to be active members of the movement but work separately in order to keep the genders apart. HT’s vision of a future Islamic state reserves the highest positions—including caliph, provincial governors, and defense minister—for men alone.Once an Islamic state is established, the caliph would select a defense minister, who would then enforce conscription to the caliphate’s army of all Muslim men over the age of 15. While women are encouraged to join and participate in HT, they are forbidden from filling leadership roles like defense minister