Hizb ut-Tahrir has been a thorn in the side of British counter- terrorism professionals for decades. Last month it was finally proscribed. While some experts have said it’s better late than never, this should be more than a belated action; it must mark the start of a comprehensive journey for the UK to cease being a fundamentalist dumping ground.
Hizb ut-Tahrir was established in Jerusalem in the 1950s, with a vision for an international caliphate across all Muslim countries. It rose to prominence in the early 1990s under the leadership of Omar Bakri Muhammad, who left it in 1996 to set up the proscribed group al-Muhajiroun, in, you guessed it, Britain. The group and its leader, Anjem Choudary, are considered to have been one of the most pivotal in radicalising young British Muslims into joining Islamic State, conducting all its activities from the UK.
Hizb ut-Tahrir has been banned for its activities supposedly in pursuit of “defending” Palestinians, but it does not even have Palestinian support. Its day-to-day work involves trying to control how Islam is defined, and through that, controlling the Muslim community under the guise of religious rules. In recent years, it has become more coordinated and active in the West Bank, establishing the community monitoring group Rijal al Khlaeel (men of Hebron). Women’s rights organisations, liberal Muslim youth and even the Palestinian Authority (PA) have no time for them. Hizb ut-Tahrir members have been arrested and banned by the PA.
In response to its influence, three young Palestinians founded the mixed-gender Freedom Runners, a counter movement promoting unity through sports in Hebron. This group organises public runs in support of cancer research, challenging Hizb ut-Tahrir’s opposition to mixed-gender sports. Rateeba Alaedin, Director of Sharek Youth, shared this with me: “Political Islam tries to dominate identity, eroding the harmonious coexistence based on our nation, language, and culture.”
Alaedin, a women’s rights advocate, has faced threats to her life, being labelled a “Western spy working to destroy Islam”.
Now, while the UK finally kicks Hizb ut-Tahrir to the curb, we should inspect where else we may be acting as a safe space for terror. India has something to say here. Groups advocating for the separate state of Khalistan in India find ample freedoms to glorify terrorism from the streets of London. Groups such as the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) are proscribed in India, Australia, Japan, America and Canada. But the group, which was accused of the worst terror attack in Canada’s history, has been bizarrely de-proscribed in the UK.
Last year, The Times reported that the UK’s approach to India’s terrorists delayed trade negotiations between the states worth £23 billion. During a recent research visit to Punjab in India, Sikhs responded to my questions about Khalistan with laughter: “Isn’t that more of a Canada and UK problem?” Beyond Palestine and India, the UAE’s foreign minister warns that Europe, and London in particular, might be seen as an “incubator of terrorism” if it doesn’t step up its game. He warns: “There will come a day when we see far more radicals, extremists and terrorists coming from Europe because of lack of decision making and trying to be politically correct.” Last year, it took a campaign by GB News to eventually have the Home Office kick out hate preacher Eyanatullah Abassi. Abassi was on a preaching tour of the UK despite having said that Hitler did a good job killing Jews in the Holocaust and that that those who insult the Prophet Muhammed should be beheaded.
It should not be for a news channel to force the Home Office to act. The UK needs to work across departments — the Home Office, police, local authorities, safeguarding units and the Charity Commission — to head off extremists where they find purchase. Charities exist that have a sole purpose of fostering hate for minorities, that call for the eradication of Israel and glorify Hezbollah and have glorified Hamas.
Police and Prevent teams often lack specialist knowledge to deal with lesser-known threats. With antisemitism reaching the highest levels since records began, the banning of Hizb ut-Tahrir must be the first step in an overhaul of extremism in the UK. We have a long way to go before we are no longer seen as the dumping ground of radical nut jobs and their quasi charities. But at least we have started.
Charlotte Littlewood is a former Prevent practitioner and counter extremism coordinator and is now director of research for the International Centre for Sustainability