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HT Membership – To be or not to be

This is a guest post by Imaad, who spent many years as an activist with Hizb ut-Tahrir but now campaigns for liberal secular values

Today David Cameron is back-pedalling wildly over specific details of claims he made yesterday at Prime Minister’s Questions about two independent schools in North London run by the ‘Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation’ (ISF). What initially seemed to be a devastating Tory attack on Labour’s failure to prevent members of the extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) from gaining control over the education of British children swiftly turned into a desperate damage-limitation effort by the Tories. Ed Balls very successfully deflected debate away from the overarching issue (that ISF has close links to Hizb ut-Tahrir, received government money in the past and continues to control the education of children attending two schools) and turned it into a discussion of details, such as which fund that money came from, whether inspection reports are available online and on which website the schools’ registration numbers could be found.

Here is the video of the Tory attack unravelling:

Newsnight added to the confusion when they revealed that one ISF-run school appears to have removed the only staff member with links to HT and the headmistress of the other one, Farah Ahmed – although she never denies being an HT member in the past – categorically states that she is not a member of HT now (4:20 in the video above).

If you accept Ahmed’s assurance on face value this seems to seal the deal.

However, what Ahmed knows but few other people know – unless like me, they were formerly involved with HT – is that being a “member” of HT is not like being a member of any other organisation.

With most groupings (be they Islamic Forum Europe, the West Yorkshire Women’s Institute or the Labour Party) if you come along to a few meetings and get involved with activities then you will be asked at some point to write your name and address in a book somewhere, hand over a few pounds for subs and you are officially a member.

Hizb ut-Tahrir does not work like that. I fully accepted their ideology, campaigned for them, manned stalls outside mosques and universities to propagandise for them, helped arrange their annual conferences and even distributed Khilafah Mag (pdf) – HT’s in-house magazine for which Farah Ahmed used to write crude propaganda pieces – but I was never officially a member. I was one of the so-called Shabab (lit. Young men) who are devoted to HT and whose activism on behalf of the party HT could not operate without. They take a full role in working towards the Khilafah state (Caliphate) and attend HT study sessions (halaqas) – after they’ve attended the halaqas for a while and completed the first three core books in HT’s programme of theo-political indoctrination they even pay a subscription to the party – but they are not, according to HT, members.

HT works on the principle of plausible deniability. Some of the people who are most important to spreading HT’s ideology are not technically HT members or even Shabab. Hamza Andreas Tzortzis of the Hittin Institute can deny being an HT member all he likes but nobody can deny the similarity between the Hittin Institute’s output (pdf) and HT’s propaganda. Of course he has made certain slips that indicate where his loyalties lie, for example emailing (pdf) the Centre for Social Cohesion back in 2008 from the address and regularly speaking at HT organised events, but officially he is not an HT member.

Complicating this further is that, even if Farah Ahmed was a full member, her resignation from Hizb ut-Tahrir may have been entirely tactical. This theory is supported by the fact that her recent statement in the press over the Cameron-ISF affair echoes HT’s response:

“This type of vilification of the Muslim community needs to stop. We are being used as part of a wider political agenda.”

The simple fact is that Farah may not consider herself to officially be a member of HT any more but, by most normal standards of what a member of a group is, she could well still be involved with HT. Rather than simply accepting her bland assurance that she is no longer an HT member, the Newsnight team should have asked her what her views are on HT’s insane totalitarian ideology. After all, there is no difference in views between HT’s supporters, activists and fully-fledged ‘members’.

The real danger here is the fact that intolerant Islamist beliefs are being passed onto very young children without their parent or wider society full knowledge. HT’s focus on who is or isn’t a ‘member’ is just part of the smokescreen by HT to disguise their attempts at infiltrating Muslim communities who have already overwhelmingly rejected them.

The only funny, yet also tragic, part of this story is that a group which seeks to galvanise the masses behind them now has to hide their name if they want to do anything with Muslims in this country. It’s a tacit acknowledgement of failure.

Good luck with world domination.