Why Is a Pro-Terrorist Islamic Group Allowed to Operate in the US?
Imagine an organization that is dedicated to replacing national governments with a single caliphate, that preaches an extreme version of Islam, and that actively engages in global outreach in order to bring about this new order (outreach that has led to some members joining jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq or attempting lone wolf attacks at home).
Stop imagining, because it already exists. It is not ISIS, but Hizb ut-Tahrir, the “Party of Liberation,” a transnational Islamist outreach group dedicated to uniting Muslims under an Islamic caliphate. And it’s in your backyard.
Hizb ut-Tahrir has chapters in at least 40 countries, including the United States, where it regularly holds “Khilafa” conferences advocating the creation of an Islamic caliphate. The most recent American events were held in May and June, including one just outside of Washington DC.
While Hizb ut-Tahrir is protected in the US under free speech laws, it has been called a “conveyor belt for terrorism” for indoctrinating apolitical or moderate Muslims toward an extremist interpretation of Islam. Radicalized Hizb ut-Tahrir members have joined militant groups such as the Nusra Front and ISIS.
For example, Mohammed Emwazi, better known as ISIS executioner Jihadi John, reportedly attended several events featuring Hizb ut-Tahrir speakers while a university student in England. Emwazi is responsible for the grisly beheading of US journalist James Foley, among others.
On October 2, 2015, 15-year-old Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar shot and killed an unarmed police accountant as he was leaving work, and shot at other officers in a suburb of Sydney, Australia. Jabar’s attack allegedly took place just after he left a local mosque, where he listened to a Hizb ut-Tahir lecture.
Hizb ut-Tahrir leaders have a history of anti-Western rhetoric. Earlier this year, Abdul Wahid, chair of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain equated de-radicalization with “making people less Islamic, more Western, more secular.” Australian Hizb ut-Tahrir leader Ismail al-Wahwah last year reportedly predicted “the ember of jihad against the Jews will continue to burn.”
Such subversive speech is the foundation of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s conferences, for which US hotels are providing a forum. The group’s events seek to educate vulnerable Muslim youths on how to boil down today’s complex global socio-political environment into a single diatribe based on one simplistic principle: “The West is against Islam and therefore we must fight for a separate Islamic state to live a life of dignity.” This has resulted in an identity crisis for many Muslims living in the West.
At least 13 countries have already banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, including Germany, Russia and China. Yet, a US ban of the group would prove difficult. Like the Westboro Baptist Church, which has a constitutional right to its homophobic and antisemitic protests, Hizb ut-Tahrir also has a First Amendment right to gather and spew hatred as long as there is no direct, causal link to violence.
Yet, a legal argument can and should be made that the group’s events constitute indoctrination, which is synonymous with training — an accepted definition of material support under existing US anti-terrorism laws. Until Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in the US, corporate vendors should know they have a choice in hosting such corrosive, intolerant, and anti-democratic speech.
Between 2010 and 2012, more than one venue canceled Hizb ut-Tahrir events in and around Chicago. In August 2015, the Guesthouse Inn in Nashville, Tennessee, canceled an event that was to be hosted by the white supremacist group Council of Conservative. These venues serve as shining examples for other locations to reconsider allowing subversive speech to animate their halls. Past hosts of Hizb ut-Tahrir events such as Virginia’s Waterford Receptions, the Lexington House in Hickory Hills, Illinois, and Detroit’s Doubletree Hilton, should consider doing the same in the future.
Referring to Hizb ut-Tahrir, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated last year that there is no room in his country for organizations that “nurture extremism, propagate hatred, and radicalize young Australians.” There should be no rooms available in the US either.
Josh Lipowsky and Supna Zaidi Peery are research analysts at the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), a not-for-profit, non-partisan, international policy organization formed to combat the growing threat from extremist ideology.