Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Defending their right to say it...

Johann Hari channels Voltaire to support Hizb ut Tahrir's right to exist:

The middle class professionals who make up Hizb ut Tahrir's British branch pine for the creation of an Islamist empire imposing shariah law over the whole planet, where I would be killed - and so would most of the readers of this article. Are you a woman who shows her hair in public? Are you gay? Have you ever had an affair? Are you a Jew? Are you a Muslim who has had doubts about your faith? Then I'm afraid a strict interpretation of their draft constitution for the New Caliphate - which they want to build after taking power through the ballot box - would entail your execution.
Hizb ut Tahrir are ... like the British National Party - a group with deeply evil ambitions, but pursuing them through existing political structures. The best way to defeat them is not to abandon liberal values by banning them, thereby feeding their martyr complex, but by acting on liberal values by discrediting and destroying them in argument. It's really not hard. How many Muslims living in a free society will be tempted by a Taliban-style global state where they will be hellishly oppressed at every turn? It is preposterous to believe Hizb would ever win at the ballot box in Britain - so we can argue back and whittle down this deranged ideology over time.

In his fascinating book 'The Islamist', the young Eastender Ed Hussain explains how he was drawn into Hizb ut Tahrir - and why he left. The group offered him a transcendent cause where he could imagine he was the victim of "a great gay-Jewish conspiracy" and fighting for the rights of people in Afghanistan and Iraq. (He deliberately didn't find out much about what Islamists were actually doing in those places). He soon had no white friends, and no female friends.

He did not lose faith in Hizb because people showed "respect" for their ideas, or deferred to his "culture." He left because people challenged their agenda. When Hussain went to University, he heard people vehemently deconstructing the Hizb agenda for the first time. And he began to remember his life at a mixed primary school in Tower Hamlets, where white non-Muslim teachers had showed great kindness to him. "When I doubted my affinity with Britain, those memories came rushing back," he writes. The next generation of British Muslims will have fewer such memories, because they will have been increasingly ghettoised into 'faith schools'.

At the moment, Hizb ut Tahrir is not being challenged with the verbal agression it deserves. The reasons are complex: great wodges of Saudi money for British mosques makes these arguments for shariah seem more mainstream; decent liberal people are frightened of being called 'Islamophobic' or receiving death threats; and the great liberal majority of Muslim women are too often intimidated into silence. If we want to undermine Hizb ut Tahrir, we need to end each of these by lavishing cash on Muslim women's groups.

A true victory over Hizb ur Tahrir will not come through banning them. It will come from ensuring that every one of their meetings is greeted by a picket of Muslims liberals and Muslim women - people like Ed Hussain - declaring loud and proud that when they denounce Britain as a brothel and call for a Caliphate, they do it Not In My Name.

And he's right: the only way, not an easy way, to preserve liberal pluralistic society in the wake of a violent totalitarian threat, is to win the battle of ideas. If you excessively restrict freedoms to win the fight, you end up abandoning the liberalism you are fighting to protect. You also strengthen the case of your opponents . Of course, 'winning hearts and minds' requires more than just wittering on about free speech but also about helping marginalised groups become stakeholders in our society. Something that isn't easy, which explains why - perhaps - we continue to fight the wrong battles in the War on Terror.

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