Hizbut Tahrir in Bangladesh

Hizbut Tahrir's network includes an active center in London. Nobody knows who funds them. What is well-known is that it is a very rich organization and that their purpose is to destabilize western societies. Read exclusive report on the rise of this radical organization in Bangladesh.

Hizbut Tahrir, an extremist organization, openly opposing the theme of war on terror and banned in more than 20 countries, has recently intensified its notorious activities in Bangladesh.

Taking the excuse of protesting the cartoons of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) published in a Danish newspaper, this organization called for Grand Rally and procession to set seize at the Danish Embassy in Dhaka recently. Their program however was stopped by members of law enforcing agencies in Bangladesh. Later, this organization started campaign against Danish products exported to Bangladesh. Initially, they picked up a popular milk powder named Dano. Millions of posters were already circulated in the country, which might cost a large amount of money. Earlier the same organization distributed millions of posters protesting the cartoons.

On investigation, it was revealed that, Hizbut Tahrir was lead by some teachers of Dhaka University. Although it was not allowed for the government job holders to participate into any political parties, affiliation of Dhaka University teachers in this extremist organization is still being ignored by Bangladesh authorities for unknown reason. It is also learnt that, this organization is receiving millions of dollar from unknown sources. Although some of the intelligence wings of the country are already monitoring the activities of Hizbut Tahrir, there is virtually no initiative by the government to ban it in Bangladesh, taking the instance of many countries in the world.

On condition of anonymity, a source in Hizbut Tahrir told this correspondent that, their leaders are having excellent relations with some of the top figures in al Qaeda. The source further added saying that, their ultimate goal is to capture power in Bangladesh and turn the country into an Islamic republic. Hizbut Tahrir openly opposes democracy and existing judicial system in the world. They promote Islamic Sharial law in all the courts.

Meanwhile, a secret meeting of some of the notorious cadres of this organization held on 27th February at Sea Palace restaurant at city's Uttara area. This meeting was although called in the name of seminar, but on practical investigation, it was found that, there was no any seminar of Hizbut Tahrir at the mentioned location. Rather, some of the derailed youths were seen at the program listening to sermons by the leaders of Hizbut Tahrir, mostly with provocation of Jihad. The speakers were strongly criticizing democracy saying it was the rules of devils. They categorically told their palls that United States is master mind of spreading democracy in the world to damage Islam. They called upon their supporters to stand against democracy and promote Islamic law in Bangladesh. It may be recalled here that, recently banned Jamiatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) also started its activities a few years back in the same way of Hizbut Tahrir, when the government was seen reluctant in taking any actions. Experts opine that, Hizbut Tahrir will also turn into a potential threat to the country in near future.

Another source confirms that recently some Bangladeshis who fought against Israel in Palestine and in Afghan war (in favour of Talibans) joined Hizbut Tahrir. The supremos of Hizbut Tahrir are actively considering to begin orientation, motivation and training courses for their supporters to prepare them for any Jihad.

Meanwhile, we have got various information on this extremist group. In one of such information, it was revealed that, Hizbut Tahrir was founded in Jerusalem 50 years ago and banned in many countries, Hizbut Tahrir is using the war in Iraq to seek converts to its cause: uniting Muslims in an Islamic superstate. Since the war began, hundreds of Hizbut Tahrir members have gathered outside the United States and British embassies in Jakarta chanting "destroy America" and demanding the implementation of Islamic law in Indonesia. According to Muhammad Ismail Yusanto, a spokesman for Hizbut Tahrir, the war offers the group an opportunity to broaden its appeal.

"This will make people more aware about injustice, crimes against humanity and the urgency of Islamic power," says Yusanto. "I think the people will see the existence of Hizbut Tahrir as more relevant."

It is easy to see why Yusanto is optimistic. Indonesian protests against war in Iraq have been spearheaded by Islamic groups. Umar Juoro, director of a Jakarta-based think-tank, expects popular resentment against the American action to grow in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, especially if combat drags on and Iraqi civilian casualties mount.

Yusanto claims that Hizbut Tahrir already has about 100,000 members in Indonesia and chapters in every province. While that number is difficult to verify, the group has shown the ability to mobilize street protests in Jakarta, Makassar in South Sulawesi and the central Javanese city of Jogjakarta. Sidney Jones, the Jakarta-based Indonesia project director of International Crisis Group, a think-tank, says Hizbut Tahrir has grown rapidly in pockets of the country like South Sulawesi, and likely has a wider following than other radical Islamic groups that have sprung up over the past few years.

"Hizbut Tahrir's appeal is a mixture of different things," says Jones. "It is a genuinely international organization with deep roots in the Middle East and with, in some ways, the deepest commitment to Islam of all [radical Islamic groups]. And they are deeply and articulately anti-Western." As a group that has spent all but three years of its two-decade existence in Indonesia keeping a low profile, it's an example of how radical Islam, long shut out from Indonesian public life, has found a small but vocal following in the country.

Unlike, say, the Justice Party, with whom it shares a purist vision of an Islamic state and advocates strict segregation of the sexes, Hizbut Tahrir is not a political party. The movement was founded in Jerusalem in 1953 by a retired Palestinian judge educated in Egypt. It condemns democracy as un-Islamic and does not participate in elections, preferring to spread its message through books and leaflets and through mosques, especially in universities. Hizbut Tahrir says it's nonviolent, and it is not believed to have any ties with the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiah, which is said to seek a united Muslim state in Southeast Asia.

Hizbut Tahrir's ideas came to Indonesia in the early 1980s. They soon spread to a group of students at the elite Bogor Agricultural University. Fearful of then-President Suharto's hostility towards Islamic radicals, the group's first members would meet under the guise of studying the Koran.

Like many other radical Islamic groups, Hizbut Tahrir has operated openly in Indonesia since shortly after the fall of Suharto in 1998. Hizbut Tahrir members can now be found leading anti-American chants outside the U.S. embassy. But some secrecy remains. Yusanto will talk about the group's current worldwide leader and its history in Indonesia, but he refuses to reveal the identity of the current leader in Indonesia. Some supporters decline to give their names to journalists. "We have to be very careful," says Yusanto, referring to the possibility that the Indonesian government may one day crack down on Hizbut Tahrir. "We cannot predict the future."

Accoding to information, Hizbut Tahrir is a Middle East-based political organization. Its Indonesian branch advocates sharia through public rallies and campaign. They argued that the Indonesian government should run the economy according to Islamic principles. Their well-known slogan is "sharia is the answer." Its main mastermind Omar Bakri says, "With Afghanistan gone, the Muslims don't really have a place where they can come back to, regroup and have time to think and relax without the authorities breathing down their necks

Hizbut Tahrir also advocates the establishment of a "khilafah Islamiyah" -a global Islamic state composed of all the Muslims in the world. Yusanto said the recent establishment of the European Union, where the currency is united and the borders are opened, should illustrate that in the future European states are going to be even more closely united."

In one of the sites, the extremist organization claims that, Hizbut Tahrir ("Party of Liberation") argue that Islam is no longer a powerful force in world politics because Muslims have been divided by a nation-state system imposed by the West.

Muslims must therefore reject Western forms of government, including democracy, and reestablish the caliphate as a government for all Muslims. Like "Hizbut Tahrir", "neo-Salafi" groups reject democracy as un-Islamic, but they believe that violent struggle is not necessary to resist efforts by the United States and Israel to destroy Islam.

Another site says, Hizb ut Tahrir is one of the most radical groups operating in the world today and is an offshoot of Al Muhajiroun, whose leader Omar Bakri Mohammed broke away from HT to form what became AM. To permit Hizb ut Tahrir to hold a conference openly calling for the implementation of the Khalifate in the world is a travesty on the war on terror and will only attract those who will follow in the footsteps of the London bombers.

Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) has called upon Muslims and the group's supporters, particularly from the military, to fight for an Islamic caliphate.

"Hizbut Tahrir calls on you, including those who are from the military, to establish a caliphate together with Hizbut Tahrir, starting now," the HTI Chairman KH [religious title] Muhammad Al Khaththath said in front of 5,000 Muslims gathered at Al-Azhar Grand Mosque in Jakarta on 2 September.

He stressed that Muslim unity in Indonesia and the world will make Islamic followers become strong, so they would be able to establish an Islamic government resembling that of the era of Prophet Muhammad and his successor caliphs. Meanwhile, HTI spokesman Ismail Yusanto said that this mass gathering was intended to remind Muslims of the Islamic government system or caliphate as one of the most important Islamic teachings. A caliphate would become a main pillar for the full implementation of Islamic law and Muslim unity in the world.


Hizbut Tahrir's Call for Caliphate

"The idea of a caliphate has been buried in the history books for a long time. We are trying to remind people that we, as Islamic followers, must establish a caliphate," said Yusanto. Commenting on the establishment of a caliphate in Indonesia, he said that HTI would continue to build awareness, and finally, the idea [caliphate] will be implemented. "Indonesia is a part of the Islamic world and the most populous Muslim country. When there is people's awareness and a demand, as well as support from those who are from politics and the military, this idea will be implemented," he said.

According to him, HTI also organized similar mass gatherings in 100 cities, including Jakarta, Bandung, Bogor, and Bekasi, at the same time. Islamic followers and HTI supporters attended these events. He said this mass gathering was also aimed at commemorating the fall of the Utsmaniyah Caliphate in Turkey in 1924, as well as Isra Mi'raj [The night journey and ascension of prophet Muhammad].

The Guardian adds

Uzbek officials have cast the 10 blasts and clashes over the past two days as a bid to split the "international coalition in the war on terror", of which the country has been made an honorary member for hosting a US base near the border with neighbouring Afghanistan.

They said that the Islamic fundamentalist group Hizbut Tahrir was behind the blasts, a group the authorities have repeatedly persecuted and tortured for terrorism, despite the US and UK thus far considering the group non-violent. A spokeswoman for the prosecutor general said the operation to snuff out terrorist activity was going well and that part of a cell had been rooted out.

The Uzbek persecution of Hizbut Tahrir, which reportedly involved some prisoners being boiled to death, has led to insistent criticism of the regime of President Islam Karimov from human rights groups, the Foreign Office and the EU.

Omar Bakri Mohammed is the mastermind of Hizbut Tahrir. Omar Bakri has been found guilty in the Old Bailey, of inciting racial and religious hatred, and incitement to murder (murder as a religious duty). He'll be locked up for 7 years.

New Age, Bangladesh

The British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced on August 5 that his government would take new measures in countering the severe threat of terrorism that Britain faces, especially after the terrorist atrocity of 7/7 and the unsuccessful attacks of 21/7. The new security measures proposed by the Prime Minister will prove to be controversial and radical as there is a definite change in the 'rules of the game'. The response by most British people and security agencies post 7/7 have been very dignified and calm, bar some isolated incidents of 'hate crimes' in the past couple of weeks. Most of the proposals by the Prime Minister was commendable and to be frank, due.

The deportation of 'hate clerics' is certainly a commendable move and people who incite or glorify terrorism, such as the Syrian-born cleric and founder of the extremist British based organisation Al-Muhajiroun, Omar Bakri Mohammed. Although Britain typifies as a country of free-speech there needed to be a gag on hate preachers whose main aim is to divide communities and create hatred along racial grounds. The creation of 'Londonistan' is also due to the fact that there were not enough surveillance over these sympathisers of terrorism. It is also laughable that radical groups such as Hizbut Tahrir and Al-Muhajiroun were not banned in the UK although they (Hizbut Tahrir) were banned in other Muslim-dominated nations such as Pakistan and Egypt. It was high time the British government did so.

Hizb terms Iraq election meaningless

The Hizbut Tehrir has termed the process of election in Iraq as meaningless and the continuity of American occupation.

The official spokesman of the organisation in a statement issued here Tuesday said the American sponsored authority in Iraq has started the registration of voters in Iraq and preparations of the constitution.

"Hizbut Tahrir believes that all these initiatives are nothing except continuation of the occupation. The American occupation will bring secularism in Iraq and Islam will be set apart from the daily life. It will also divide Iraq by sects and ethnically under the pretext of democracy and freedom and other concepts that are opposed to Islam and its rules," the Press statement reads.

The organisation has said that becoming part of this process is a sin. "The only effort to be done now is to dismiss the occupier and create a constitution as per Islamic doctrine. As per Hizbut Tahrir, all the tragedies that are happening in Iraq and in other Islamic countries, are the result of negligence on part of the Muslims in following the Quran and Sunnah. It thinks that the only remedy for all these tragedies is to establish the Khilafat and the unity of Muslims.

In an interview with with Leila Sapalaeva in Russia, a political analyst named Dr. Yemelianova said, Hizbut Tahrir's network includes an active center in London. Nobody knows who funds them. What is well-known is that it is a very rich organization and that their purpose is to destabilize western societies.

Hizbut Tahrir Bangladesh has its official website. Address of it is www.khilafat.org. The website is filled with extremist statements and speeches by its leaders. The address of their central website is www.hizb-ut-tahrir.org.

There is already demand from various individuals, groups and organizations to immediately ban activities of Hizbut Tahrir in Bangladesh before it turns into a monster.

Mahfuz Sadique wrote an excellent investigative piece on Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Islam's new face?
Mahfuz Sadique
 

'When the right time comes, we shall achieve our goal,' says a smiling, bright-eyed Mohiuddin Ahmed. As the head of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Bangladesh, he is an Islamist revolutionary with a twist. Having graduated from Bangladesh's top business school, the Institute of Business Administration at Dhaka University, with enviable scores, Mohiuddin presently teaches the same corporate strategies and 'cash-cow' principles at his alma mater that his teacher's had taught him. But the number of students attending his business classes are dwarfed by the attendance at the Chhatra Sabha (Students' Society) sessions of the Hizb ut-Tahrir. He and others like him represent the new face of the Islam-based religious politics that is slipping into the mainstream of Bangladeshi consciousness. Unlike in the past, his foot soldiers are career-oriented, upwardly mobile young men, and women, from the country's public and mushrooming private universities. Almost tip-toeing into the 'ideological vacuum' left from the aimless student politics of mainstream student bodies, Hizb ut-Tahrir is, to use the own words of a gleeful Mohiuddin, 'selling the time-proved cocktail of popular discontent and faith.' And they are selling good.

But there is the catch. What this ever-growing number of 'modern Muslims' envision, with intoxicating and chilling precision, contradicts the principles of conventional liberal, democratic and secular society, and nations that abide by it.

For a man who is the chief coordinator and spokesperson of a religion-based political party presently banned in several Middle Eastern states, throughout Central Asia, Germany (the reason cited was anti-Semitism) and Pakistan, Mohiuddin couldn't appear any less worried. 'We have done nothing to instigate such a response. We do not believe in any form of violence, or force,' he explains. When asked about the size of the membership roll, but Mohiuddin claims that figure is not compiled. What he does reveal is that attendance in the monthly seminars they hold is in the region of 250 - 300, and not always the same people.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was founded in Jerusalem in 1953 by an appeals court judge, Taqiuddin al Nabhani. Initially the group's operations were restricted to the Arab countries. The group first appeared in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Today, Hizb ut-Tahrir claims to be have operations in more than 100 countries.

Hizb ut-Tahrir Bangladesh, the country chapter of the international organisation of the same name which envisions a Shari'ah-based Khilafah state, has been gaining most momentum through its activities at the country's universities. Alongside its national launch in Bangladesh in 17 November, 2001, just weeks after the 9/11, with anti-American sentiment and Islamic fervour peaking, the party started off university chapters at several public and private universities, including Dhaka University and North South University. Though religion-based student politics is nothing new at the nation's higher educational institutions, Hizb ut-Tahrir has their eyes on a strata of students isolated from the mainstream. Non-practicing students, marginalised from mainstream politics, and open to discussions on lifestyle, society and science sprinkled with faith were the party's first and prime target audience. But why this specific cross-section?

Beginnings

The dynamics of student politics, and the role religion has played in it, has changed gradually over the years. Student political organisations based on religious ideologies, just like their mainstream counterparts, have almost always had their origins and visions pegged to their mother ships, political parties. Religion-based student politics in our higher educational institutions has its roots from the Pakistan period. Though, in their organisational strength and ideological rigidity they had little resemblance to their present day setup. In the early sixties, three religion-based student organisations operated actively: Pakistan Chhatra Shakti, National Student Federation (later referred to infamously by its abbreviated form: NSF) and Islami Chhatra Sangha.

While Pakistan Chhatra Shakti was relatively obscure, the NSF and the Sangha had political muscle behind them. Established in 1956, as the student wing of the Khelafat-e-Rabbani party and later endorsed by then politically powerful Muslim League, the NSF had always been plagued by internal strife but remained a powerful and 'bullying' student organisation with direct backing from the East Pakistan governor Monem Khan. Though referred to as the 'musclemen on campus' and also responsible for first bringing violence into the student politics of Dhaka University, the NSF never had a strong footing among general students. And even more significant was their lack of political vision. Worth mentioning is that the cultural front of Khelafat-e-Rabbani, Tamaddun Majlish, played a pivotal role in the early days of the language movement.

But the Islami Chhatra Sangha, the Bengali name of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, was a different story. Though, not a front running student organisation at the time, they set the pace for the Islami Chhatra Shibir of today. Syed Abul Ala Maududi had established the Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamic political party based on his own ideologies, in 1941. Right after the partition of India and Pakistan, the student wing of the party - the Islami Jamaat-e-Talaba ('Talaba' meaning students) - was formed in Lahore on 23 December, 1947. But until 1954 there was virtually no student representation in the organisation from East Pakistan. It was only in 1955 that a full-fledged East Pakistan wing, the Islami Chhatra Sangha, was formed.

Another organisation that played a crucial role in galvanising the Islamic student movement was the Jamiat-e-Talabae-Arabia, though it did not fall under the general fold of student politics. This organisation's member base was the madrassah-based students in the country. Till the mid-1960s they complemented the powers of the Chhatra Sangha.

The first major clash, in terms of viewpoint and action, between Islamic student bodies and the mainstream surfaced in the 1969 student movement, when countering the 11-point general demand, the Islami Chhatra Sangha put forward their own 8-point charter, which favoured the confederation. This resulted in the first visible alternative Islamic student force emerging alongside the majority student factions. There were even some violent clashes between the two opposing camps that left a prominent Chhatra Sangha leader killed.

The beginnings of the Chhatra Sangha in East Pakistan might have been modest but by the late sixties they had gathered considerable clout within the organisation's All-Pakistan (Nikhil Pakistan) body which culminated in the election of Matiur Rahman Nizami (presently a minister in the four-party alliance government and also the head of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh) as the president of the national committee. This was the first time that an East Pakistani was at the helm of the Jamaat-e-Islami's student wing for all of Pakistan.

Islamic student organisations, taking queue from their parent parties, always treaded the line of an Islamic state in direct contradiction to the ideologies of both the mainstream right and left student bodies which centred their actions around the four basic governing political principles of the progressive politics at the time: Bengali nationalism, self-rule, socialism and the most objectionable to the Islamic camp: secularism.

Stepping stones to the mainstream

While the actions of today's mainstream student political organisations - some originating from the pre-liberation period and some formed later - have shifted from their original political philosophies (few of them consider their political charters as guiding principles) the contradiction between progressive and religious conservative student politics, set off in the Pakistan period, has carried on to the present day. With the strength and spread of Islamic political parties growing with every passing year, and as two Islamic political entities (Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and Islami Oikya Jote) are sharing state power, the underlying conflict between the two fundamentally polar camps is reaching dizzying heights.

Though big Islamic student organisations, such as the Islami Chhatra Shibir, have made inroads into the student bodies of most public universities, their conservative views, actions, and also the unfavourable image among general students towards its parent party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, has prevented them from capturing a larger support base. Other Islamic parties which target universities, such as the, Islamic Shashantontra Chhatra Andolan, Islami Chhatra Majlis, Khelafat Chhatra Andolon do not have any specific support base. But most activities of these organisations in turn have assisted the growth of the greater movement to legitimise Islam-based politics within the mainstream, or as is the case with such organisations, engage students with their politics.

While Shibir might not have been able to tap into general students, a stagnant 'depoliticised' psyche of general students has resulted in their (students) disassociation from any of the other major student bodies of either the right or the left. After the anti-Ershad movement brought together students throughout the eighties, the nineties saw a gradual fallout phase which has resulted in a great vacuum. As the 'incorruptible purists' of left student bodies in the 1960s and 1970s are a distant memory, a great intellectual lapse has engulfed the universities, and waits to be filled by a convenient force. This is where the Hizb ut-Tahrir comes in.

Islam, intellectually speaking

Though, the political ideology they represent is radical in terms of its values and implementation, the approach they have taken is least to say modern, and even appealing to the moderate Muslim, university crowd. Engaging in dialogue with both general students and opposite camps on previously taboo issues among Islamists through numerous seminars, discussion sessions and study circles, they are tactfully using the same political tools that previously worked so well for leftist student bodies during their heydays. The topics covered include 'Existence of God', 'Blind faith of Atheism' and 'Cloning'.

Hizb ut-Tahrir's aim, as summarised in their publication, is 'to resume the Islamic way of life and to convey the Islamic da'wah (invitation) to the world. This objective means bringing Muslims back to living an Islamic way of life in Dar al-Islam and in an Islamic society such that all of life's affairs in society are administered according to the Shari'ah rules, and the viewpoint in it is the halal and the haram under the shade of the Islamic State, i.e. Khilafah State. That state is the one in which Muslims appoint a Khalifah and give him the bay'ah to listen and obey on condition that he rules according to the Book of Allah (swt) and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (saw) and on condition that he conveys Islam as a message to the world through da'wah and jihad.'

It also states: 'The Party, as well, aims at the correct revival of the Ummah through enlightened thought. It also strives to bring her back to her previous might and glory such that she wrests the reins of initiative away from other states and nations, and returns to her rightful place as the first state in the world, as she was in the past, when she governs the world according to the laws of Islam.'

The party believes in establishing 'the Islamic State' through three stages. The first stage involves 'culturing to produce people who believe in the idea and the method of the party, so that they form the party group.' As part of this stage, members of Hizb ut-Tahrir are mingling with the general public and creating Sahabahs, associated to the Islamic thought of 'companions'. The second stage involves in 'interaction with the Ummah (the masses), to let them embrace and carry Islam, so that they take it up as its issue, and thus works (sic) to establish it in the affairs of life.' The third, and final, stage is: 'establishing government, implementing Islam generally and comprehensively, and carrying it as a message to the world'.

It is the final stage that is contentious. Though Hizb ut-Tahrir is a political party, they do not accept any conventional political process. Parliamentary democracy is not acceptable in their system. Though, election as a process is acceptable, elected lawmakers formulating laws to govern a country is not acceptable in the Hizb ut-Tahrir's final stage: 'establishing government'. Now the obvious question arises: how then do we establish government?

'We do not believe in violence. We have condemned all terrorist activity in the country and abroad. We are presently spreading the vision of Hizb ut-Tahrir among the public. We are also engaging in dialogue with society's opinion-making figures as they can influence a greater number of people,' explains Mohiuddin. On the issue of taking power, he replies: 'That is the third stage. We believe that by the time we have substantial members and a critical mass of sympathisers who agree to our cause, there will be pressure on the state machinery to follow suit. In such a scenario, the culmination of populist support and key opinion-makers on our side, we shall be take power and form a Khilafah state.'

What about jihad, which is mentioned within the party's aim?

Mustafa Minhaz, Media and Promotions Secretary of Hizb ut-Tahrir's central committee, and a lecturer at the University of Asia Pacific, cautiously responds to this question: 'That is a stage when an Islamic state has been formed. A jihad, or war, between armies is not against Islam's principle. It is not a scenario that will arise later.'

'Religious zeal speaking', the uninitiated might say. But while Bangladesh has just seen close to four years of Hizb ut-Tahrir, countries with longer exposure to the party have started seeing growing signs of active resistance. Though their name came up as a possible suspect in bombings in Uzbekistan last July, analysts have termed it unlikely. Three British members of their party are being prosecuted in Egypt 'for plotting to overthrow the government'. Despite such sporadic incidents, or rather allegations, the party has maintained an ostensibly non-violent positioning.

An interesting facet of their ideology is that, in principle, they subscribe to the same school of thought as the Taliban, or even Al Qaeda for that matter, since neither believed in engaging with a democratic structure. Their basic distinction is in their approach. 'The perceived but not necessarily implied difference between the Hizb-ut-Tahrir and them (Taliban and Al Qaeda) is the fact that while the former insists that the end does not justify the means and that the Islamic Caliphate can be ushered in by non violent political activism, the latter has carried out a series of violent terrorist acts, which it claims are justified for the ultimate cause,' points out Swati Parashar, associate fellow with the International Terrorism Watch Programme, in a research paper for the South Asia Analysis Group.

Green growth

Hizb ut-Tahrir's activities, as with any rising political organisation, need a constant supply of committed, intelligent and resourceful members. Young men, and women, fit exactly that profile. What better place to recruit such youth than universities?

Mohiuddin admits the result though not the intent. 'Yes, we have a greater following among students. But that is not intentional. University students are embracing our vision as it is a viable solution compared to the misdirected philosophies of other political camps,' he clarifies.

But a clearer indication to such intentions came from Minhaz. 'We have studied, and scrutinised, major political movements of history. For example, in our own country, if you look at the phenomenal rise of the left student movement during the sixties and seventies, the key element in their success is their ability to galvanise a large support base within university students. And in doing this they first engaged the intellectually aspiring students and in turn these students had been able to attract a larger mass. We have also taken a similar path though we believe our philosophy has a larger appeal as it is based on faith,' explains Minhaz.

This process has been going on simultaneously at both public and private universities. But the two streams of institutions have yielded different results. While their efforts in public universities have been mostly limited to Dhaka University, private universities have shown a remarkable acceptance to their efforts.

At Dhaka University, initial successes were thwarted when in late 2003 activists of Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of the main opposition party Awami League, chased away several Hizb ut-Tahrir members. Despite the incident, they have splintered support in the Commerce Faculty of the university. Several general students have mentioned being approached by Hizb ut-Tahrir, and some of them have also admitted to attending their seminars.

Seminars targeting Dhaka University students are organised close to the campus. For example, one of the largest seminars, accompanied with a debate between leftists and Hizb ut-Tahrir members, was held at the Public Library auditorium at Shahbag. With prominent figures like Farhad Mazhar attending, the seminar saw a large attendance.

'When programs are organised close to Dhaka University we get more audience. Along with our own members we do get interested observers who want to know what we have to say. It is at these seminars that we invite those interested from the audience to attend our group sessions,' points out Muhammad Al Amin, an MA student of Department of Finance, Dhaka University and Hizb ut-Tahrir's Student Representative at the university.

But whatever shortfalls they have had in recruiting from public universities were amply replenished by the phenomenal rise in their growth at private universities.

Culture clash

Private universities have become the new front in the war to win hearts and minds to the Khilafa state. Since the enactment of the Private University Act 1992, Bangladesh - or, Dhaka to be precise - has seen a sharp increase in the number of private universities. The present count, according to the accrediting authority for private universities - the University Grants Commission - is 54. While the Act has no mention of prohibiting student unions, or student political bodies, most of the big private universities have taken a safe-approach by enforcing a strict embargo on any form of student organisation which may have an affiliation with politics. And as new universities came up, they maintained the status-quo. There was reason to. The growing acceptability of private university among students, and the parents who pay for their education, was largely due to the non-political atmosphere they assured. After a frightful decade of violence and session-jams at public universities during the eighties, it was a welcome option to many.

Though the initial enrollment into private universities had been mostly restricted to students from fairly well-off families, by the mid-nineties students from middle-class families with a public-schooling education started getting into private universities too. While universities worldwide are considered as the melting pot of ideologies and also a primary 'culturing platform' of opinion, the forced vacuum at private universities left many students craving a political identity. By the late nineties, most universities had elaborate student activity clubs to compensate for this vacuum. But even then none of them provided the intellectual succour to sustain student interest.

Enter Hizb ut-Tahrir

In fact, along with the one at Dhaka University, one of the first 'circles' formed was at one of the leading private universities: North South University. Though this 'circle' had no physical infrastructure to show for, they aggressively started preaching their cause through some initial contacts. To put it mildly, they had a field day, everyday. Encouraged by the initial success, Hizb ut-Tahrir started putting in more concerted effort into private universities. At present, they have groups at Independent University Bangladesh, East West University, American International University Bangladesh, City University and Southeast University.

'It is true that we have tapped into the ideological, or rather intellectual, vacuum at private universities as few students get to discuss any serious issues at university,' admits Imtiaz Selim, who heads Hizb ut-Tahrir's activities at private universities and in-charge of the party's activities in the Gulshan Circle. A business-graduate of North South University and presently working for a telecommunications company, Imtiaz is an amicable, mild-spoken young man. Originally from Chittagong, insiders say he is also the second-in-command of the party's growing activities in Chittagong.

Well versed in major political philosophies, and abreast with global events, Imtiaz is not your average private university graduate. With good social networking among students of various private and public universities, he can pull his weight in a conversation on just about anything. And this power to socialise with students from all social and economic backgrounds has enabled him, and members of his party, to infiltrate the diverse student demographics at private universities.

'Politics, philosophy, economy, culture, lifestyle are issues that any young man, or woman, would like to discuss. While activity clubs rarely address this need, whatever activity there is, they are all related to career, or studies,' says Imtiaz, and adds, 'so Hizb ut-Tahrir members at private universities started discussing serious issues such as globalisation, imperialism, economic systems.

'And we didn't shy away from talking about sensitive issues, which had surfaced at private universities, or even those which contradicted our principles. We talked about pre-marital sex, we talked about drugs, we talked about alcohol, and we even talked about communism, as there was no other place these students could discuss that. Many of these discussions were not at all superficial in nature, rather intellectually engaging. And after having an open discussion, we presented to them the ideologies that Hizb ut-Tahrir believes in. We presented the Islamic way of life as a solution to all of their problems,' elaborates Imtiaz.

Guerrilla marketing

From the very beginning, students started paying attention. At North South University, dozens of members attended their group sessions after prayers at the most convenient location, the prayer room. While not just staying restricted to male members, they started recruiting female members. Within months Hizb ut-Tahrir had become a topic of discussion. Though the number of core members remained low, sympathisers grew rapidly.

A final semester student at North South University's School of Business, referred to the approach taken by Hizb ut-Tahrir at private universities as 'nothing less than guerrilla marketing.' 'Their leaflets are minimal but attractive in design and many of them are in English, which conveniently caters to the psyche of private university students. Their members mingle within the general student body. Be it in the canteen, in the student lobby, in the study areas, and mostly in the tea-stalls adjacent the university, they whip up conversations with any student on some topical issue, like the Iraq war or hartal, and eventually bring up their discussion sessions,' says the student.

'I attended one of their seminars as I found the topic interesting. It was about cloning. But I started avoiding them when they asked me to attend their sessions at the prayer room,' says another student.

A female student at Independent University Bangladesh's School of Environmental Science and Management attended a women-only session of the Sisters' Circle. 'They had discussed the Islamic way of life. It was quite general talk. But one of my friends has joined in their party, and she has started wearing a hijab since then,' says the girl.

Authorities at the universities observed the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir with caution. And breaking their self-imposed embargo on student's engagement with political organizations, they stayed quiet. As prayer rooms, canteens, rest areas, study rooms became the political playing field for Hizb ut-Tahrir, they just overlooked it as general religious practice. Only when their activities became elaborate did the authorities ask Hizb ut-Tahrir to take their activities outside the campus perimeter. While group sessions shifted to local mosques near the universities, and restaurants, the political activism of Hizb ut-Tahrir members at private universities has continued.

Though officially denied, insiders within the university administration and several faculty members have indicated that as religion is a sensitive issue, the universities think it better to ignore it. 'The private universities already have a reputation for being 'too western' and we are scared that cracking down Hizb ut-Tahrir will further strengthen this allegation,' says a teacher at a prominent private university. In fact, with the official stance of no-student-politics still in place, they have tried hard to keep the situation under wraps. To stop leaking of such damaging 'business' information in the media, some of the major private universities even keep several paid media consultants, which generally include university and education correspondents of major dailies, who in turn have kept such and other issues out of the media.

A highly-placed source in North South University said that the US Embassy brought up the issue with the university last year as many of the universities' graduates go on to attend graduate schools in the US. Activities of members of the party have been under heightened scrutiny since then though with a spread out member base within the general body, their activities have merely taken a more clandestine nature.

Is there anybody out there?

An interesting loophole within the systems of private universities is that student unions, or student political bodies, are not legally prohibited at any private universities as none of the private universities have published 'statutes' which legally restrict students from forming student bodies.

While Hizb ut-Tahrir is actively entertaining its political aspirations, it is interesting to observe that other political camps, either from the right or the left, remain completely absent. Ideologically, the left student bodies are the only ones that are directly in clash with Hizb ut-Tahrir. But they seem surprisingly inactive. A little inquiry revealed a classic reasoning; adding to a better understanding of the rise of faith-based student politics. The Student's Union, the largest leftist student body operating at public universities, do not consider private universities as legitimate educational institutions, and therefore they don't operate in them.

For what its worth, the Islamic student movement in Bangladesh has a new face. Their gathering clout among private university students is likely to have far reaching consequences. As a faith-based organisation, students have been found to be connected to the party even after graduation, and as they will rise through the ranks in Bangladesh, the party's financial and organisational capacity will increase likewise as all members contribute both compulsorily and also voluntarily. And along with it, as Hizb ut-Tahrir's influence within the general public increases, the day may actually come when they just might say: step aside!

From: Hizbut Tahrir in Action: A Blitz Exclusive

 

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