Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hizb-ut-Tahrir could pose a threat in Australia

From Future Directions International (FDI), Thursday, 13 December 2012 , by Mirza Sadaqat Huda*, FDI Associate:
  • The radical Islamist organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HUT) could pose a socio-cultural threat to Australia in the short term. It may instigate an increased level of small-scale sectarian violence in the medium term and may indirectly instigate terror attacks by affiliated groups or individuals and create a deeply divided community in the long term.
  • Although the efforts of Australian security forces in preventing a number of terror attacks in the last decade should be recognised, vigilance is required. In addition to hard power measures and surveillance, policymakers must be sensitised to the urgent need to create a counter-narrative to the radical ideologies promoted by HUT....
Since its formation in East Jerusalem in 1953 by Sheikh Taqiuddin, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HUT) has opened chapters in over 40 countries worldwide. This international radical Islamist group aims to overthrow all Western and secular governments and unite Muslim-majority countries, as well as lands previously under Muslim rule, such as Spain and the Philippines, under a caliphate to be governed by Islamic law and headed by a Caliph, or religious leader.
Overtly, HUT does not support violence but advocates political, intellectual and religious methods of achieving its goal. Despite this, its virulent anti-Western rhetoric, support for terrorist attacks against Western troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and spreading of religious hatred against non-Muslims have led to bans in several countries.
In Australia, where HUT has not been proscribed, its activities include recruiting well-educated, middle-class Muslims, instigating social disharmony among Muslims and non-Muslims, exploiting international events and local issues to further its cause and undertaking a very sophisticated public communication strategy. HUT’s rejection of all national values, including multiculturalism and democracy poses grave social, political and national security threats and should not be understated in light of its ambiguous, if not fictitious, denunciation of violence. Due to its international nature, Australia needs to tackle HUT as an ideological threat facing the wider Indo-Pacific region...

Threat Assessment
Short Term
HUT has the potential to pose a socio-cultural security threat by increasing the gap between the Muslim community and the wider Australian society in the short term. The majority of Muslim communities in Australia follow a moderate version of Islam and subscribe to Australian values, culture and society. The radical brand of transnational political Islam being promoted by HUT is thus at odds with the views of the majority of Australian Muslims. Despite this, young Muslims who feel disillusioned due to social, economic and other reasons are particularly vulnerable to indoctrination by HUT. For most Australian Muslims, their country’s role in the “War on Terror” is a sensitive issue, particularly in regard to the presence of Australian troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. HUT has very effectively utilised the disenfranchisement felt by certain members of the Muslim community, as well as their sentiments towards Australia’s participation in the global efforts against terrorism, which it has maligned as the “War on Islam”, to create fault lines between Muslims and other communities. This was evident in the rally organised by HUT in 2005 in support of the men arrested in Operation Pendennis, when it asked Muslims not to work with ‘non-believers or authorities and not to oppress each other.’ The promotion by HUT of religious intolerance and its active discouragement of interfaith initiatives will be matched by calls for intolerance by extreme right-wing political parties. These two extreme fringes from both communities will hamper integration and multiculturalism among the moderate majority and widen the gap between Muslims and the wider Australian society in the coming years. As young, university-educated people become exposed to HUT’s ideology, Australia must, in the coming years, perceive HUT not simply as a terrorist/extremist threat, but as a threat to socio-cultural harmony with severe repercussions for the future.
Medium Term
In the medium term, as more Muslims become indoctrinated by HUT and its ideology gains traction, the increased division between communities, as well as perceived grievances, may result in communal violence in the form of small-scale sectarian clashes. These may be instigated by local issues, but are more likely to be flared up by international events, reminiscent of the violence that was triggered by the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video. Current trends suggest that, in the foreseeable future, there will be greater instability in the Middle East and other regions of the world, as well as a continued use of social media to incite instability. HUT may capitalise on both these trends through propaganda activities, which may result in an accentuation of the frequency and ferocity of sectarian clashes in Australia. Moderates from both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities may be forced to choose sides as the radicals seek to expand their membership by appealing to people’s basic religious and patriotic values and exploiting subsequent clashes as proof of the “us and them” notion.
Long Term
In the long term, if HUT is given free space to operate – as is the case at present – it may pose a significant national security threat to Australia. Although HUT does not promote violence, it does not reject the use of jihad for “justified” causes. This could be interpreted as condoning violence without taking responsibility. As HUT’s membership expands, its leadership may become more decentralised. Not all members may follow HUT’s overt doctrine of pursuing political objectives through non-violent means. Splinter groups may form that are prepared to undertake violence to pursue what they perceive to be “justified” causes. Lone wolf terror attacks by persons not directly related to HUT but who are influenced by their plethora of online and print material may also be a possibility.
One very significant organisational trait of HUT is its ability to infiltrate legitimate public organisations, including the uniformed services. Reports have pointed to such cases in Pakistan, as well as some Middle Eastern countries. In Australia, due to the practice of carrying out rigorous background checks, such threats would remain negligible. Despite this, Australian policymakers must be aware of this threat, while at the same time ensuring that non-discrimination is practised in letter and in spirit within all public and private employment practises. Increased diversification of Australian public and private services, including the intelligence agencies, can in fact be beneficial in building a united multicultural front against radical elements. Overall, although terror attacks perpetrated by HUT are unlikely even in the long run, individuals or groups associated with them can pose a threat and the Australian security forces must remain vigilant...

*About the Author: Mirza Sadaqat Huda is a Senior Research Associate at the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Macquarie University, Sydney and a Bachelor Degree from the University of Canberra. His interests include multilateral co-operation on non-traditional security issues in South and South-East Asia. Mr Huda was born in Bangladesh and calls Australia his second home, dividing his time between Sydney and Dhaka.
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