Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hizb ut-Tahrir America Attempts to Control Dialogue and Spin Public Perception by Madeleine Gruen

Since its July 19th Khilafah conference in Chicago, “The Fall of Capitalism and Rise of Islam,” Hizb ut-Tahrir America (HTA) has attempted to gain control of public discourse through press releases and online events. After the much-publicized conference, HTA was forced to go on the defensive in order to deflect accusations about ties to militancy and terrorism. It had been HTA’s hope that the conference would cause the media to act as its Trojan Horse by circulating the concept of a Khilafah to a wide American audience.

HTA held an online press conference from its base in Chicago last night. Questions were answered by Mohammed Malkawi, who has been HTA’s spokesman to the media since the group's public launch in June. (Malkawi was introduced to the virtual audience by his pseudonym, “Abu Talha”).

In the days leading up to the July 19th conference, some media outlets reported that HT had "ties" to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and former al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarkawi. In his opening statement, Malkawi denied the accusations that HT had ties to any "militant groups," although he did not mention Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or Zarkawi specifically. He also took the opportunity to refute Hudson Institute scholar Zeyno Baran’s assessment that HT is a conveyor belt to terrorism. In response to one participant's question, Malkawi stated emphatically that HT had never “yielded to the influence of militancy.” Malkawi did not discuss the fact that HT has produced several militant offshoots, including al-Muhajiroun, based in London, and Akromiya, which was responsible for organizing protests against the Uzbek government that eventually led to the Andijan massacre in 2005. Nor did Malkawi mention individuals who were involved with HT and who went on to join more militant groups; such as, Omar Sharif and Asif Hanif, who participated in a suicide attack in Tel Aviv in 2003, and 9/11 planner Ramzi Binalshibh.

Hizb ut Tahrir (HT) has made inroads in other parts of the world by framing its boilerplate doctrine in a modern context. HT plays on the frustrations of Muslim populations in order to position itself as the vanguard of the aggrieved. Its blanket solution to all social, political, and economic problems is the establishment of an Islamic government, ruled by a Caliph, and run according to the laws of Shariah.

Much of HT’s strategic success in growing its support base and core membership can be attributed to its ability to control public dialogue through its aggressive production of leaflets and videos, web sites, and its public demonstrations. HT's communication campaigns attempt to stir controversy where there may have been none, attract media attention, and result in causing government agencies to react defensively; putting HT in the seat of control. HTA is clearly attempting to do the same in the United States. However, thus far, HTA has not been successful in assuming control of the tone or content of media reports, or in sparking positive discussions about its ideas.

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