After the London bombings of July 2005, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced his intention to ban the British arm of the global Islamic political party, Hizb-ut Tahrir. On Friday 30th March 2007, the same organisation hosted an event at Friends House, Euston, north London, to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by coalition forces, and to discuss their report, Iraq: A New Way Forward.
Three Hizb-ut Tahrir representatives discussed the occupation of Iraq and the penetration of the broader Muslim world by Western states.
Jamal Harwood, the group's Executive Committee Chairman, asserted somewhat uncontroversially that the military occupation was the main problem in present day Iraq. However, his suggestion that the sectarian violence currently devouring Iraq has been overhyped by the Western media is pure fatuity. He argued that the bulk of the violence in Iraq - 70% of attacks, in fact - is directed at coalition forces.
According to Harwood, the February 2006 bombing of the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra did not result in Shi'a bloodletting. Evidently, the subsequent murder of three Sunni clerics by Shi'ite militants, the targeting of Sunni mosques, and the protests in Najaf, where Shi'a protesters urged their comrades to take revenge, have all been distorted by the Western press.
Sajjad Khan proffered the equally fanciful notion that the War on Terror is simply the latest excuse for Western military, political, and economic interference in the region. Since when did the American and European powers need an excuse, one might well ask? Furthermore, whilst seeking a withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq is a legitimate position that is rapidly gaining more support in the non-Muslim world, the suggestion that the West end its military and economic penetration of the region is asking far too much and strips bare the inherent utopianism of the organisation.
Taji Mustafa of the Executive Committee was left with perhaps the most difficult sell. He argued that the khilafah, or Caliphate, is the only political structure capable of uniting and stabilising Iraq and the region owing to its history of successful application in the Middle East, and the fact that the khilafah respects Muslim values.
Unsurprisingly, no evidence was provided to demonstrate the willingness of Iraqis to reconstitute the khilafah in the absence of an occupying force.
The discussion at Friends House on what Hizb-ut Tahrir euphemistically term A New Way Forward, suggested a nostalgia for both the Ottoman Caliphate and the so-called Golden Age of Islam. To any casual observer of Islamic history, this must seem like a confused position.
The dawn of Islamic history appeals to Islamists because it corresponds with the rule of the four rightly guided Caliphs. Islam subsequently entered a period of dynastic rule, which is naturally less congruent with the pure vision of Islamists. Hizb-ut Tahrir seem confused, not particularly discerning, or maybe they are just hedging their bets. Furthermore, in not acknowledging the inability of the Prophet Muhammad's first four successors to solve the social and political ills of seventh century Arabia, nor the well-known deficiencies of Ottoman rule, Hizb-ut Tahrir come across as being blinded by their own utopianism.
Thankfully, not everyone present at Friends House was convinced by the sloppy, yet suitably impassioned arrangement of propaganda. One member of the audience asked whether the khilafah should be established immediately or gradually, were the occupying forces to vacate Iraq.
Here's where Hizb-ut Tahrir and many of their Islamist brethren come unstuck. The establishment of the khilafah is partly a human, temporal project, and partly a divine one. Hizb-ut Tahrir - who owe a philosophical debt to the early Muslim Brotherhood - seek only to educate people and prepare the way for the establishment of the khilafah through political engagement. The rest is up to Allah.
It therefore seems odd that Tony Blair wanted to ban what is in many respects a pastoral organisation with delusions of political grandeur.
Some members of Britain's Muslim community say that the group is on the way out, and a number of former members have gone on to form more radical organisations. If the promise of the khilafah is not another opiate of the masses, what was presented recently in London was little more than a loosely conceived utopia offering nothing in the way of a practical or achievable political project. Based on what I witnessed at Friends House, it is difficult to conceive of Hizb-ut Tahrir's purpose as being anything other than an attempt at placating a certain element in Britain's Muslim diaspora.