Hizb-ut Tahrir

Tony Blair wanted to ban the British branch of the Islamic political party Hizb-ut Tahrir after the

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.

Tim Collins is studying for his M.Litt in Middle East and Central Asian Security Studies at St Andrews and has an offer to pursue a PhD in Iranian political history at the same institution.
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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.