It Gets in Everywhere

It’s funny about this piece by Ziauddin Sardar – it gave me quite a turn when I read it a few days ago, because I’ve been writing an article that talks about exactly, but exactly, an issue he discusses. It’s a rather important one, too, and one in need of as much clarity of thought as possible. Getting it wrong causes suffering all over the place.

The bearded and elegantly attired supporters of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), the fundamentalist Muslim group, like to emphasise the non-violent nature of their party. As a recent press release put it, they “have never resorted to armed struggle or violence”. This is correct as far as it goes. While HT has openly engaged in the politics of hatred, particularly towards the Jews, it has not, strictly speaking, advocated violence. But this does not mean that it is not a violent organisation.

Bingo. That’s an evasive tactic that a lot of groups and individuals resort to: saying a group has never resorted to violence or never injured or harmed anyone – which is true as far as it goes – but is therefore highly misleading. Violence isn’t just clouting someone with a two-by-four; injury isn’t just slicing someone up with a machete; harm isn’t just running over someone with a lawn mower. Therefore, it is not good enough to say that a group is non-violent if, for instance, it doesn’t commit violence itself but does encourage and praise and validate and romanticize it in others; or if it trains other people (who are officially not part of the group in question) to commit violence; or if it writes propaganda for violent groups while not telling the complete truth about those groups’ activities; and so on. It has been deeply exasperating seeing defenses of Hizb ut-Tahrir that insist on the group’s non-violence as if direct literal physical violence were the only possible reason to criticize HT. But there are other reasons. Groups that, for instance, want to take some people’s rights away by peaceful means, may be non-violent but they’re not therefore beneficent.

But this does not mean that it is not a violent organisation. During a recent debate on PTV, the Pakistani satellite channel, a prominent member of HT told me emphatically: “The idea of compromise does not exist in Islam.” This is standard HT rhetoric, and it explains why the group is deemed dangerous and worthy of being proscribed. Intolerance of that kind is a natural precursor of, and invitation to, violence.

Exactly. Well said Mr Sardar. If only more people would see that.

In fact, violence is central to HT’s goals. Its primary objective is to establish a caliphate. It seeks, I have been told on numerous occasions, a “great Islamic state” ruled by a single caliph who would apply Islam “completely to all Islamic lands” and eventually to “the whole world”. What would be applied “completely” is the sharia, Islamic law. No wonder they recognise no compromise. Their ideology argues that there is only one way Muslims can or should be ruled, that those who form this caliphate have the right to rule, that all others must submit unconditionally and that only this political interpretation of Islam is valid and legitimate. In other words, the caliphate of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s vision can be established only by doing violence to all other interpretations of Islam and all Muslims who do not agree with it – not to mention the violence it must do to the rest of the world, which also must eventually succumb.

Violence isn’t just one guy punching you in the face, or even just one guy blowing up the bus you’re riding in. It’s also a bunch of guys enforcing a narrow sexist punitive theocratic law on you and on everyone. That’s a very thorough-going, far-reaching kind of violence – that’s why it’s called totalitarian. It governs everything – ‘completely’ – and permits no escape. That’s real violence.

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