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Hizb ut-Tahrir's Jakarta Conference

Alok Rashmi Mukhopadhyay was Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
Panjaj Kumar Jha was Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • August 18, 2007

    The Caliphate Conference of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT) in Jakarta on August 12, 2007 brought together its global leadership from more than twenty countries. It reemphasized the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate and uniformity in governance in Muslim-majority countries of the world. The conference, which was attended by almost 100,000 supporters and sympathisers, is indicative of the increasing influence of the HuT in Southeast Asia. Another remarkable aspect of the conference was the sizeable representation of women among those who attended it.

    Abu Baker Bashir, who had been implicated in the Bali bomb blasts but was released after serving a short sentence in June 2006, also addressed the conference. Bashir is stated to be the spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a radical Islamic network active in Southeast Asia and neighbouring areas, and aspires to establish a pan-Islamic state in the region. According to interrogation reports of captured JI leaders like Abu Dujana and Zarkasih, Bashir headed the JI in the past. Now he is nurturing the ambition of contesting in the 2009 Indonesian presidential elections. The HuT conference provided him a unique forum for gauging the likely support his potential candidature would receive. Also, HuT has been emphasizing on inculcating Islamic values in students through madrasas and peasantrens (Islamic boarding schools), which is what has been propagated by the JI as well.

    The conference also gains importance because of the controversial discourse on the issue of Malaysia being an Islamic state (though only its official religion is Islam) and the implementation of Shariah laws in the autonomous province of Aceh. Indonesia, which has been projecting a moderate face of Islam, has been active in addressing the roots of radical Islam and trying to implement counter-radicalization efforts as well as apprehending terrorists belonging to Al Qaeda affiliated groups. But the question remains as to whether Indonesia would be able to maintain this positive image globally while at the same time reducing the scope for radical rhetoric propagated by Global Islamic Movements like the Hizb ut-Tahrir. Within Southeast Asia, quite a number of radical groups and even terrorist organizations have been marginalised and their leaders are being either decimated or arrested. The waning strength in terrorist cadres and greater inter-religious dialogue in the region have indicated positive signs of engagement with Islam. However, it remains to be seen how far conferences like these would provide a boost to radicalization of local politics and governance.

    It is worth mentioning that prior to the Jakarta conference two Hizb ut-Tahrir leaders from the UK and Australia were denied entry into Indonesia. A Palestinian HuT leader, Shiek Issam Amera, was not permitted by the Palestinian authorities themselves to visit Jakarta. The role of the UK chapter of HuT deserves highlighting here. Prohibited, closely monitored or facing legal actions in continental Europe, Hizb ut-Tahrir has so far been able to maintain its activities in the UK. The issue of prohibiting the activities of the HuT came up after the 7/7 London bombings and again during Gordon Brown's first question time in the House of Commons after his assumption of the prime ministership. It has been a recurrent theme in the British media as well as in concerned quarters. The HuT's latest conference in the UK on August 4, 2007 reiterated its earlier claims that it is a global Islamic party with the revivalist agenda of establishing a global Caliphate through non-violent means. Similarly, a polemical HuT booklet, titled "Radicalisation, Extremism & 'Islamism': Realities and Myths in the War on Terror" and published in July 2007, is an attempt to allay doubts within the British establishment that "the party (HuT) does not work in the West to change the system of government, but works within the boundaries of the system."

    However, the entire gamut of HuT literature reinforces its vision of a theological leadership of a perceived Ummah and its intellectual supremacy over the global Islamic discourse. Terming 'many if not most of the Muslim countries' as 'dysfunctional', the HuT does not only use a broad brush but demeans the indigenous leadership in Muslim countries or in countries where Muslims are in a sizeable minority.

    It is clear that be it in Europe or in South East Asia the HuT wants to replace the diaspora-based or the indigenous Islamic organisations as dialogue partners with the national governments. In South Asia, where it has organisational presence like in Pakistan and Bangladesh, it wants local people to replace the old government-opposition dichotomy and embrace a new face of Islam that transcends national boundaries and find solutions for all problems in an all-embracing Khilafah. Conducting secret study circles, readers' clubs, mixing local issues with a global Islamist agenda and banking upon the failures and deficits in our neighbouring countries, would therefore remain their working methods in the future. Students and young professionals from Muslim countries would continue to be its target group. It is necessary to monitor the HuT's public propaganda, wherein it exploits local politics and mixes it with its larger global Islamist agenda. For, this course would ultimately lead its followers down an ideological cul-de-sac as is becoming increasingly clear from the testimonies of its former members.