OpinionU.S. News

America must wake up to the danger of the UK-banned Hizb ut-Tahrir

The group, prohibited in more than 25 countries, is steeped in deeply radical, antisemitic and anti-Western rhetoric.

Hizb ut-Tahrir demonstrating in Copenhagen, Denmark, July 2006. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Hizb ut-Tahrir demonstrating in Copenhagen, Denmark, July 2006. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Madeleine Joelson
Madeleine Joelson is a managing director of the Counter Extremism Project.
Daniel Roth. Credit: Courtesy.
Daniel Roth
Daniel Roth is research director at United Against Nuclear Iran and a managing director of the Counter Extremism Project.

The United Kingdom just banned Hizb-ut Tahrir (HT), an extremist Islamist group with affiliates in at least 32 countries, including the United States, that calls for re-establishing the Islamic Caliphate and implementing Sharia (Islamic law). Given its outsized role in radicalizing several convicted terrorists, including notorious ISIS executioner “Jihadi John,” HT Britain has a far more notorious reputation than its still-active Transatlantic cousin, HT America.

Still, every branch is steeped in the same deeply radical, antisemitic and anti-Western rhetoric for which HT America finds a platform every year at its annual “Caliphate Conference” in Chicago.

Now, U.S. policymakers and the public alike must wake up to the rising influence of this group before a new generation of homegrown extremists is seeded under its insidious charge.

While HT has a reputation for subtle, even “intellectual,” discourse—especially in comparison to more well-known and explicitly violent Islamist groups—it has not always proved adept at concealing its truer and darker inclinations. In Lebanon, its headquarters, the group has called for the “mobilization of the armies to liberate [Al-Aqsa mosque] from the filth of the Jews;” in Britain, for “armies to mobilize” for “the removal of the Jewish entity;” in Australia for the death of Muslim apostates; and in Denmark, HT has produced leaflets encouraging Muslims to kill Jews “wherever you find them.”

As a consequence, HT has already been banned in more than 25 countries, with Britain becoming the most recent. The fact that the HT proscription is in effect across the ideological and ethnographic spectrum—from Western liberal democracies to Communist regimes and Islamic, even Sharia-compliant, states—is testament to its sway. It is banned in Bangladesh for its association with violent plots and the radicalization of its members; in Germany for its violent antisemitic rhetoric calling for the destruction of the Jewish people; and in Indonesia, China, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere for its fundamentalist calls to dissolve states and establish in their place an Islamic Caliphate. One 2004 report cites accounts that HT members were involved in coups in Jordan, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq and Egypt. HT also has an uncanny ability to recruit, radicalize and export foreign fighters to terror groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. According to The Times of London, HT is responsible for a recruitment ring in Birmingham that is “linked to more homegrown terrorists than anywhere else in the UK.”

In Britain, two past attempts to ban HT under the Blair and Cameron governments failed because the local branch had always been careful to avoid direct support for terrorism. That changed last week when HT escalated into clear praise for the actions of the Hamas terrorist group on Oct. 7, describing them as “heroes” following the brutal massacre of 1,200 men, women and children in southern Israel. Concurrent to and significant for the proscription was a new recognition by the U.K. government regarding the organizational unity of HT, despite its many national affiliates. As Minister for Security Tom Tugendhat rightly noted in a House of Commons debate, “one branch cannot be separated from another.”

As for the United States, little is known about HT America’s current activities, funding, leadership or membership numbers, though the group boasts 12,000-plus followers on X (formerly Twitter), more than 28,000 on Facebook and uses its “Caliphate Conference” in Chicago to shore up the group’s numbers and recruit young people into radical Islamist ideology—reportedly at one stage a self-described training ground for Al Qaeda.

We do know that HT America likes to use the language of the progressive left to condemn America, Israel and Western civilization at large—a clear attempt to attract and indoctrinate young people, especially students. References to “settler-colonialism,” “oppression” and “apartheid” are deployed liberally by HT America speakers. This corresponds to the rhetoric seen on campuses and in the streets by an unnervingly large segment of U.S. society since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, with support for Hamas and the Houthis made explicit under the cover of enlightened, progressive causes. The growth of this ideology on the American campus makes it a fertile recruitment ground for groups like HT.

Now that a key “HT nerve center” has been officially proscribed in Britain, HT is certain to target the United States as the best long-term bet to entrench and grow in a key Western country. Supported by tighter laws against extremist speech borne from recent historical experience, European lawmakers are far more willing and able to crack down on hateful and inciting speech. That may lead to future bans on the continent. But First Amendment protections would make HT’s continuing legal presence in America much more assured.

All of this should serve as ample warning for America—an obvious growth market for HT leadership—where the group has managed to fly under the radar despite actively and openly recruiting members since at least 2009. While HT America is both younger and less notorious than now-banned HT Britain (established in 1986), that could easily change with the establishment of a new “HT nerve center” in the United States. Chicago hotels and campuses should be shunning HT across the board, and the rest of us should not hesitate to expose the true nature of this deceptively malign organization.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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