Islamic group challenges ban on it in Germany

BERLIN – Very few Germans have heard of it, but there is a case slowly working its way through the administrative courts that could strongly influence Germany’s strenuous and popular efforts to deal with what officials consider a threat from Islamic militants living here.

The case has been filed by Hizb ut-Tahrir, or Party of Liberation, an Islamic group with members in many European countries.

The group’s overriding objective – if far-fetched – is to unite the entire Muslim world under a single caliph, or supreme theocratic leader, reviving a system that has not existed since the early decades of Islamic history.

The group freely operates in several European countries, with its largest membership, its supporters say, in Britain, but it was banned two years ago in Germany by the interior minister, Otto Schily. He accused it of “spreading violent propaganda and anti-Jewish agitation.”

Islam / Islamism

Islamism is a totalitarian ideology adhered to by Muslim extremists (e.g. the Taliban, Wahhabis, Hamas and Osama bin Laden). It is considered to be a distortion of Islam. Many Islamists engage in terrorism in pursuit of their goals.

Adherents of Islam are called “Muslims.” The term “Arab” describes an ethnic or cultural identity. Not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs. The terms are not interchangeable.

The group is seeking to overturn that ban in Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig, which reviews decisions by government ministries.

Whether the group succeeds or not – and some officials in Germany concede that it may be able to make a strong legal case – the case illustrates a vexing aspect of the struggle against Islamic terrorism in Europe.

There are certainly groups in Europe that see Osama bin Laden as a hero, and support jihad against Christians, Jews and Western civilization. But Hizb ut-Tahrir’s members say that they disapprove of Al Qaeda and its methods, that their goals concern only Islamic countries, and that they are largely intellectuals who do not resort to violence and take care not to violate the laws of their host countries.

In other words, Hizb ut-Tahrir says it is very different from, say, the radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was arrested in Britain in May. Masri’s fiery sermons at the Finsbury Park Mosque in London are said to have attracted many Muslims – including Richard Reid, who was sentenced to life in prison for trying to blow up a plane with explosive-laden sneakers – to take part in a holy war against the West.

But Hizb ut-Tahrir and groups like it fall into a gray area, which leads to the question: Should they be taken at their word and given the benefit of the doubt, or should they be seen as German intelligence sees them, as hiding jihadist goals behind an apparently legal facade?

“The British government obviously accepted that al-Masri was a threat, that he was inciting violence,” Gary Saymore, a terrorism expert at International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said in a telephone interview. “But the European countries that have large Muslim communities face a challenge because they have to monitor what these guys are saying and make a difficult determination whether what they say goes over the line from religion to criminality.”

Germany, the country that unwittingly provided a base for the leading figures in the Sept. 11 plot, has been especially vigilant against the possibility that other groups here could foment new attacks or recruit for terror operations. To that end, the authorities have been waging a campaign against Hizb ut-Tahrir and a couple of similar Islamic organizations believed to harbor jihadist sympathies or encourage hatred of Jews.

The only person known to have been expelled for ties to militant Islam, Nizar al-Saqeb, a Yemeni engineering student, was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and he was believed by the German authorities to have had contacts with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of the main Sept. 11 planners. The Germans have served expulsion orders on several other Hizb ut-Tahrir members, who so far have all managed to stay in Germany by claiming political asylum.

The German police have also raided homes and offices of suspected members, carrying away computer files. But even some German police and intelligence officials acknowledge that the raids have failed to turn up clear incriminating material on the group, though they say they have little doubt that its beliefs and aims do constitute a threat.

Moreover, since the ban, some intelligence officials say, the group has become more careful in what it says publicly, which could present a problem for the German authorities in the forthcoming case in court.

Two members of the group, interviewed in Germany in recent months, deny any links to terrorism or to anti-Semitism, or to any illegal activity.

“We appreciate that we can live here,” a leading member of the group, who was willing to be identified only as Shakar A., said in an interview in the city of Duisburg, “so we accept the laws and we reject doing anything illegal and we have no intention of overthrowing any Western government.”

In the case of Hizb ut-Tahrir, Schily imposed his ban after receiving reports that leaders of a neo-Nazi group, the German National Party, had met with Hizb ut-Tahrir at the end of 2001.

“The organization wants to sow hatred and violence,” Schily said at the time. “I do not tolerate such activities.”

Shaker A. said that the meeting attended by two members of the neo-Nazi group was an open event and that Hizb ut-Tahrir did not control who attended.

Another member of the group, Muhammad Shaqura, a Palestinian, said his group did not engage in violence.

But it supports others who do, he said, if they are fighting the “enemies of Islam,” which include, he indicated, the United States and Israel.

Asked, for example, about suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, Shaqura’s response was, “It’s allowed,” on the grounds that every Israeli can be considered a soldier

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
New York Times, via The International Herald Tribune, USA
Sep. 27, 2004
Richard Bernstein, New York Times

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday September 27, 2004.
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