Peter Oborne’s article in the Guardian was one which reached the height of the abnormal, Of course going to dinner with the subject hardly makes for an objective point of view, but still i had hoped for better. There seemed to be no real questioning for a leader of a group which has a viewpoint on apostates, women, and the gay community which many find discriminatory at best. Oborne was interviewing the head of Hizb Ut-Tahrir in Britain. Hizb Ut-Tahrir is an Islamist group which believes in an Islamic caliphate. The interview covered a number of subjects, from democracy to the notion of extremism.In this bizarre interview, the subject claims that being an extremist is the secular notion for ‘heretic’. To analyse this we have to question why we use the word ‘extremist’ what do we mean by it?
In this country when we talk of extremism, we talk of a group which has no room for compromise, a group which holds positions which threatens the civil rights of others, and in some cases those which threaten the lives of our citizens through overt violence. Hizb Ut-Tahrir can legitimately claim to be non-violent, however it cannot escape the theocratic state it wants to impose, and the positions on homosexuality, apostates, women, and other issues, that they hold which fits perfectly into the ‘extremist’ category. To argue as Dr Abdul Wahid does that extremism means something that deviates from what is acceptable in mainstream society is nonsense,if it was the case then all sorts of organisations would be ‘extremists’. The Church of England, Cannabis clubs, and people who believe in polygamy would be seen as ‘extremists’, but they aren’t for a very good reason. None of these organisations, or systems of beliefs, actively create discrimination or believe in upturning our essentially secular liberal democracy, into a theocratic one. To claim secular liberal values discriminates against people is a straw man argument, secular liberal government protects those against the oppressors. Hizb Ut-Tahrir’s values are those of an oppressive system, against people who renounce their faith, against the lgbt community, and yes against women who want to lead the state they participate in.
Democracy obviously comes up in the interview. Dr Wahid states that his group obviously believe in democracy, that people elect the Khaleefa (leaders of the theocratic state) similar to how we elect a Prime Minister. However, democracy isn’t just about voting. The voting system within this theocracy is limited to Islamic values and an Islamic system of governance via the Shari’a as given by Islamic documents. The vote is merely about the leader and running of the overall system, and if any leader tried to divert from these values, Hizb Ut-Tahrir argue in their manifesto can be immediately removed. This is in contrast to a representative democracy which relies upon pluralism. Pluralism is a necessary feature of any democratic system, and without it the democracy which it seeks to attain will wither and die. Any coalition with this political theory is also denied in this document, only total submission will do. While the Hizb Ut-Tahrir manifesto, and even draft constitution contains mentions of equal rights this does not fully apply, for instance they don’t believe in equal marriage for lgb people. I’m also as should everyone else be wary of religions, political movements, and cults which punish adults for deciding to leave and renounce their previous membership, that level of intolerance is dangerous whatever spin you try and put on it.
Dr Wahid makes the argument that we live in a ‘constitutional monarchy’ and have a house of lords so of course Cameron cannot talk about democratic values. Dig beneath the surface of this quickfire analysis, and you see the flaws immediately. The Monarchy’s prerogative powers long ago passed to the Prime Minister, they are now a constitutional aberration in our messily arranged system. The House of Lords also long ago lost real power, in 1911 they lost the right to veto and thus primacy was placed in the Commons, and in 1949 lost even further power so they can only delay a bill for a year, rather than have one veto and a delay of two years. This is all a deflection from the grim reality of an authoritarian state that Hizb Ut-Tahrir wish to create.
Another critical point in the interview is on the subject of women. Of course women can play an active part in public life claims Dr Wahid, except when it comes to leading the caliphate. Of course women can make contributions to public life, but cannot be in a mixed meeting with the men. Of course women can have freedom, except from deciding how they may dress. This all sounds horribly similar to the separate but equal rulings in the United States all those years ago. Dr Wahid then makes the comical comparison, to the segregation of women from male public meetings to Woman’s hour which broadcasts on channel 4. He seemingly cannot distinguish between segregation, and a programme which is dedicated to a woman’s view on the world which supplements programmes with both men and women on. Much like his seeming inability to understand secular liberal values and how they operate in defending people from harm.
The last part of Oborne’s article mentions Hizb Ut-Tahrir’s right to speak, i find this an interesting proposition. The right to free speech is important, and a foundation stone for a truly democratic and free state. I have always taken the view that speech is always allowed, unless it incites others to commit violence. What I find interesting specifically about Dr Wahid is despite his protestation at a need for free speech, he belongs to an organisation which seemingly doesn’t believe in this right at all. It works both ways, If Dr Wahid wants to be able to put controversial points across, and including views which belong to a homophobic group, I and everyone else reserves the right to call them out when they protest others speech (especially when it is against such minor cartoons). Banning Hizb Ut-Tahrir isn’t the way forward, it’s far better to debate, disagree, and to protect minority rights. On that at least Peter Oborne is right.