Shiv trots out “conveyor belt” claim yet again

The Independent on Sunday today contains yet another multi-page feature on the London bombings and its aftermath, including yet another feature by Shiv Malik in which the “conveyor-belt to terrorism” claim is trotted out yet again. This is the idea that, by merely talking about the idea of an Islamic state, Hizbut-Tahreer effectively act as a recruiting agent for al-Qa’ida.

The much-recycled claim originates from one Zeyno Baran, a senior staff member at the Nixon Center and a contributor, along with “Steven Emerson and the Investigative Project” and Walid Phares, to the Counterterrorism Blog. After Malik repeated Zeyno’s conveyor-belt claim in the New Statesman the week after the bombings (see my comment on that here), she boasted about it on the CT blog and mentioned that she had coined the term in this article, The Road from Tashkent to the Taliban, in the National Review.

That article, subtitled “An Islamist terror group is undermining a U.S. ally”, mentions that an explosion took place last March in “a private house in Bukhara that allegedly was being used as a bomb factory and as a hiding place for Kalashnikov assault rifles and Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) propaganda”. Baran admits that there is a “credibility gap” regarding statements coming from the Karimov regime, but says that if “an HT site was used to store weapons, it would undermine HT’s claims that it is neither a violent nor a terrorist organization”.

One should note that, just because a group’s literature was found in a house, it doesn’t mean that the occupiers support that group, even if they are partly or wholly sympathetic. I myself have taken a few leaflets and hand-outs from HT and Muhajiroun activists outside mosques (particularly Croydon mosque), and have two of Abu Hamza’s books (Khawarij and Jihad, and Allah’s Governance on Earth). I bought these not because I support Abu Hamza (I don’t), but because I wanted to know what he had to say. If you look in my collection of Islamic books, though, you’ll find that most are of a traditional Islamic tendency.

In the same article, Baran calls al-Azhar University in Cairo, where HT founder Taqi al-Din al-Nabahani received his education, “a leading Islamic institute which, over the decades, became corrupted by the influence of radical Wahhabi teachings”. In fact, al-Azhar’s bad influence came mainly from modernists like Rashid Rida, himself under the spell of Muhammad Abduh; today, it produces many a distinguished Islamic scholar, and takes in students from decidedly non-Wahhabi areas like Malaysia and Hadramaut, as well as Egypt itself.

The claim about HT being a “conveyor-belt”, by producing “thousands of manipulated brains”, is also dubious to say the least, as HT’s vision of an Islamic state is entirely different from that of al-Qa’ida. HT’s vision involves a structural state with a permanent parliament they call the “Majlis al-Ummah”; al-Qa’ida’s is based on rulership in which the Shari’ah is enforced. HT, remember, was founded by a Palestinian who had lived in British-occupied Egypt, and would have been exposed to parliamentary systems of government. Many of the senior figures in the al-Qa’ida tendency are from the Gulf region, in which rulership is the norm. If people appear to “graduate” from HT to al-Qa’ida, it may well be the case that they reject HT’s methodology (particularly given that it has borne next to no fruit over the years).

Shiv Malik’s article in today’s Independent is juxtaposed with a picture of four females, with dark skins (but otherwise indistinct ethnicity) and white hijabs walking along a road, with a caption about HT encouraging Muslims to “isolate themselves from mainstream society by, for example, not voting”, a fact which has no apparent relevance to the picture - a disturbing trend in the media of late, in which innocuous facts are placed next to alarming facts or speculations. He claims that Baran “warned” him about HT’s tendency to produce “thousands of manipulated brains, which then ‘graduate’ from Hizb and become members of groups like al-Qa’ida”; this quote, in fact, comes directly from the National Review article mentioned above. Has Shiv Malik even met Zeyno Baran?

Malik does not agree with banninng HT, fearing that this would give it added credibility; his suggestion that their ideas “have been left unchallenged for almost 20 years” is false. Their ideas have been challenged from within the community: their doctrinal oddities, their vision of an Islamic state, their total failure to implement their programme anywhere, and their opposition to voting even to keep out decidedly anti-Islamic candidates. It’s likely that the continued focus on HT is a blind alley in the fight against extremism; reading Shiv Malik’s endless recycling of the same accusations, the phrase “money for old rope” comes to mind.

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