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Defending Freedom from Islamist Terror By: Stephen Schwartz
Weekly Standard | Saturday, July 19, 2003


THE POET Archibald Macleish wrote, at the beginning of the Second World War, "How shall freedom be defended? By arms when it is attacked by arms; by truth when it is attacked by lies; by democratic faith when it is attacked by authoritarian dogma. Always and in the final act, by determination and faith."

Naturally, we all wish that the defense of freedom, especially in aspiring democracies like those of Central Asia, may be accomplished through peaceful transitions, such as were seen in Spain after Franco, in the Philippines with the fall of Marcos, in South Korea, in Chile, and in such European ex-Communist states as Poland and Hungary.

But before freedom can be established, the enemies of freedom must be defeated. The fate of democracies that do not defeat the enemies of democracy is illustrated by the histories of Germany and Italy after the First World War. Democracies can grant mercy to their enemies only from a position of unchallengeable strength.

There has been much discussion of Uzbekistan, a U.S. ally in the war on terror, and the flaws in its legal standards when dealing with Islamic extremists. For example, U.S. State Department reports on human rights abuses around the world have included numerous allegations against Uzbekistan, many involving the government's struggle to suppress Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT). A clandestine subversive movement originating among Palestinians, HT is now present in most places where Muslims are found.

Central Asia and the neighboring areas, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, along with the Sunni zones of Iraq, are on the front lines in the battle against infiltration by agents of the extremist Wahhabi sect, which is the state religion in Saudi Arabia, and its various ideological satellites. HT represents a mixture of Communist methodology, Wahhabi theology, and fascist rhetoric.

In this context, the International Crisis Group (ICG) has just issued a report titled "Radical Islam in Central Asia: Responding to Hizb Ut-Tahir." I am a former employee of ICG, but my concern about this report has nothing to do with anything personal with respect to my experiences there. Rather, ICG's report includes a number of statements that are ridiculous on their face. In the very first paragraph of the executive summary and recommendations, it is stated that HT has "been met with a heavy-handed repression that threatens to radicalize members still further."

This line comes after a description of HT as "highly radical, advocating the overthrow of governments throughout the Muslim world."

I fail to comprehend how a group described this way can then be "radicalize(d) even further." Its origins are in the most extreme wing of Palestinian neo-Wahhabism, associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and it has had links with Hamas. President Bush has identified Hamas as "determined enemies of peace." There is no reason to describe HT in different terms.

Three paragraphs further, we find it stated that HT "admits participation in a number of failed coup attempts in the Middle East. It also has contacts with some groups much less scrupulous about violence." These comments are followed by the absurd declaration that "despite the allegations of governments, there is no proof of [HT's] involvement in terrorist activities in Central Asia or elsewhere."

It would be useless to ransack dictionaries in order to find support for suggestions that "failed coup attempts" are not the same as "terrorism," or that "contacts" and "involvement" with terrorist groups are somehow different. Furthermore, this argument partakes of what I call the "fallacy of prior restraint." The fallacy holds that no "prior restraint" can take place against an extremist group until it embarks on a campaign of violence.

Since September 11, the United States no longer accepts the claim that the free exercise of terrorist agitation, incitement, and organization outweighs the benefits of legal sanction. Here, the "fallacy of prior restraint" has been replaced by a reliance on the doctrines of "probable cause" and "preemption." That is, extremist rhetoric provides sufficient probable cause to take preemptive action to prevent bloodshed. In addition, it was never anything but ludicrous to imagine that the domestic legal standards of the United States could be applied to Uzbekistan and other transitional states.

THE ICG REPORT goes on to argue that "repression of [HT] members . . . has radicalized the movement." The document recommends, among other unrealistic proposals, that the government of Kyrgyzstan "reject calls for more severe measures against [HT] members, which will merely increase their radicalism." To the United States and other members of the international community, ICG appeals for "resist[ing] calls to ban [HT] in Western countries, which would . . . push the party underground and into more radical positions." But HT is a conspiracy, and invariably functions underground. To suggest that HT would be driven from conspiracy into an underground status is to show no knowledge of subversive politics whatever.

Conflicts between HT and "ordinary Wahhabism" do exist. Similarly, Deobandism, the original ideology of the Taliban, had many points that distinguished it from classic Wahhabism. But while it may be appropriate for academics to split hairs over these controversies, at the governmental level these are distinctions that distract from the defense of aspiring democracies against their enemies. HT has a long and undeniable history of extremist associations. Its differences with the Saudis and other Wahhabis are incidental.

In the conclusion of the report, ICG demands that "a clear line . . . be drawn between terrorist organizations and armed groups on the one hand and those such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir that do not carry out acts of violence." It further calls for "a nuanced approach to Islamist organizations, even the very radical," and continues, "Lumping them together with violent groups such as al Qaeda merely undermines the campaign against terrorism and gives ammunition to [the] radicals."

BY THEIR RADICALISM, groups like HT that do not presently carry out acts of violence nonetheless prepare an environment conducive to violence. Identifying the advocates of extreme ideology with the practitioners of terror does not "undermine the campaign against terrorism." The campaign against terrorism is undermined by weakness, irresolution, and apologetics, not by identifying the enemy.

In addition, the ICG report deals superficially with the issue of HT funding, noting only that some observers believe the movement is subsidized by rich residents of the Gulf states. The main weapon against HT that can be applied by Western governments is to pursue financial sanctions against the Gulf regimes and their subjects that continue to support these activities, and to make clear that a refusal to cut off such financing will result in financial reprisals against Gulf-based holdings in Western banks.

The United States, which has entered into a military alliance with Uzbekistan, must support the Uzbeks in their internal as well as their external combat, and must repudiate the blandishments of the human rights industry.


Stephen Schwartz, an author and journalist, is author of The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror. A vociferous critic of Wahhabism, Schwartz is a frequent contributor to National Review, The Weekly Standard, and other publications.


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