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Palestinian group sounds like Al Qaeda but forgoes violence

Hizb ut-Tahrir moves to fill void left by Hamas in the West Bank

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The boy's uncle, Abdul-Nasser, puts the issue of why Palestinians are turning to Hizb ut-Tahrir into a broader perspective. "It's only natural that people feel threatened by the PA and look at it as a collaborator. People feel the Palestinian Authority is not with the people," he says.

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"Hamas started with a similar ideology, but time has proven that the liberation of Palestine is not going to go according to Hamas' route, through resistance." At the same time, he says, Palestinians don't think that the answer lies in Fatah's approach – a negotiated settlement with foreign intervention and aid.

"The only route is with the march of armies under the rule of the caliph," he says. Anything else, including tit-for-tat violence and especially peace talks, is a waste of time. "Talks are not only useless and futile, but they're very destructive. These negotiations are only geared to protect the security of Israel. The majority of people support this view and support Hizb ut-Tahrir, Thank God, even though the media is hiding that."

While it is difficult to determine the depth of Palestinian support for Hizb ut-Tahrir, it's probably not accurate to say the media is trying to obfuscate the movement's rising star.

"Hamas is clearly weakening in the West Bank. The West Bank leadership has been distancing itself dramatically from the Gaza leadership, and we are seeing the reemergence of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a political player," says Mr. Ya'ari.

James Brandon, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Social Cohesion in London and an expert on Hizb ut-Tahrir, says that party officials worldwide don't advocate or organize violent attacks. "But ... they act as a conveyor belt organization, in which they attract people and radicalize them, and then those people eventually move on, reject the Hizb ut-Tahrir method, and start looking to Al Qaeda."

Growing in the US and Pakistan

He says that the group is growing in Indonesia and Pakistan, but appears to be losing supporters in Britain, where it is headquartered, and where politicians have talked of banning the group because some of its members graduated to organizations involved in acts of terrorism in Britain and elsewhere. Mr. Brandon says that the group, which has been banned in some Central Asian countries, is growing in popularity in the US and in Holland.

"They're quite good at getting followers initially, but it is based on such incremental change that after a while, people get bored with it," Brandon explains. "They tell people, you just have to be patient until we can overthrow all the regimes in Muslim or Arab lands. Whereas in Palestine, people have tried asserting their national or religious identity with existing groups and this hasn't worked, so maybe the attitude is, 'let's try something new.' "

The group may also have growing appeal in some countries because its pan-Islamic message can be translated into a promise to heal the Shiite-Sunni rift that opened in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Hizb ut-Tahrir's leader, Sheikh Atta Abu Rishta, reportedly lives in Lebanon but does not make regular media appearances. Jabari, the spokesman in Hebron, notes with some pride there is no cult of personality surrounding their leader and one will not find a picture of him or any other Hizb ut-Tahrir leader tacked on the wall of a home or office, as is common with other religious and political parties in the Middle East. Until there is a caliph, which means literally "successor" or "representative" of the prophet Mohammad, he says, no man's image belongs on the wall.

Hizb ut-Tahrir

Hizb ut-Tahrir means "Party of Liberation." It is an Islamist political movement with a draft constitution that includes 186 articles.

What are its goals? To establish an Islamic state, regulated by sharia law, a legal system based on Muslim principles that governs most aspects of society. It advocates for economic and social justice and maintains a nonviolent approach, which has grown its grass-roots appeal in countries with large Muslim populations and poor socioeconomic conditions.

When was it created? It was founded in 1952 in Jerusalem by Muhammad Taqiuddin an Nabhani al-Falsatan (1909 – 1977), an exiled Palestinian judge. It was quickly banned in Jordan.

Where are its supporters? Supporters may be found throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and other areas with large Muslim populations, including the US and Europe.

What is its status? Critics claim that it fosters extremism, defenders say it is a haven for those seeking alternatives from Western or capitalist societies through political means. The group is banned in many countries, including Egypt and much of the Middle East, Germany, Pakistan, and Russia. It also came under investigation in Britain after the London bombings in July of 2005.

Source: Brookings Institution, Hizb-ut-Tahrir web site (www.hizbuttahrir.org), news reports

Compiled by Leigh Montgomery

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