Founded in 1953 in the Middle East, Hizb ut-Tahrir (Islamic Liberation Party) is a transnational Muslim political movement which has caught the attention of experts in Central Asian affairs over the recent years.
It has become quite active in recruiting in Uzbekistan and neighboring countries and has met harsh repression, too. However, there has been little research conducted on Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT); there is only one full-length academic book and a few articles about the movement. This led a Washington-based think tank, the Nixon Center, to organize a closed conference on HT in Ankara, Turkey, in late February, which RW attended.
Founded at a time the militant Islamist scene used to be less crowded, HT seems to have lost its momentum in the Arab world, where it had originally hoped to reach its goals of establishing the nucleus of a pan-Islamic Califate. Its fundamental opposition to a nationalist agenda has prevented it from joining the Intifada and made it increasingly irrelevant among Palestinians.
But since the 1990s, HT has taken root in several non Arab countries where it has not been present before. It is reported that today its largest number of cells are in Indonesia and Uzbekistan. Its presence in the United Kingdom has facilitated its spread to new places.
In Central Asia, its promises of a bright future under the restored Caliphate and a relative lack of competition on the Islamic political scene have made it an attractive option for some, although it is uncertain what the consequences of the heavy state repression in countries such as Uzbekistan will mean for the future of the group.
While most of the presenters at the Ankara conference came from the field of security studies and terrorism research, there seemed to be a general agreement that HT as a group has never been involved in terrorist activities. The question for several participants was rather to evaluate how far — independently of its practices and political orientations of the organization itself — its radical discourse in itself could represent a breeding ground for violence. Consequently, while not overstating its importance, they tended to consider HT as an ideological challenge in the current context.