A warning to all UK student unions and secularist speakers: steer well clear.
We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom. We see under the Khilafa (caliphate), when people used to engage in a positive way, this idea of freedom was redundant, it was unnecessary, because the society understood under the education system of the Khilafa state, and under the political framework of Islam, that people must engage with each other in a positive and productive way to produce results, as the Qur’an says, to get to know one another.
In recent years, Islamist groups in the UK have been employing the tactic of using pseudo-academic speakers to spread their ideologies and gain support and membership at UK university campuses. Birmingham University Islamic Society have recently invited hate-preacher and Hamas supporter Azaam Tamimi despite a wave of protest. This post is intended to raise public awareness of an upcoming speaking tour by another Islamic speaker who has suspected links with the extremist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir.
An email-shot and blog post by Islamic speaker Hamza Andreas Tzortzis of the Hittin Institute is advertising a lecture and debate tour of several UK universities over the coming weeks. beginning this Tuesday, 26 January 2010 at Northumbria University. The full list is in the Appendix of this post.
Tzortzis, a convert to Islam from a Greek “humanist-spiritualist” upbringing, styles himself as an “intellectual activist”. He has been lecturing on university campuses on such topics as “Islamic Law – Barbaric or Misunderstood?” and “The Miracle of the Qur’an” as well as debating some fairly prominent atheist writers on the existence of God and the morality of religious faith. Tzortzis claims that the Qur’an itself is a miracle capable only of explanation by the authorship of an omnipotent deity. However, this appears to be more on literary grounds than the book containing any knowledge or insight that could not have already be known or imagined by anyone at the time of its 7th century authorship.
Viewing several of Tzortzis’ debates on YouTube, he is a particularly confrontational character with a host of tricks up his sleeve to make up for his deficient philosophical arguments which in any event appear to be culled from a William Lane Craig debate. This is evident from Tzortzis’ debate with Philosophy Now magazine’s Rick Lewis and the summary of his opening address, particularly in his use of Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument: “whatever begins to exist has a cause” and “asking ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ is one of the most important questions that we can ask”.
Skip 1 hour 52 minutes into this debate with philosopher and author of Can a Robot be Human?, Peter Cave:
At the very least, Tzortzis ought to be challenged on whether he has actually read all 700-odd pages of John Barrow and Frank Tipler’s book, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, or whether he just lifted the line about the improbability of evolution from the following Craig clip:
Tzortzis’ links with Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT)
The Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) reported on the activities of extremist Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain (HTB) in November 2009 (download PDF). Readers will probably have heard of the group most recently in relation to Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, asking about HTB’s control of publically funded schools at Prime Minister’s Questions on 25 November 2009 without getting his facts quite right and allowing the government to spin their way out of trouble.
According to the CSC report (executive summary) HTB is:
[A] revolutionary Islamist party that works to establish an expansionist super-state in Muslim-majority countries, unifying Muslims worldwide as one political bloc, or “ummah”…
Inherent to HT’s worldview is a clash between “Western” and “Islamic” civilisations. The party believes the United Kingdom and United States of America are leading a campaign against Islam and Muslims worldwide. HT considers the influence of Western thought and physical presence in Muslim-majority countries as a threat to Islam, which it wishes to “uproot”. Liberal values – secularism, human rights and pluralism – are rejected as “un-Islamic” because they differ from HT’s Islamist doctrine. Promoting democracy, for example, is seen as part of a Western conspiracy to weaken Islam. Communism and socialism are also rejected despite HT’s founder and ideologue heavily borrowing from socialist concepts to formulate party ideology.
While HT is not a terrorist organisation, its revolutionary Islamism belongs to the same political spectrum as entry-level Islamists (the Muslim Brotherhood) and militant Islamists (al-Qaeda). While they differ in methodology, the end goal of all three organisations is to create an “Islamic state”. A number of militant Islamist groups emerged in the Middle East as a result of being radicalised by HT’s sectarian ideology, and former members have since participated in terrorism.
The tactics employed by HT include:
… [adopting] front groups – youth groups, student and community organisations – to disseminate its ideology. Designed to circumnavigate the party’s possible proscription, HTB uses front groups to embed its ideology within British Muslim communities…
The party focuses on university campuses, youth organisations and mosques. In some cases, HTB members have targeted school children. For example, party members run the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation – a charity that manages two primary schools – and write the schools’ curriculum based on HT’s version of Islam. The government regulatory body Ofsted has praised the schools’ “Islamic” ethos and the foundation has received £113,411 in government grants.
One of the tactics employed by the group is to use front individuals to speak on university campuses to spread their ideology and recruit supporters.
The following segment based on the CSC’s report; pages 95 – 97 (PDF format pages 104 – 106 out of 175):
HTB appears to be adopting a policy of using “front” individuals to propagate its brand of Islamism. The authors of the report believe that Tzortzis is one such individual. While Tzortzis obfuscates the issue of his association with HTB, one former party member attests to his previous involvement in the organisation and suggests that he may have distanced himself from the party in order to give him and his organisation plausible deniability. In April 2008 Tzortzis wrote to the Centre for Social Cohesion to invite a representative to participate in a panel discussion on community cohesion in East London. The email, signed from Tzortzis, was sent from firstname.lastname@example.org. In 2006 Tzortzis was Deputy Chairman of the Hackney Muslim Organisation (HMO), a now inactive community group. HMO organised a fundraising dinner in August of that year for Interpal, where Tzortzis gave a platform and spoke alongside Taji Mustafa, a member of HTB’s executive committee.
Tzortzis speaks regularly at events organised by HTB, advocating the Islamist belief that Islam is a divinely-inspired political system and therefore superior to liberal democracy which is man-made. For example, in a video posted on the party’s website of an HTB event in Central London in April 2008, Tzortzis is recorded saying:
It’s a very real, very rational argument that the Qur’an can only be from the creator. And these are arguments that we need to develop, that we need to research, in order to discuss, ideologically, with the non-Muslims, to show to them that Islam does not have to be defended. And I am not here today to defend Islam in any shape or form. When they mention democracy and secularism, they say why these are enlightened values? They don’t justify their belief and nor should we in some cases, why should we justify what Allah (SWT) says when we must cut the hand of the thief with all these conditions, why would we justify the social system?
Our deen, our aqeedah is based on something that is real that is rational and that is proven. Whereas their aqeedah and their manifestations of their aqeedah is based on something weak, based on the compromise, and something that can be easily refuted.
Tzortzis’ website details recent university debates which reflect this oppositional paradigm: “This House Believes Islam is the Only Intellectual and Political Challenge to Secular Liberalism” (QM University, 10 July 2008); “Islam & Secular Liberalism: Which One Makes More Sense?” (University of East London (UEL), 13 September 2008); “Has Freedom of Speech Gone Too Far?” (UEL, 8 November 2008); “Islam & Democracy” (University of Bristol International Affairs Society, 18 November 2008); “Islam or Liberalism: Which is the Way Forward?” (London School of Economics, 23 January 2009).
At a February 2008 HTB event in Whitechapel, HTB reports that Tzortzis urged his Muslim majority audience to:
Embark on an intellectual path of dawah to the non-Muslims in the UK, thus enable them to understand why Muslims are trying so hard to end the chaos in the Muslim lands and establish the Islamic Khilafah State there.
In March 2009, Tzortzis spoke at an event entitled, “Islamic Law – Barbaric or Misunderstood?”, hosted by the Birmingham University Guild of Students.
As the unseen questioner in the audience at c. 50 minutes after the main address points out, it is a presentation worthy of an opinion column in the Daily Mail with selective use of statistics to discredit Western liberal secular society without any comparison to those governed by fundamentalist Islam. Tzortzis’ main line of attack is that liberal secular society is “individualistic” and “unstable” while the Islamic law offers “cohesiveness”. More interesting though is that Tzortzis explicitly refuses to condemn barbaric punishments under the Shariah such as cutting off the hands of thieves and executing adulterers, but hides behind weasel-words such “context”.
HTB membership – sign on the dotted line?
Tzortzis may well deny direct involvement and/or membership of HTB, and vice-versa. However, this is a piece of administrative casuistry, since the group and its members often try to distance themselves from each other in public. For example, Ed Husain’s book, The Islamist was first published in 2007 describing the author’s involvement with HTB. Following the book’s publication, however, HTB denied that Husain was ever a formal member of the group. In addition, this post by former HTB activist, “Imaad”, on Harry’s Place, shows the somewhat ad hoc requirements of membership of HTB in discussing Farah Ahmed, the head teacher of one of the two London schools funded by the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation, which is alleged to be run by HTB:
[B]eing a “member” of HT is not like being a member of any other organisation.
With most groupings (be they Islamic Forum Europe, the West Yorkshire Women’s Institute or the Labour Party) if you come along to a few meetings and get involved with activities then you will be asked at some point to write your name and address in a book somewhere, hand over a few pounds for subs and you are officially a member.
Hizb ut-Tahrir does not work like that. I fully accepted their ideology, campaigned for them, manned stalls outside mosques and universities to propagandise for them, helped arrange their annual conferences and even distributed Khilafah Mag (pdf) – HT’s in-house magazine for which Farah Ahmed used to write crude propaganda pieces – but I was never officially a member. I was one of the so-called Shabab (lit. Young men) who are devoted to HT and whose activism on behalf of the party HT could not operate without. They take a full role in working towards the Khilafah state (Caliphate) and attend HT study sessions (halaqas) – after they’ve attended the halaqas for a while and completed the first three core books in HT’s programme of theo-political indoctrination they even pay a subscription to the party – but they are not, according to HT, members.
HT works on the principle of plausible deniability. Some of the people who are most important to spreading HT’s ideology are not technically HT members or even Shabab. Hamza Andreas Tzortzis of the Hittin Institute can deny being an HT member all he likes but nobody can deny the similarity between the Hittin Institute’s output (pdf) and HT’s propaganda. Of course he has made certain slips that indicate where his loyalties lie, for example emailing the Centre for Social Cohesion back in 2008 from the address email@example.com and regularly speaking at HT organised events, but officially he is not an HT member.
The simple fact is that Farah may not consider herself to officially be a member of HT any more but, by most normal standards of what a member of a group is, she could well still be involved with HT… [and a supporter of the group’s] insane totalitarian ideology. After all, there is no difference in views between HT’s supporters, activists and fully-fledged “members”.
In conclusion – do not give Tzortzis credibility by offering him a platform or sharing one with him
While the writer hopes that this post will prevent all UK university Islamic societies from giving Tzortzis a platform ever again, this is highly unlikely. More realistically, student unions can now be warned about the man’s true political intentions in order for action to be taken the higher levels and overrule the Islamic societies. Readers are asked to forward the link to this post to their local universities, humanist groups and another other potentially interested parties.
Moreover, the main purpose of this post is to warn all atheist, secularist and humanist speakers of the dangers of sharing a platform with Tzortzis. While it is stressed that there is no evidence of a direct physical risk to person or property, speakers should err on the side of caution and bear this possibility in mind. The greatest risk is that if humanist speakers are willing to share a platform with Tzortzis in a discussion or a debate, this will only give him further credibility and further opportunity to spread the ideology of HTB.
Most prominent evolutionary scientists refuse to debate creationists on the grounds that such a debate would leave the scientifically ignorant public with the impression that there was an issue worth debating. A geographer would not go head-to-head with a flat earther, nor would an historian take on a Holocaust denier. For the creationists, winning or losing the actual debate is irrelevant; the victory is that the debate has happened at all and they have appeared alongside a reputable scientist and given the oxygen of publicity.
In a similar vein, if a humanist speaker was to share a platform with a front man for a radical Islamist group and debated the merits of Western secular society against those of Shariah Islam, it would give the public the false impression that there was an argument to be had at all.