Muslim rally angers Jews: Islamic body accused of racism

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AN ESTIMATED 10,000 people are expected to attend a Muslim conference at London's Wembley Arena today. The aim of the International Muslim Khilafah conference, the biggest such gathering ever held in the West, is 'to assist in the work to unify the global Muslim community'.

The event has caused consternation among MPs and Jewish groups, particularly in the wake of the recent bombings of Jewish targets in London. Tory-run Brent council, in whose borough Wembley Arena lies, appealed unsuccessfully to the Home Secretary to ban the conference. The council leader, Bob Blackman, said the event 'would set back race relations in the area by 10 years'.

The conference organisers dismissed such claims. 'British politicians seem to believe in freedom of speech except when it comes to Muslims,' said Farid Kassim, a spokesman. So what is the truth about the people behind the conference?

It has been organised by the Muslim Unity Organisation, a coalition of Islamic groups. One group in particular - Hizb u Tahrir - is controversial. Its critics accuse it of anti-Semitism and links with terrorist organisations.

In the past few years, Hizb u Tahrir - Arabic for 'Liberation Party' - has gained a new following among young Muslims in Britain, particularly in colleges and universities. Founded in 1952 in Jordan, it is one of the more militant Islamic groups. Its aim is the resurrection of the Khilafah, or pan-national Islamic state. It calls for the destruction not only of of Israel but also of all existing Arab states that Hizb u Tahrir regards as 'secular' - even those, such as Iran, seen in the West as the embodiment of Islamic fundamentalism.

Hizb u Tahrir's often violent oppositional activities in Arab states have increasingly provoked repression, and many have banned it.

In Britain, Hizb u Tahrir is mainly an intellectual movement which has gained growing support among students. William Bell, last year's student union president at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies, believes its growth reflects the alienation of young Muslims from British society.

'Hizb u Tahrir appeals predominantly to young students from areas such as Tower Hamlets where racism is particularly prevalent,' he said. 'Only Hizb u Tahrir seems to speak to their anger and understand their frustrations.'

Jewish student groups have accused the organisation of promoting anti-Semitism and bigotry. According to Paul Solomon, campaigns officer for the Union of Jewish Students, 'Hizb u Tahrir is the prime cause of a climate of fear and harassment on British campuses this year.'

As evidence of Hizb u Tahrir's anti-Semitism, Mr Solomon pointed to a quotation from the prophet Mohamed which frequently appears on the organisation's leaflets: 'The hour of resurrection will not occur until the Muslims fight the Jews and the Muslims kill them.'

Mr Solomon is particularly incensed that the Wembley conference is taking place in the wake of the bombings. 'Last week, Hizbollah, an organisation that practises essentially what Hizb u Tahrir preaches, brought terror to London,' he said. 'The Government assured the Jewish community that it would search out these terrorists and bring them to justice.

'On the other hand it is allowing a conference of this kind with international speakers from heaven knows where, saying heaven knows what, to take place right here in the heart of London. That cannot be right.'

Mr Kassim dismissed allegations of anti-Semitism and said the quotations calling for the killing of Jews had been taken out of context.

'It is not an injunction for Muslims to fight Jews. Every single quote has been in reference to Israel, and the state of Israel is an enemy to Muslims,' he said.

The Hizb u Tahrir national organiser, Omar Bakri Muhammad, called the London bombings 'irresponsible' last week, and argued that neither the Israeli embassy nor Jewish community groups were 'legitimate targets'.

Both the Home Office and the police confirm that there is no evidence of terrorist attacks by Hizb u Tahrir followers. But Mr Solomon dismisses this as irrelevant: 'The ideology of Hizb u Tahrir has a large number of similarities to the ideology of Hizbollah. One cannot say for sure that in the future Hizb u Tahrir activists may not be called upon to take part in the planning or even carrying out of acts of terrorism.'

Mr Bell believes that, although Hizb u Tahrir produces irresponsible literature, some of the arguments against it are dangerous. 'They are not helping to create an atmosphere of trust in the colleges,' he said, 'but I also think that the campaign against them is equally irresponsible.

'The media response to the bombings has been to bring out all the stereotypes about 'mad mullahs'. When people refer to the Wembley conference as a 'Muslim conference' and talk about it as being full of fanatics, and when they want to ban Hizb u Tahrir even though there is no evidence of any links with the bombings, surely that can only be understood as an attack on Muslims per se and on Islam.'

In this climate, Mr Bell believes, it is difficult to take a measured view of the issue. Even Mr Solomon agrees that there is a danger of the campaign against Hizb u Tahrir becoming part of an anti-Muslim backlash.

He said: 'It is unfortunate that many journalists have tapped into whatever bigoted views there are in this society about Muslims.'