Fighting the War of Ideas

VANGUARD PARTY

Islam and the West are not engaged in a clash of civilizations -- at least not yet. But the West is being drawn into the clash of two competing ideologies within the Islamic world. Proponents of the first believe that Islam is compatible with secular democracy and basic civil liberties. Proponents of the second are committed to replacing the current world order with a new caliphate -- that is, a global Islamic state. They are the ones who seek to trigger a true clash of civilizations, partly in order to force the more moderate Muslims to choose their interpretation of Islam.

Extremist Islamist organizations such as al Qaeda have become well known in recent years for trying to accomplish their objectives through terrorism and political violence. Less well known, however, are the complementary organizations devoted not to direct action but to ideological struggle. Of these, the most important has been Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT, or the Party of Liberation), a transnational movement that has served as radical Sunni Islamism's ideological vanguard.

HT is not itself a terrorist organization, but it can usefully be thought of as a conveyor belt for terrorists. It indoctrinates individuals with radical ideology, priming them for recruitment by more extreme organizations where they can take part in actual operations. By combining fascist rhetoric, Leninist strategy, and Western sloganeering with Wahhabi theology, HT has made itself into a very real and potent threat that is extremely difficult for liberal societies to counter.

HT's ideology and theology, which are derived from those of other radical Islamist groups, are simplified to make them more accessible to the masses. Whereas many other Islamist groups insist that their particular religious interpretation is the only valid one or are obsessed with a single issue, such as Israel or Kashmir, HT keeps its focus on the broader goal of uniting all Muslims under the Islamist banner and thus emphasizes issues of more general concern, such as the clash of civilizations or the injustices suffered by Muslims worldwide. Other radical Islamists therefore tend to see the group not as a competitor but as an ally and often use HT's concepts and literature (readily available on the Internet) to rally their own supporters.

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