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Chicago's Islamic Supremacist Conference: A Conversation

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

On the morning of July 17th 2009, coordinated explosions tore through a pair of luxury hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia—killing nine people and injuring dozens more. The attacks are believed to be the work of a local Islamist terror outfit known as Jemaah Islamiyah, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group in Southeast Asia.

On the morning of July 19th 2009, hundreds of American Muslims gathered at a luxury Hotel in suburban Chicago. They were attending the first ever U.S. meeting of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic supremacist organization whose extreme teachings have influenced hundreds of thousands of Muslims worldwide. Not coincidentally, the group has a strong following in Indonesia.

Put simply, Hizb ut-Tahrir serves as an ideological incubator that radicalizes Muslims, some of whom go on to join Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Its roster of notorious alumni includes 9/11 Mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad and former Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. Its leaders have urged Muslim governments to hinder international war efforts against radical Islam, and its literature has defended jihad as “legal, an obligation…the apex of Islamic ethics.” An official organization leaflet published in March called for the declaration of “a state of war” against the United States.

According to InvestigativeProject.org , attendees at Sunday’s event in Chicago heard from a number of speakers throughout the day, all addressing the event’s theme, “Fall of Capitalism, Rise of Islam.” One featured Imam offered this message to the assembled group:

“If [Americans] offer [Muslims] the sun, or the moon, or a nice raise, or a passport, or a house in the suburbs, or even a place to pray at the job—on the condition that we stop calling for Islam as a complete way of life, we should never do that, ever do that—unless and until Islam becomes victorious, or we die in the attempt.”

Two hours after the conference adjourned, my radio program hit Chicago’s airwaves. I devoted the entire opening segment to addressing Hizb ut-Tahrir’s radical beliefs and infamous adherents, as well as relaying news accounts of the controversial meeting at the Oak Lawn Hilton. As I prepared to switch topics to healthcare, my call screener informed me that a man calling himself “Mort” was on the line. He had attended the conference in question, and had called in wanting to “clarify some misconceptions” about the group. I took the call. I believe the transcript of our exchange speaks for itself.

Begin Transcript (emphasis added):

[Audio Clip] Fox News Anchor: “An Islamic extremist group, committed to building an empire around the globe—a group reportedly linked to Al Qaeda, by the way, and the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks—is holding a major conference at this very moment. Not on foreign soil, but right here on US soil. Steve Brown live right now in the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn, where the conference is underway as we speak.

GB: Alright, welcome back…I want to take a phone call here, because Mort is calling from Lombard, and he says that he is a Muslim and was at the conference—that I was just referencing—earlier today. Mort, thanks for calling.

Caller: No problem; Can you hear me?

GB: I can. So you’re saying that you were at the conference this afternoon?

Caller: Yes, I was physically at the conference. I was there this afternoon; I actually left around 5:00.

GB: So what was your goal in going to the conference? Are you a member of this group? Were you there to observe? Why were you there?

Caller: No, well, first of all, I’m an ex-member of this group. But my purpose of calling the show was to clarify some misconceptions. I do not support this group; I don’t agree with them…

GB: Then why were you there? (Crosstalk) Mort, I’m going to give you plenty of time to state your case here. I’m just trying to get some background information and a baseline before we move forward. You were there, you used to be a member of the group, you no longer are, yet you showed up to their conference anyway. Why?

Caller: Uh, to see what they were talking about, because I actually left the group back in 1998, and they recently re-emerged out of the shadows. (Unintelligible)…So I decided to attend it and see what they were going to talk about.

GB: You’re a Muslim, right?

Caller: Yes, I am a Muslim.

GB: Why did you leave the group in the 90s?

Caller: Um, because they don’t share the same ideas I do on creed, they’re a little bit different than what I make out Islam to be. They’re a little bit different. And, uh, I don’t agree with them—their methodologies.

GB: “A little bit” different. Like, where would be your point of departure from Hizb ut-Tahrir, ideologically?

Caller: Well, set aside…I’m talking about fundamentals. Setting aside their ideas about the establishment of an Islamic state, etc. I’m not even discussing that. I’m discussing fundamentals of the creed. As far as the origin of Islam…

GB: But hang on, Mort. Ok, you’re saying that’s different from fundamentals, but don’t you think the establishment of a global caliphate is kind of a very important thing if you disagree with them on that point?

Caller: I don’t disagree with them on having an Islamic state. I mean, I believe that Muslims should have an Islamic state. I don’t disagree with them on that note. No, I don’t disagree with them on that.

GB: Do you think that Sharia Law should be imposed in the United States?

Caller: I don’t think it should be in this state. I think it should be allowed to happen in Muslim countries. If it comes to (the U.S.), and if it does by the people, then that’s something else. But I don’t think their aim is to have it in this country. Their aim at this conference, as I gathered, was to have it in the Muslim countries. And the premise of their argument was that there are a lot of foreign influences in Muslim governments, and they’re preventing an Islamic state from arising.

GB: Mort, what do you think—just out of curiosity—I know I’m kind of going off on a tangent here: What do you think about what’s going on in Iran? Do you support Ahmadinejad and Khamenei there? Do you think they’re the vanguards of true Islam?

Caller: Can I be quite frank and honest with you? I don’t really agree with the Shia version of Islam. I don’t think that they are in accordance with Islam. I think they have deviated from the practices. To be honest, I think the Ayatollahs running Iran are just, to be honest, mind my language, but they’re paid sex freaks. They engage in so many heinous crimes and acts that I don’t really agree with them, and to be honest, I’d rather Iran go to a whole new reform. (Crosstalk)

GB: OK, hang on… let me just reset for listeners. If you’re just tuning in, you’re listening to the Guy Benson Show. On the line with me is Mort, who’s calling from Lombard. He’s a Muslim who was at today’s Hizb ut-Tahrir conference in Oak Lawn at the Hilton there. This is a group that supports jihad. This is a group that supports jihad. Mort said that he left the group in the 90s, but went to the conference anyway today just to see what was up. Mort, what are your thoughts on this organization’s take that jihad is not only moral, but is in fact an obligation for all Muslims?

Caller: Can I just clarify something?

GB: Yeah.

Caller: First of all, this group is, you have to understand, a politically framed group. They don’t support jihad. They actually don’t want anything physical.

GB: No, no. Hang on, Mort. I cannot let you get away with that. This is in their own writings: “As for jihad, it is legal. In fact, it is an obligation. It is the apex of Islamic ethics.” That’s in their own writings, Mort.

Caller: “We’re not talking about (unintelligible) these comments. What I’m telling you is that there’s no question about jihad. Whether defensive or offensive, the premises differ based on situations. But what I’m talking about the group, and being a member, even though they may come off as a group that likes to advocate jihad, but in the end, they’re a group that’s politically mind-framed. You can look at the books of the starters of the groups, like a person named Khakid bin-Nebani (sic), people like this, they are the founders of these groups, and…

GB: Yeah, but Mort, (cross talk). Hang on. I understand what you’re saying—and this is exactly what we heard from (Foundation for Defense of Democracies Senior Fellow) Walid Phares—that this is not a group that physically takes up arms and shoots people and blows stuff up. They’re the ones that indoctrinate young Muslims, who then join Al Qaeda. That’s why this organization is dangerous. You’re calling it politically-based; I call it a factory for indoctrination. Am I wrong?

Caller: Actually Al Qaeda and Hizb ut-Tahrir hate each other. They’re just completely different groups. They hate each other.

GB: Oh really? So why did Khalid Sheik Mohammed go from Hizb ut-Tahrir, where he was trained, and then join Al Qaeda and plan 9/11? If they hate each other so much, why did that happen?

Caller: Ok, well first of all, as far as Kalid Sheik Mohammad, as far as this guy, amongst the Muslim community, the identity is not known. (Unintelligible). Number two, there’s a reason if you think about it logically, why did he leave Hizb ut-Tahrir, then? Because that means Hizb ut wasn’t doing jihad. That’s why he left to go to Al Qaeda, who was doing jihad.

GB: No, that’s not the argument at all, Mort. The argument is that he was trained in the group that you were a member of, and then moved on to Al Qaeda and helped them plan the most devastating attack on US soil by an outside group, ever.

Caller: I’m telling you that when I was part of the group, there was no such talk as this. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.

(Cross talk)

GB: How old are you? Mort—how old are you?

Caller: …Let me tell you something. They would show videos of Palestine, and show videos of Chechnya, and say, “Look, this is what’s happening. We don’t have an Islamic state, we have to politically reform…”

GB: Well actually, I’m going to cut you off for a second. Stay with me here. Let me play you a further clip from the Fox News report that aired today about this conference.

[Audio clip]

Fox News anchor: They claim to be non-violent, but some of the materials that they’ve, uh, been passing out lately to people attending today’s conference, for example, suggests otherwise, doesn’t it?

Fox News reporter: Yeah, absolutely. This DVD is part of the conference materials being handed out. This was given to me by them. It’s an outcry to the Islamic ‘Uma’ or the faithful of Islam. In it, there’s a section of video from the Chechen wars between Chechnya and Russia in the 1990s, showing various civilian casualties—presumably many, if not all, of these folks are Muslim. And then there’s a voiceover by an unidentified male voice—possibly a cleric; could be anybody—talking about “Where are the armies of Jordan? Where are the armies of Syria? Where are the armies of Yemen? Where are the bombs of Pakistan? Why is it that, uh, there is no response from these Muslim nations?” Quite clearly, a call to arms, which is an odd thing from a peaceful group to be distributing during their conferences.

GB: Mort? Is that a lie? Is Fox News…

Caller: Again, to be honest with you, if you look at that situation in Russia, in Chechnya, in those areas, definitely. The Muslim armies had the right to call to arms in those areas because they were being oppressed, and their lands were being invaded, and there was ethnic cleansing going on there. Where were the armies? Isn’t that why the UN went there? Isn’t that why the armies went there for that reason?

GB: So Mort, you think Muslims taking up arms against Western countries for perceived, uh, travesties of justice or anything like that…you think it is legitimate. Do you think the people in Iraq who are blowing up our soldiers there because we “invaded” the country and are occupying Iraq—are those attacks justified on our soldiers?

Caller: We’re talking about Russia here.

GB: And I’m asking you about Iraq.

Caller: About Iraq? Well, look what happened in Iraq. I mean, to be honest, Iraq is a mess—what happened there. Those people in Iraq have the right to pick up arms. Of course they do!

GB: Okay, so the people killing our soldiers in Iraq have the right to do so because…

Caller: Is it their land, or not?

GB: It’s—we liberated those people from a dictatorship, did we not? Are they not voting for their own representatives now, Mort?

Caller: They don’t think they liberated them. You can go take a census of the people there. I know people in Iraq. They hate what America did to them over there.

GB: Well, I think that you’re not speaking for all Iraqis, but I think what’s happening here is—this has been very instructive, Mort. Because you called up here saying, “Oh, I reject this type of jihadist mentality; I used to be part of the group, but I left.” But here you are defending people going out and killing our soldiers in Iraq. I mean, Mort, you have to take a step back here.

Caller: I don’t advocate killing innocent people at all. You’re talking about what do I think about Iraqi people. If those people want to defend their land, that is entirely up to them.

GB: There you go. Mort, I think you’ve been trained very well by Hizb ut-Tahrir. A fascinating exchange. This has made me even more alarmed, ladies and gentlemen. Do you understand what just happened on this show? I’m speechless. Mort, thank you for the phone call; I hope we can talk again. Wow.

End transcript.

To my knowledge, only one Islamic organization had the courage and integrity to denounce Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Chicago conference. “Mort” presented himself as a moderate Muslim at the onset of our conversation. The ensuing discussion raised some troubling questions and cast serious doubt on his self-stylized ‘moderation.’

I ran this transcript past former Federal Prosecutor Andy McCarthy, author of Willful Blindness. He believes my conversation with Mort not only draws attention to the violence Hizb ut-Tahrir has spawned over the years, but it also reveals the insidious methods of some non-violent, so-called ‘moderate’ Islamist groups:

“Hizb [ut-Tahrir] is a more crude version of the Muslim Brotherhood. They make the intellectual case for violence but they don't practice it themselves,” McCarthy said. “That doesn't mean they are training people like KSM for violence but then passing them along to the ‘real’ violent groups like Al Qaeda. That means they are training people in comprehensive fundamentalist Sunni (Salafi) principles, which includes violent jihad under certain conditions.”

He added that unlike terror networks’ use of flagrantly illegal attacks, groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir exploit Western societies’ legal protections to further their cause. “The [Muslim] Brotherhood, with Saudi help (and now Hizb is joining the party), have deeply infiltrated the country and brought up two generations of activists in American universities. They are very organized and very disciplined,” McCarthy explained. “Besides not getting enough of our attention, the Constitution is their shield. It's no problem going after people who blow stuff up; but sophisticated advocacy -- cloaked in religion -- of overthrowing the U.S. system gets double-barrel First Amendment cover.”

Will the real moderate Muslims please stand up? Freedom-loving societies need your vocal support more than ever.

(Audio of the exchange can be accessed here.) (http://guybensonshow.com/audio/podcast/GBS_07192009.mp3)

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