Lesson From Libya: No to Islamic State-Within-A-State in Ukraine!

March 20, 2011
Libya represents the latest example where western powers ostensibly opposing global Islamic terrorism and advocating “democracy” and “human rights” have launched military action they claim will help oppressed Muslims – while in the process, either accidentally or deliberately, advancing the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood and other advocates of a revived Caliphate. The Libyan crisis should sound a cautionary note about the perspectives of western governments, especially the U.S., and about the activities of Islamic organizations within Ukraine. In particular, Ukraine should closely monitor the Crimean Tatar Mejlis and consider following the example of Germany, Russia, and Central Asia republics of the former USSR in proscribing the international party Hizb-ut-Tahrir and other pro-Caliphate groups.
James George Jatras, Deputy Director

Once Again, the West Intervenes and Jihadists Cheer

Contrary to some expectations, upon the abstention of permanent members Russia and China the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voted on March 17 to authorize limited military air action against forces loyal to Libyan strongman Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. Air attacks by French aircraft began on March 19, despite al-Gaddafi’s immediate declaration of a ceasefire as demanded by the UNSC. While France and the United Kingdom were most visible in demanding military action, no one doubts the United States will assume a major role in the campaign, with the active involvement of NATO in fact if not in name.

The western action follows calls by the international Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir, whose members have long been suppressed and killed in Libya, for al-Gaddafi to be overthrown by the Egyptian army, and for his assassination by a leading figure of the Muslim Brotherhood active in the successful Egyptian revolt. While the spectacle of the western powers and Islamic militants (including al-Qaeda) acting effectively as allies may come as a surprise to some, it shouldn’t to observers of U.S.-led interventions since America supported Afghan mujahidin against the Soviet Union. Not only did Washington help create al-Qaeda itself during the anti-Soviet war, the pattern was set for subsequent “pro-Muslim” interventions: in Iraq (twice, under George H.W. Bush in 1991 and George W. Bush in 2003), in Afghanistan (W. Bush in 2001), Bosnia (Bill Clinton in 1995), and Kosovo (Clinton in 1999).

In each case, an armed intervention justified as “rescuing” or “liberating” Muslims paradoxically resulted in greater Islamic rage against the United States. And in each case the resulting social order was more oppressively Islamic, as measured by treatment of women and non-Muslims. For example, in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Islamic militancy was suppressed (along with other opposition forces) and women went unveiled. Now, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, half of Iraq’s Christian population has fled in terror from Muslim militants and women had better cover up if they know what’s good for them. Similar patterns can be discerned in the venues of other interventions.

However, in western thinking the repeated failure of a policy evidently is considered insufficient grounds to abandon it. With respect to Libya, perhaps policy-makers in Washington, London, and Paris calculate that this time for sure the Muslims will love us, no matter how many of them get killed along the way.

At the moment, the Libyan operation would seem to have little relevance to Ukraine, aside from the obvious good sense of staying out of it. But it also needs to be pointed out that an important corollary to western pro-Muslim interventions has been agitation on behalf of Muslim minorities within majority non-Muslim states. For example, a visitor to the website of the U.S. “Virtual Post Presence” (whatever that is) in southern Philippines might have the impression that Philippines already is a Muslim country. This is most pronounced in Orthodox countries, given the support of western, especially American, centers of influence for other movements for “liberation” of Muslim communities such as Bosnian Muslims, Albanians (Kosovo) and Sanjak in Serbia, and Chechens in Russia.

While there is little public evidence that this pattern has yet extended to Ukraine, such depictions of western support for “persecuted” Muslims elsewhere should be viewed by Ukrainian authorities with suspicion. At the same time, despite the demographically small size of the Islamic community in Ukraine, Kiev should closely monitor Islamic organizations and their ideological agenda and activities.

The Crimean Mejlis

By far, the largest Islamic community in Ukraine are the Crimean Tatars, and their most influential organization is the Mejlis. It should be stated at the outset that no obstacle should be placed to Crimean Tatars’ full exercise of their rights as equal citizens of Ukraine and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, including use of their language (including schools and media), wearing of traditional costume (in non-official circumstances), exercise of their right to worship (but not of activism to institute Sharia), and restoration of property in accordance with law. However, respect for such rights as individual citizens is distinct from the question of collective entitlement as a sovereign community with rights of self-determination. This is doubly of concern when organizational activism is connected to dubious historical claims.

The history of Crimea, and specifically of the Crimean Tatars, is long and complex, lending itself to misrepresentation for political reasons. In the west, the en masse Soviet deportation of the Crimean Tatars for alleged collaboration with the German invaders is held up not only as an example of indiscriminate communist repression but as part of a continuous persecution of “the indigenous people of Crimea” ever since the region’s annexation to the Russian Empire in 1783. This one-sided propagandistic view fails to take into account that Orthodox Slavs were the majority of Crimea’s indigenous population even under the Crimean Khanate, when they were dhimmi (зимми) subjects of their Islamic masters. Under the Khanate, Crimea was a major slave-trading center, with the so-called “harvest of the steppe” -- large numbers of Ukrainians, Russians, Poles, and other Christians seized on raids -- shipped out from Fedosiya (Kefe) and other Crimean ports to the rest of the Ottoman Empire. Modern depictions of Crimea as a uniquely Tatar and Muslim entity, for example styling effort to create a Crimean People’s Republic in 1917-18 as a Tatar-led “secular Muslim” entity, should be seen as, in effect, the demand that the Islamic Ummah (“community” or “nation”) be restored to an earlier status of rightful dominance over Christian kuffar (“unbelievers”).

Thus, what begins as a western-supported peaceful campaign ostensibly for secular, democratic rights of a Muslim community can evolve over time into a violent jihad for Muslim dominance. In particular, claims of the Mejlis to exercise Crimean Tatars’ right of “national-state self-determination on their national territory” (“национально-государственное самоопределение на своей национальной территории”) must be understood as creation of a state-within-a-state with goals incompatible with the lawful authority of Ukraine and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. At present, the Mejlis and Crimean Tatar activism superficially do not constitute a great danger. However, if allowed to drift, the situation in the Crimea, and in Ukraine generally, is likely to follow the path of Islamic activism in other regions. Under the guise of “human rights” and “democracy,” and with support from western powers and from Muslim countries, notably Turkey, it can be expected that within a few years Ukraine and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea will be subjected to demands to accommodate the Crimean Tatars “right to self-determination” and for recognition of the Mejlis as a “sovereign” structure, with threats of jihad violence if such demands are not met. It also can be expected that such demands will coincide with rising Islamic consciousness within the Crimean Tatar community, with the right to implement Sharia law on its members. For example, the U.S. State Department already has characterized as a violation of human rights the demand of a Tatar woman to have her passport photograph taken with an Islamic hijab, in violation of law.

The activities and finances of the Mejlis and other Islamic organizations, and of their leadership, should be carefully and continuously monitored by the authorities of Ukraine and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, especially for connections with western governments and NGOs, with governments of Muslim countries, and with international Islamic groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Revival of the Caliphate

The Mejlis should be considered in the context of, though distinct from, other organizations conducting specifically Islamic activism in Ukraine. Foremost among these is the international party Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which aims to reinstate the worldwide Islamic caliphate (Khilafah), of which the Crimean Khanate was a part, supposedly through peaceful means. As declared by the Ukrainian branch of Hizb-ut-Tahrir in 2009: “The aim of Hizb ut-Tahrir is to resume the Islamic way of life by establishing the Islamic State the Khilafah which will rule by laws of Islam [i.e., Sharia] and convey the Islamic da'wah [i.e., “invitation”] to the world for all mankind.” Such agitation can be expected to intensify if left unchecked.

Founded in or around 1953 by a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the stated goal of Hizb-ut-Tahrir (“Party of Liberation” in Arabic) is to work “within the Ummah and together with her, so that she adopts Islam as her cause and is led to restore the Khilafah.” The Caliphate will be a totalitarian ideological state governed by a single ruler, the Khalifa (“Caliph”), who will have legitimate authority to lead the Ummah “into the battlefields of jihad to spread Islam.”

Hizb-ut-Tahrir is an illegal organization in about 40 countries, including Turkey (where it nonetheless operates openly), Germany, Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, in part due to its connection with terrorist activities in the Fergana Valley, a hotbed of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and a prospective venue for reestablishment of the Caliphate. On the other hand, it remains legal in the United States (which even has declined to place it on the State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations), the United Kingdom (which appears to be its administrative center, though consideration has been given to banning it) – and, among others, in Ukraine.

A large part of the ambivalence of many governments is Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s formal eschewal of violence until the Caliphate is reestablished and then can legitimately conduct jihad activity. Still, Hizb-ut-Tahrir has been implicated in terrorist activities in Central Asia and elsewhere, and people associated with it have called for attacks on western forces in Iraq. Primarily, though, it appears that Hizb-ut-Tahrir simply is biding its time:

The scenario for broadening the Caliphate played out in HuT [Hizb-ut-Tahrir] literature involves one or more Islamic countries coming under the organization’s control, creating a base from which it will be able to convince others to join the fold—generating what is in essence a domino effect. Leaders of HuT—citing the lack of secular space for political opposition, increasing despair and a lack of economic opportunity—believe that much of the Muslim World is approaching a “boiling point,” making it ready for an Islamist takeover. The group seeks to take advantage of dispossessed populations to seize power in particular states such as those in Central Asia and Pakistan as a prelude to the establishment of a broader caliphate, removing wayward Muslim regimes and, eventually, overthrowing non-Muslim ones as well.

With successful revolutions having taken place in Tunisia and Egypt – where it remains to be seen if the mainly secular military can maintain control or if Islamic forces will prevail – and with the outcome in Libya too early to predict, Hizb-ut-Tahrir may believe its “boiling point” is not far off.

Kiev, however, should not wait to see the outcome of the latest fool’s errand embarked-upon by the western powers. If a state as democratic as Germany has decided to ban Hizb-ut-Tahrir along with other organizations advocating totalitarian ideologies and systems, waiting for overt acts of violence is not a moral or legal necessity. Even in its present form, Hizb-ut-Tahrir constitutes the embryo of an aspiring Islamic parallel state structure within Ukraine and not recognizing the legitimacy of its laws and institutions. Ukraine should strongly consider following the example of Germany and Russia and shut down Hizb-ut-Tahrir and its activities.