An international Islamic party that has been the focus of increasing concern in Britain launched a frontal attack on its critics at a carefully stage-managed conference in London this weekend that attracted several thousand relatively well-heeled Muslims.
"They say: `You preach hate,'" said the party's chairman, Abdul Wahid, a doctor in Harrow, England, to an appreciative audience segregated into his and hers sections. "I preach a hatred of the lies of people in this country that send soldiers to Iraq. I preach a hatred of torture."
The party, Hizb ut-Tahrir, calls for the return of the caliphate in Muslim countries, the end of Israel and the withdrawal of all Western interests in the Middle East. In the aftermath of the botched terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow, there were renewed calls in parliament for barring the group, on the ground that though it officially advocates change by peaceful means, its pronouncements can encourage Muslims to turn toward terrorism.
The conference was dedicated to the return of the Khilafah, or caliphate, the organization of Muslim power that held sway for centuries after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
Titled Khilafah: The Need and the Method, the conference was held at the Alexandra Palace, a 19th-century entertainment complex situated in grand gardens in northern London, and drew a largely professional audience. For hours, speakers assailed the British government for linking the group to terrorism, and for too often treating British Muslims as terrorism suspects, and drummed at the theme of the need for Muslim rule.