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A global Islamic extremist political organization hosted its first organized conference in the United States on Sunday. Hosted by the group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the conference, titled "Fall of Capitalism and Rise of Islam," was hosted at a Hilton hotel in Chicago.
The conference was free to the public and attracted some 700 people, according to a report by Chicago's CBS 2 network.
The organization, whose name means The Liberation Party, is known for being a political, non-violent Sunni movement formed as a reaction to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The party was established in Jerusalem in 1953 by Palestinian intellectuals. The leader at the time, Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, established the organization as an ideological political party striving to create an Islamic caliphate, i.e. an ideal, unified Muslim state.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir is "a political party whose ideology is Islam," according to the group's official Web site.
The group is the "first Islamic radical organization to adopt a global policy," said Reuven Paz, the director of Project for the Research of Islamist Movements (PRISM). The party has established centers across the world, but has been banned in much of the Arab world and central Asia because the group has been seen as an opposition to Islamic governments already in place, he explained in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Paz said that though the organization has a strong base in London, the US branch was created in the 1970s in states with large Muslim populations.
Kamran Bokhari, STRATFOR's director of Middle East analysis, explained that until this conference, the Hizb-ut-Tahrir has been largely dormant in the US, but he believes the group is trying to make a comeback and reestablish a presence.
"They are trying to make use of the financial crisis and show that capitalism is in decline and Islam is the answer," he said. "They decided it's the right time to come back - the hunt against Islam is not as intense as it used to be."
He explained that the organization is serious about theology, idealogy and methodology. "Unlike organizations like al-Qaeda, they do not use force. They are more into doing conferences and holding study circles to shape public opinion," he said.
Paz explained that the conference is taking place in the United States because the group is taking advantage of freedom of speech. Most of the members are young intellectual elites, he said.
Though anti-Israel, anti-Shi'ite and anti-Western, the organization is not at all violent, but is seen as a threat for having unique doctrines and attracting followers to demonstrations, said Paz.
"The group is a minority in the Muslim world, but they are very vocal. They can be very extreme, but never violent," Paz said. "They are far from the present doctrines of al-Qaeda."
In a phone interview with CBS News, conference deputy spokesman Reza Imam stressed that Hizb ut-Tahrir does not call for violence or spread radical ideas. He said the group has not been accused of being tied to violent activities.
According to the organization's Web site, Hizb-ut-Tahrir aims to educate Muslims as an "entity that seeks to change people's thoughts through intelligent discussion and debate," and "does not accept forcing people or societies to change by means of violence and terror."
Imam said the conference was hosted to highlight the disintegration of capitalism during the global financial crisis.
"Our organization is an intellectual organization, so anybody who subscribes to its ideas is a member," said Imam. "Our currency is ideas...it is not a card-carrying type of organization," he added.
Hizb ut-Tahrir has no headquarters in the US and no leader, said Imam, adding that it has a strong presence in Chicago.
The conference was originally scheduled to be held at Al Aqsa Islamic School in Bridgeview, Ill., but the school canceled the event. According to CBS News, school officials felt the group misrepresented their goals when they asked to use the venue.