Hizb ut-Tahrir is targeting Muslims on UK campuses to overthrow our allies, warns former member Shiraz Maher
"The Current Affairs Society? It's just an intellectual platform for discussing Muslim issues."
To student union officials, it all seemed harmless enough: talks on student debt, poverty and drugs. There were no fire-and-brimstone speeches, no condemnation to eternal damnation; merely tempered debate about issues facing Muslim students.
But the society's frequent events were organised by a group committed to reviving an Islamic caliphate and whose views prompted a National Union of Students ban. So it was that at Leeds University I first met members of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
The Government's move to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir after the 7/7 terrorist attacks has prompted some to leap to the group's defence. Gareth Crossman of the campaign group Liberty said: "It is not possible to overstate the implications of criminalising non-violent organisations on the basis of their opinions."
Hizb ut-Tahrir is, after all, ostensibly non-violent and committed to open discussion, so can it really be that dangerous? I suggest that it is.
Since 7/7, the party has dexterously manipulated the debate surrounding the mooted ban, presenting it as a question of free speech - a concept that, ironically, it regards as un-Islamic.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is no paper tiger. It is a revolutionary movement seeking to overthrow governments in the Muslim world, establish a caliphate and then wage jihad on other nations. The mobilisation of British Muslims is an integral part of that vision.
I know because for two years I was a member, recruited while studying for a degree in history. With a presence on campuses across the country, Hizb ut-Tahrir is experienced in avoiding detection. Its members were the architects of the national "Stop Islamophobia" student campaign launched last year. They have also organised seemingly innocuous football tournaments and "welcome dinners" for new Muslim students. Recruiting such members of the UK's emerging middle class is particularly important to Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Although the party's primary role in the UK is to articulate the case for Islam as an alternative to capitalism, such work is intrinsically linked to its wider ambitions. Hizb ut-Tahrir is opposed to every regime in the Muslim world and has orchestrated coup attempts in Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Morocco.
Exiled members who have regrouped in the UK have used the freedoms afforded to them here to seek to springboard their recruits and ideas back into the Muslim world. The effects have been felt most acutely in Pakistan, to which scores of British recruits, born and raised here, have returned since the late 1990s to propagate the party's message and incite the army to sedition.
After the 7/7 terrorist attacks, Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani President, reacted angrily to suggestions that his country was somehow failing in its obligations to help defeat terrorism. He responded that the British Government "should have done what they have been demanding of us to do - to ban extremist groups like they asked us to do here in Pakistan".
Mr Musharraf's comments underscore a painful reality. With terrorists being just as likely to emerge from the suburbs of Leeds as they are from the madrassas of Lahore, defeating extremism requires a global response. The Government must therefore accept that it has a responsibility to the international community, which means taking action at home, where the mobilisation of British Muslims constitutes the new front line.
Universities must also accept their responsibilities to monitor the recruitment and radicalisation taking place on campus.
While Hizb ut-Tahrir continues to mobilise British Muslims in pursuit of its cause, its threat to global security cannot be understated. Silencing the party is, therefore, not simply a debate about free speech or criminalising alternative opinions. It is about protecting ourselves, and our allies, from the excesses of a totalitarian Islamic movement with grand ambitions.
Hizb ut-Tahrir's openly stated ambition of global conquest sits uncomfortably with its newfound obsession with free speech. A party leaflet from 1999 reads: "In the forthcoming days the Muslims will conquer Rome and the dominion of the (nation) of Muhammad will reach the whole world, and the rule of the Muslims will reach as far as the day and night." It's a world in which freedom of speech, of course, would be notably absent.
Shiraz Maher is the author of a forthcoming book on British Islamism and is a freelance adviser to the BBC on political Islam.