Gavin Lynn

World News


The Henry Jackson Society and its Lurch Towards Islamophobia

Is the Henry Jackson Society the most important think tank you have never heard of?

Formed in 2005 at Peterhouse College Cambridge and moving to London a few years later, it is perhaps best known for the views of Douglas Murray, its Associate Director who has made a string of anti-Muslim comments over the years including famously that conditions for Muslims would need to be made ‘harder across the board‘ in coming years. It brings together key U.S. neoconservatives like William Kristol and Richard Perle – key architects of the disastrous invasion of Iraq – with UK allies in politics, academia, and the defence and security establishment.

In our view, the Henry Jackson Society is an important element of an elite social movement that attempts to push the interests and ideas of sections of the defence industry and ultra-conservative hawks – best described as neoconservatives. When thinking of anti-Muslim racism it is common to discuss the far right such as the BNP or newer street movements like the English Defence League, PEGIDA the ‘counter-jihad movement,’ which operates in almost every EU country, as well as in the U.S. Alternatively, some point to the role of the government’s anti-terror policy Prevent which, arguably makes all Muslims a ‘suspect community.’

While these are two important ‘pillars of Islamophobia,’ it is also clear that both the Neoconservative and Zionist movements (we take Zionism to be a transnational movement dedicated to setting up and maintaining a ‘Jewish state‘ in ‘Israel’) are active in this area.

The HJS is a good example of how neoconservative, Zionist, and even liberal-left pro-war and secularist views can come together to bolster anti-Muslim racism and discredit those who take an anti-racist position on Islam/Muslims. It can also drag government policy in a more ‘muscular’ and illiberal direction as seen in the 2010 revision of the Prevent policy and in the new Counterterrorism and Security Bill (2015).

The HJS was named after the hawkish U.S. Democratic Party Senator Henry Jackson in an attempt to allude to Jackson’s alleged social liberalism as a view of the senator arguably at variance with the evidence. The name was chosen after the idea of naming the think tank after Margaret Thatcher was dropped as potentially too divisive.

The impulse to weld together a coalition of neoconservatives and liberals and even left interventionists and supporters of Israel allowed the HJS to claim a bipartisan mantle. Within a few years of its formation, however, many of the liberals were removed in what has been referred to as ‘Mendoza’s putsch‘ so named after the director of the think tank Alan Mendoza. An unsuccessful prospective Tory candidate in the 2015 election, Mendoza, moved the think tank rightwards, especially after the 2010 integration of the Centre for Social Cohesion. Described in the Guardian as a purveyor of ‘relentless Islamophobia,’ its director Douglas Murray has a history of anti-Muslim statements. In the years following the integration of the CSC the HJS income increased markedly from about £0.3 million in 2010 to around £1.3 million in 2013.

(Read the full report by clicking here)

Where did this funding originate? This is difficult to tell because the HJS is not transparent. Last year, we complained it was not abiding by parliamentary rules in its sponsorship of two All Party Groups. Rather than disclose the source of all funding over £5,000, the Society elected to withdraw from the groups, which promptly collapsed.

Nevertheless, in our report on the HJS, we have been able to trace a significant amount of funding by trawling the financial reports of UK and U.S. charities and foundations to locate key funders. Two examples of significant funders show the role of prominent conservative business operatives in providing the necessary resources for the production of the anti-Muslim ideas and policies of the HJS.

First, is the Atkin Charitable Foundation headed by Edward and Celia Atkin. They made their money through the Avent baby feeding company and were responsible for nearly 10% of total HJS funding in 2013. Edward Atkin is a significant funder of the Conservatives. The foundation also gives money to the neocon-connected International Centre for Research on Radicalisation at Kings College and several Israel-related groups active in the Occupied Territories in breach of international law – like the Jerusalem Foundation and the Jewish National Fund.

The second is Conservative peer Stanley Kalms, the former treasurer of the Conservative Party and life president of DSG International (formerly Dixons). Kalms is a prominent member of Conservative Friends of Israel, though in 2009 he flirted with UKIP. He has supported the Henry Jackson Society and its predecessor the Centre for Social Cohesion through his Traditional Alternatives Foundation and the Stanley Kalms Foundation. His links with more mainstream conservatism are illustrated by his financial backing for the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Social Justice.

Kalms appears to have quite ‘radical’ views on Muslims and Islam. Tony Lerman, the writer and ‘lapsed’ Zionist, notes in his courageous memoir, The making and unmaking of a Zionist, that Kalms was present at a meeting on 17 November 2006 where he said: ‘Most Muslims didn’t want to integrate…Ultimately they would line up behind the fundamentalists.’ Social movements from above, including the far-right and elements of the neo-conservative and Zionist movements, play an important active role in fostering anti-Muslim racism.

But, the HJS is not a creature of the so-called ‘Israel lobby,’ a term that can deter understanding of the complex reality of the Zionist movement. It is the child of an elite project among neoconservative activists, their supporters in the arms and defence industry, and the hawkish defenders of U.S. (and the UK) military power. Yes, many are self-identified Zionists, mostly supporters of hardline rejectionist Israeli governments. Sure, some of them are in the Labour Party, a few even still self-describe as being on the left. But we should not make the mistake of thinking that liberal or left ideas about a community of nations, about equality and opposition to racism has any place in their shrill, dangerous anti-Muslim worldview.