IHRC in Henry Jackson Society’s sights – again

Emma Fox, HJS report author.

Faisal Bodi sets HJS’ latest conspiracist claims in context.

The inveterate Islamophobes in the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) are at it again. Having savaged almost the entire gamut of Muslim civil society organisations, the pseudo think-thank whose leaders have called Muslims in Europe a “demographic time bomb” and “a vast fifth column” has, not for the first time, unleashed its attack dogs on the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

In a typically tendentious report released on 30 May HJS tears into IHRC claiming to reveal its so-called extremist inclinations, associations, leadership and its apparently successful attempts at “entryism”. It’s all in another day’s work for HJS which has carved out an unenviable reputation for itself in seeking to undermine any Muslim group or individual in Britain that does not conform to its neocon Zionist politics. In that sense IHRC finds itself in respectable company and it would be easy to dismiss HJS and its output for the bigoted right wing rubbish that it is were it not for the fact that the organisation is the most prominent neocon voice in the UK and enjoys the ear of the commentariat and politicians, thereby exerting an unmerited influence on public policy.

That said it would play into HJS’s hands to divert precious time and resources away from our day to day work to issue a point by point rebuttal of all the allegations made, most of which are vexatious. The report itself is riddled with embarrassing inaccuracies. Suffice it to say that HJS’ attention on Muslims falls into a wider campaign of delegitimisation against Muslim civil society operators motivated by Islamophobia.

The common factor in these attacks against Muslims operating in the civil society space is the attempt to delegitimise them all by way of measuring them against loaded definitions of extremism, an approach that is actually more successful in revealing HJS’s own Islamophobic leanings and biases. It is character assassination dressed up as research. HJS’ report dredges up alleged examples of extremism in order to tarnish the targeted organisations and make them a tainted source of information or an unworthy political partner. The end aim is clearly to panic partner organisations into reconsidering their associations with IHRC. To that end the report targets IHRC’s accreditation with the United Nations, a research commission it has received from the European Union, IHRC Trust’s registration with the Charity Commission and the immigration adviser status IHRC holds with the British government. 

The delegitimisation of independent Muslim voices has become a major feature of civil society activity. Earlier this year an IHRC briefing on shrinking civil society space bemoaned the fact that “for the best part of two decades, successive governments and those opposed to Muslim participation have forced to the margins authentic CSOs from the Muslim community that do not conform to preconceived official strategies or desired policy outcomes”. Almost on cue, a report by the Tony Blair Institute in January identified IHRC as one of six so-called “extremist” British Muslim groups, again measured against a problematic definition of extremism. HJS plays to the same gallery, demonising Muslim orgainsations so that Whitehall can safely ignore them and continue to employ deferential and conformist CSOs that serve as an echo chamber for preconceived government plans. It fits squarely into the strategy of establishing a binary between good and bad Muslims, the latter being those who policymakers and government officials should steer clear of when engaging with the Muslim community.

HJS’s own associations with the Zionist-neocon power elite make it anything but a credible source of information. The arch-Islamophobe and Tory MP Michael Gove is a former trustee. He was also a signatory to its statement of principles as are many other Tory and Labour MP’s and peers giving the organisation direct access to Westminster. So is Stephen Pollard, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, an unashamedly Zionist newspaper. According to a 2015 report into HJS by Spinwatch its financiers include prominent Zionists such as Conservative peer Stanley Kalms, who is on record as saying that “most Muslims didn’t want to integrate… Ultimately they would line up behind the fundamentalists”. Founded in 2005, by the following year, says the report, HJS “had emerged as the leading institutional expression of British neoconservatism.”

The Spinwatch report highlights how within a few years of its formation, its dictatorial director Alan Mendoza, moved the think tank rightwards, especially after the 2011 merger with the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC). Described in the Guardian as a purveyor of ‘relentless Islamophobia,’ its director Douglas Murray has a history of anti-Muslim statements. “In exchange for abandoning its geopolitical, policy-making focus and its coverage of most global regions, the HJS has inherited Murray’s obsession with British Islamism and Islam generally. But it has shown no equivalent concern with white or Christian extremism; there are no articles on its website concerning groups like the British National Party or EDL,” says historian Marko Attilla Hoare who left the organisation as it lurched towards open Islamophobia. Having purged the lefties, according to Hoare, HJS restaffed the organisation with members of a short-lived Israel-advocacy group ‘Just Journalism’ which survived just three years owing to financial difficulties (one Melanie Philips lauded Just Journalism on its launch as “a very welcome and desperately-needed initiative …. to monitor distortions, bias and prejudice in British media coverage of the Middle East”).

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. Much of this has come from US neo-fascist networks. Among them is the Abstraction Fund, whose president and treasurer is Nina Rosenwald. According to Max Blumenthal, writing in the Nation, Rosenwald is a key supporter of anti-Muslim groups fuelling ‘a rapidly emerging alliance between the pro-Israel mainstream and the Islamophobic fringe.’ The funding has helped HJS buy access to Westminster and also to gain positions of power from which they can pursue their agenda. In 2014, following a complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, HJS was forced to pull funding for two parliamentary groups chaired by Tory MP Bernard Jenkin and Labour MP Gisela Stuart which focused on homeland and international security after refusing to disclose its donors to the Commons’ standards watchdog. In 2012 HJS’ former director William Shawcross was appointed chair of the Charity Commission carrying the organisation’s obsession with exposing supposed Islamist terrorism into the mainstream. Almost immediately he made remarks suggesting that Muslim donors’ money was leaking out to support terrorism. Between December 2012 and May 2014, 40 per cent of formal inquiries started by the commission were into Muslim charities. In 2014/15, there were 20 formal investigations by the Charity Commission under way relating to terrorist abuse of charities with more than 500 legal disclosures between the commission, police and other agencies.

HJS’s neo-fascist associations don’t stop at financing. It has praised and given platforms to far right extremists who share its antipathy to Islam and Muslims. In May 2009 HJS hosted a speech by Siv Jensen, leader of the Norwegian Progress Party and former finance minister. The Progress Party is strongly pro-Israel and rabidly anti-immigration and even more anti-Islam. The mass murderer Anders Breivik who slaughtered 77 fellow Norwegians was a one-time member of the Party. Breivik claims to have been influenced by Robert Spencer who runs the anti-Muslim conspiracy site Jihad Watch, referencing him over 50 times in his “manifesto”. HJS’ current associate director Douglas Murray has called Spencer a “brilliant scholar”.

It is possible to list HJS’ intellectual and political misdemeanours endlessly, however it is worth closing with the following thought.  Maligning IHRC or any other civil society organisation, activists, academics not only serves to exclude them from access and opportunities afforded to HJS themselves and others regardless of merit, but reproduces the type of demonization of Muslims as ‘pro-terrorist’ that results in murderous attacks like that of Darren Osborne two years ago.  Taking HJS seriously has a sliding scale of negative consequences.  It’s time that Britain’s institutions took this seriously.

Further reading:

Islamophobia in Europe: How governments are enabling the far-right ‘counter-jihad’ movement