Boris Johnson speaking on a Henry Jackson Society (HJS) platform besides Alan Mendoza, a Founder and the Executive Director of the HJS. (2019)

Only a unified, articulate and savvy resistance will stop the policy rot that threatens us all

By CAGE editors

Anyone who has watched the film Inception knows that ideas planting is a delicate business. But while the film took things to a sci-fi precision extreme, today’s Islamophobic “think-tanks” and “policy influencers” are much more hit-and-miss.

Despite this, journalists and policy makers unable to shake off their trappings of privilege fall for their agenda-setting tricks, and when it comes to Britain’s increasingly disturbing political drift –  the slow but steady dissolution of due process manufactured by the war on terror – the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) has much to answer for in this.

A common technique employed by think tanks such as the HJS is the use of (often hapless) mascots who are able to plant ideas into the public mindset through the technique of framing – the linking of one idea with another in order to create a concept that echoes through minds and influences narratives.

Framing can be positive or negative, but in the case of HJS and their ilk, it is being used to introduce ideas that are at first unpalatable, but through repetition (preferably in a backdrop of fear), gradually come to be accepted.

The problem with this is that often the idea is so outrageous that journalists coached in sensation and headline-grabbers pick these frames up and repeat them, doing the job of the think-tanks for them.

“The policy rot and systematic erosion of rule of law principles by those in power should be enough to testify to even the mild-minded democrat that their ideas and their policies are unworkable and dangerous”

Scholars of media and communications have become alert to this, and have introduced guidelines and strategies for what they call “effective counter-framing”: much of which requires a fundamental shift in the way news is currently reported and deemed newsworthy, and extreme caution for influencers on social media.

Admiral Lord John West, Baron West of Spithead

One such attempt by a member of HJS’s political council1, the retired naval officer Admiral Lord John West, Baron West of Spithead, was made on Radio 4 last month. He is recorded to have said, of immigrants, that: “we need to deal with them in a concentrated place, whether it’s a camp or whatever…”

Muslims are well acquainted with such apparently loose arrangements of words, casually inserted into public conversation to normalise abuse. We are also familiar with other attempts to make the unpalatable acceptable, through the manipulation of language (terms such as ‘enhanced interrogation’ actually mean torture, and so on).

We also know that the purpose of this is to gently introduce horrific notions in a veneer of joviality, deceptiveness or vagueness – sometimes even cast initially as a “slip of the tongue” or a “joke” – take Boris Johnson’s “letterbox jibe”, for example.

This is done to plant an idea and then bend public opinion and policy towards an overarching ideological approach that is too difficult and terrible to speak of plainly, but which they feel must be planted nonetheless.

The poisonous influence of neo-nationalist think tanks

When Lord West made his clumsy framing attempt, it fortunately fell rather flat. Rather than making something acceptable, the retired naval officer has in fact revealed the true nature of his backers, the HJS being the most prominent of them: that they aim to bring about a hard neo-nationalist rule that is totally impractical in the UK.

Among their mascots are those who suggest on national radio, at best some form of spatial apartheid in Britain, or at worst shutting minorities in gulags.

His statement is an offshoot of the former director of HJS, Douglas Murray’s stated aim of “making conditions harder across the board” for Muslims in Europe, a narrative that has caught on in both right and left wing circles, exposing the false construct of party politics.

While many associate the HJS with the “right wing” of British politics, the organisation – though it may have a natural affinity with the rising far right at this time – is in fact non-partisan, and is thus largely the root cause of what the humble observer might understand is a definitive lack of diversity in UK politics.

A kind of limp but irksome greyness has ensued, with the influence of these policy lobby groups becoming more obvious in “centre-left” Labour circles, with many individuals adopting this narrative in order to gain traction in an emotional climate, to attain popular support.

“This is a narrative that has caught on in both right and left wing circles, exposing the false construct of party politics.”

Former HJS Director Douglas Murray (r) with Robert Spencer (l), who has played a “pivotal role in the multimillion-dollar international anti-Muslim propaganda network

Founded largely on the basis of Murray’s words above, this narrative – given the above from Lord West – has nonetheless shifted into a space that should be of deep concern to those guarding public safety and stability in the UK.

To push their evil narratives, neo-nationalist, pro-imperialist think tanks appeal to an impractical and outdated view of Britain’s “tradition” and “nationhood”.2

These values are only warped and dangerous when built on the back of exploiting fears and prejudices of minority communities with the aim of harming them, as happened in the 1930s with the Jewish community in Europe.

This is especially true when such phobias of other people have been fanned and manufactured by the organisations that capitalise on them as well, such as the HJS itself.

Through manipulation of statistics, academically deficient resarch, stoking division and their  blatant racism and hatred of Islam, HJS and others like it operate in a self-reinforcing feedback loop that is pervasive and must be broadly resisted.

Manufacturing fear, then manufacturing policy

These Islamophobes have spread like a toxin through the political system, working to dumb down – or shut down – debate. The result is a general lack of intellectuality and reasoned argument around policy, particularly policy affecting Muslims.

This has been replaced with policies shunted through on the back of fears and prejudices, which in fact serve their own interests. They are delivered in a veneer of academic respectability while being framed as “for the betterment of society”.

Much of these policies are the padding and fanfare of the counter-extremism sector, a burgeoning new sub-economy, sub-polity linked to the security, surveillance and propaganda industries.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

CAGE’s research gives a good outline of the linkages between these sectors and the revolving doors between policy think tanks like HJS and the counter-extremists, to such an extent that CAGE calls this web an “Islamophobia industry”.

Other organisations, such as MEND, who are alert to the danger of this type of “shadow government” that is unaccountable and beyond public scrutiny but which tacitly manufactures hatred, have also raised the alarm.

On the political front and to illustrate the threat the HJS poses to democracy, Byline Times’ Nafeez Ahmed’s recent exposure of Trumpocracy in the UK has revealed the extent of back-door influence of the HJS on the conservative party in the UK, with “dark money” coming through an arm of the HJS in the US, whose donors are kept secret.

While the HJS may be semi-public, its donors are not – neither in the US or in the UK. Ahmed provides evidence of how its revenue likely comes from streams of fear and hatred, the latter being nurtured and fanned in circles of white anger and neo-nationalism that are ignored or tacitly condoned by both “left” and “right” in the US, and which seem to be set to get the same treatment from Britain’s press regulator, IPSO.

Recent “guidelines” released by IPSO now give even mainstream press the go-ahead to say what it likes as long as it doesn’t cause “individual harm”, hinting at a conviviality between the far-right and mainstream media that was recently more assiduously exposed by Hacked Off.

To Muslims these links are unsurprising, but they are very helpful to HJS and others like it, though their mascots in counter-extremism laughably speak of “social cohesion”.

The apparent determinedness of the state to apologise for this undemocratic state of affairs prompted Hacked Off to appeal to the Home Office. This may be an admirable move, but it is one unlikely to yield results, since the chief of the HO jump started her career on the HJS advisory panel alongside her chum, Lord West.

An unsound and biased “knowledge base” that must be uprooted

This is the HJS that, through propaganda and staffing, is a fundamental cog in the counter-extremism sector, a sector that relies on the construction of a false “knowledge base”, in which “referrals” are “successes”, touted through a lens of fundamentally unsound and biased research and information.

This information is gathered often through means that may well violate fundamental principles of due process on which the UK justice system is founded, such as secret evidence – evidence that defendants cannot see and thus cannot challenge – as well as on-campus Stasi-like lists of “extremists” gathered by the furtive Student Rights, another offshoot of the octopus-like HJS.

“These policies are the padding and fanfare of the counter-extremism sector, a burgeoning new sub-economy, sub-polity linked to the security, surveillance and propaganda industries.”

This is a facade that is often cracked open admirably on social media. However, the overwhelming sense of falsity nonetheless facilitates a public perception of an increasingly chaotic and unstable governing environment.

Instead of grounding people in truth and balance – which is the thing that actually translates into real public safety and trust – these “think tanks” then use this insecurity to further push evil narratives. A downward spiral ensues.

This is all being done in the name of tedious political theatre on one level, and outright deception and power-hunger on the other, which seems to appear to be just okay enough for it to continue; these toxic groups will court favour by leveraging the term “security”.

But the Admiral’s awkward framing attempt clarifies for the great majority the agenda of these groups, and that the purpose and outcome is anything but secure.

Any reasonable person now has good reason to suspect that those aligned with Lord West, including the HJS, threaten basic civilisational values such as social cooperation, public safety and equality under law. They are in fact the real danger here.

The overarching purpose of these neo-nationalist “policy influencers” and self-styled “experts” is to bolster industries such as security (including prisons), and surveillance, and in doing so, bolster their own profits and please their financiers.

Members of Parliament & Peers serving on HJS’ Political Council, as of March 2015

Journalists should have paid closer attention to those who warned of this

It is disturbing but unsurprising to see that the HJS – and the other cronies of the counter-extremism and counter-terrorism sector – are still being given so much time on mainstream media – and often with not a single balancing voice. This has sadly tarnished mainstream journalism; there are a great many balancing voices who are willing to speak.

If the majority of Britain’s journalists had been paying closer attention to the dehumanisation of Muslims by these groups over the last 20 years, as they whipped up support for both hot (foreign) and cold (domestic) aggression against Muslims, they would be more alert to their methods and their danger, and we would not have got to this point.

This is made more pertinent because organisations like HJS in particular, launched and propelled themselves into the pockets of politicians on a campaign of “nationhood” and “values” that rested on the vilification of Muslims.

The politicians and press outlets that use these mascots as solitary sources, at times defaming, more often silencing, challenging voices now need to be held accountable by a broader base of concerned groups.

Thankfully, their spin doctor tactics are becoming less and less effective at duping people – and it is only the very obviously aligned who now repeat their tricks.

“Instead of grounding people in truth and balance – which is the thing that actually translates into real public safety and trust – these “think tanks” then use this insecurity to further push evil narratives.”

Will the really smart people please stand up

Given all of the above, we call on journalists and community organisations to directly challenge any newspaper, politicians or self-styled “experts” linked (however delicately) with any of these groups, as well as the organisations themselves, and call for their accountability in inducing societal division, fear and securitization on a broad scale.

Such “policy think tanks” have enabled rather outdated and impractical ideas to take centre stage in politics in the UK. This has led to an apparently irreversible policy rot in government and the systematic erosion of rule of law principles by those in power.

This process in itself should be enough to testify to even the mild-minded democrat that their ideas and their policies are unworkable and dangerous.

Now is the time for the articulate and smart to speak up. Behind them, must stand the academics and researchers, who have a professional and moral duty to employ their deep scholarly tradition of analysis and reason to analyse the “research” and “analysis” spouted by these organisations, expose them to rigorous questioning and launch counter arguments.

They should watch out for attempts to criminalise intellectualism and divide communities, and call them out for the danger they pose to the integrity of public argument and our unity of purpose with each other and those outside our immediate changemaker circles.

All of us can then launch direct challenges to their public statements based on actual evidence and much sounder enquiry, and in a united way.

This is a crucial part of reclaiming truth for ordinary people, which will inevitably undo much of the damage these organisations have done at both a policy level and to broader peaceful co-existence.

Images in this piece courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Sam Armstrong3
Wikimedia Commons/Katie Chan4
Islamophobia Today

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)