Earlier this year, I resigned from the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) and requested that my name be removed from its website. The HJS is a UK think-tank frequently described as 'neoconservative'. It includes among its Trustees Michael Gove, the current Secretary of State for Education, and it is alleged to have influenced the foreign policy of David Cameron and William Hague. It currently serves as a secretariat, at the House of Commons, to the All-Party Parliamentary Groups for Transatlantic and International Security and for Homeland Security. I had held a senior post within this organisation for seven years, first as Greater Europe Co-Director, then as European Neighbourhood Section Director. However, I reluctantly had to face the fact that the HJS has degenerated to the point where it is a mere caricature of its former self. No longer is it a centrist, bipartisan think-tank seeking to promote democratic geopolitics through providing sober, objective and informed analysis to policy-makers. Instead, it has become an abrasively right-wing forum with an anti-Muslim tinge, churning out polemical and superficial pieces by aspiring journalists and pundits that pander to a narrow readership of extreme Europhobic British Tories, hardline US Republicans and Israeli Likudniks. The story of the HJS's degeneration provides an insight into the obscure backstage world of Conservative politics.
There are three factors that define this degeneration. The first is that almost all the people who founded and established the HJS have either left or been edged out of the organisation. According to its Wikipedia entry as it currently stands, 'The society was founded in March 2005 by academics and students at Cambridge (mostly affiliated with the Centre for International Studies), including Brendan Simms, Dr. Alan Mendoza, Marko Attila Hoare (who has since severed his links with the society), Gideon Mailer, James Rogers and Matthew Jamison.' The list should include also John Bew, Martyn Frampton and Gabriel Glickman. None of these people are now left, except Mendoza as Executive Director, and Simms as nominal president (or possibly president of the Cambridge branch; the website is ambiguous on this point, probably deliberately). Simms is the only intellectually serious figure still attached to the organisation, but no longer has much – if any – influence over it.
The second factor is that there is absolutely no internal democracy in the HJS, nor any transparency or rules of procedure. Absolutely none whatsoever. Less than in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Probably less than in the Syrian Arab Republic. As someone with an early background in far-left politics, I grew up with groups like the Socialist Workers Party, in which total power is held by one or two leaders, but the totalitarianism is disguised by window-dressing consisting of branch meetings, annual conferences, meetings of the Politburo and the like. Well, the HJS is like that, but without the window-dressing: there isn't even the pretence of democracy or consultation. Instead, the organisation operates on the basis of cronyism and intrigue. Sole power is held by one individual – Executive Director Alan Mendoza. He was not elected to the post and is not subject even to formal or technical restraints, nor to performance review and renewal of contract.
The third factor is that, although the HJS was intended to be a centrist, bi-partisan organisation, its leadership has now moved far to the right, and abandoned any pretence of being bi-partisan or pro-European (its Associate Director, Douglas Murray, is on record as having stated that 'the EU is a monstrosity – no good can come of it… The best thing could just simply be for it to be razed to the ground and don't start again [sic]'). Most of the people who left or have been purged are of a broadly centre-left outlook and background: Rogers and Jamison are Labour Party supporters; I came from an early background in Trotskyist politics; Mailer and Bew also came from left-wing backgrounds.
Things were not always this way. When the HJS was founded on the initiative of Brendan Simms back in 2005, it was an organisation intended to transcend the left-right divide, uniting Labour and Conservative supporters on a platform of supporting a progressive, forward foreign policy, involving the promotion of democracy and human rights globally. It was set up as a reaction against the conservative-realist right and the anti-imperialist left, whose hostility to the idea of progressive intervention abroad led them to line up behind dictators such as Slobodan Milosevic and Robert Mugabe. The HJS was supposed to be both pro-American and pro-European. It was Simms's insight that, in order to be an important player on the world stage, Britain had to be centrally involved in European affairs. As he explained in his book Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire, 1714-1783 (Penguin, 2008), Britain's defeat in the American War of Independence and loss of its American colonies was the direct result of its withdrawal from European affairs.
The HJS's members were young academics, most of them graduate students of Simms's, and it was run in a collegiate and democratic manner. There were regular meetings at which policy and organisational activities were discussed. Simms was the de facto leader, by virtue of being the founder and the oldest and most senior individual, but everyone was free to participate and express themselves, it being recognised that there were significant political differences amongst us, and that this was a good thing, since the HJS was supposed to be a broad church.
In those comradely early days of the HJS, it was difficult to appreciate just how important it should have been to establish clear rules of procedure, rights of membership and good governance. Unfortunately, this was not done, and the organisation grew exponentially while remaining dangerously informal and opaque in its internal organisation. When, after all the hard work and efforts of the founding members, the HJS was able to acquire a London office, it was at once the mark of its success and the start of its internal degeneration. It was now no longer so easy to assemble the still mostly Cambridge-based team for regular meetings. The move to London occurred shortly after Brendan Simms, the HJS's President and founder, opted to retreat from day-t0-day management of the organisation, while James Rogers, the Director of Operations, scaled back his activities. Mendoza, the Executive Director, took over the central role in managing the organisation. By default, power fell into his lap.
Alan Mendoza is an ambitious young professional politician of the Conservative Party and a former Tory local councillor in the London Borough of Brent. According to his HJS page, he is 'Founder and President of the Disraelian Union, a London-based progressive Conservative think-tank and discussion forum, and has worked to develop relationships and ideas between political networks in the United Kingdom, United States and Europe. He is also Chief Advisor to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Transatlantic & International Security and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Homeland Security'. However, unlike Rogers and Simms, Mendoza is not someone with a grand vision or a developed geopolitical philosophy to put forward. He has not produced much in the way of analysis, and did not contribute to The British Moment; the HJS's manifesto, published in 2006 and still one of the very few genuine publications that this think-tank has produced. The HJS website, at the time of writing, contains only two articles by Mendoza – one from March 2011 and one from May 2012. Instead, Mendoza's field was administration: he had helped run such bodies as the Disraelian Dining Society and the Cambridge University Conservative Association. Once he took over the running of the HJS from Rogers and Simms, Mendoza had his hands on all the levers of power within the organisation, of which the most important was control of the website. Mendoza set about converting the HJS into his personal fiefdom, packing its staff with his own apparatchiks recruited via his personal network.
The practice of regular staff meetings was now ended, and staff members were no longer consulted or even informed about major policy or organisational decisions. In practice, Mendoza just did whatever he wanted to, adding or removing staff to and from the website and inventing or erasing their virtual job-titles as and when he felt like it. For example, a certain Duncan Crossey was one of two founders and co-presidents of a Conservative organisation called the Disraelian Union. The other founder and co-president was Mendoza. It was thus perhaps not entirely for meritocratic reasons that Crossey was appointed for a while to the grandiose but meaningless title of 'Political Director of the Henry Jackson Society'. I'm not aware of him having done much political directing while he held this virtual title, but it's something he can put on his CV.
The other Old Bolsheviks lasted only until they had outlived their usefulness, and until Mendoza was in a position to get rid of them. In my own case, Mendoza once informed me that having established experts such as myself in the HJS allowed it to 'punch above its weight' as a think-tank. He needed my name and reputation as a Balkan expert to lend credibility to the HJS, while it was still in the process of establishing itself.
On 31 July 2007, James Rogers had a letter published in The Times, arguing in favour of Britain's signature of the EU constitution treaty. He signed the letter 'Director of Operations of the Henry Jackson Society'. This letter provoked the ire of one the HJS's right-wing Eurosceptic supporters, who sent a complaint to the Society about the pro-European line it was endorsing, along with an ultimatum that Rogers's letter be repudiated. The gentleman in question was oblivious to the fact that the HJS's statement of principles explicitly supported European defence integration. Nevertheless, Mendoza published a 'correction' prominently on the HJS website, stating that Rogers had incorrectly and wrongly attributed his personal views to the HJS as a whole. Mendoza did this entirely on his own initiative, without consulting Simms (who was out of the country at the time) or Rogers himself. It was a very public repudiation by the HJS of Rogers – the man whose hard work over a long period had done more than anyone's to launch the Society – and prompted his resignation as Director of Operations and withdrawal from virtually all HJS activity.
In reality, Rogers had not violated the HJS's rules and procedures, which did not exist in any written or codified form. He had, in fact, previously published several letters in British newspapers on his own initiative, signed with his HJS affiliation, without being so much as criticised privately by his HJS colleagues, let alone publicly repudiated. The 'correction' was simply an expression of Mendoza's personal policy and control of the website, and his desire to appease a relatively minor Conservative Party figure. In the years to come, Mendoza would do much more on his own personal initiative than simply publish a letter in a newspaper, but would issue policy statements, merge the organisation with other organisations, and change senior staff members' job titles or purge them altogether – all without consulting his colleagues.
The HJS was organised on the basis of 'Sections' for different parts of the world, with 'Section Directors' responsible for analysis in their own area. Soon after the HJS's creation, Simms and Rogers devised a scheme, whereby Section Directors would, every month, write one report in their field and republish one other article from an external website or author. Eventually, we would receive in return a nominal payment of £50 per month. Section Directors could post their articles directly onto the website. While it lasted, this system ensured that the HJS's analysis did not represent the views of just one or two leaders at the top, but rather those of a range of regional experts. It guaranteed the organisation's pluralism, but only until the Section Directors had served their purpose, Mendoza's personal fiefdom had been established and he could jettison them.
One example of how this jettisoning was done was the case of Matthew Jamison, Section Director for Britain. Jamison had been centrally involved with the HJS from its foundation, and organised the very first meeting of the embryonic society at Peterhouse, Cambridge in autumn 2004. He was a principal organiser of many events and roundtable discussions and seminars, including the HJS's Westminster launch in November 2005 and the book launch of The British Moment in July 2006. However, he was never paid for any of the work he did, nor did he receive expenses for the times he hosted guests of the Society for PR purposes (though the guests' meals were paid for). He did not receive payment for the analytical pieces he wrote for the HJS either. In effect, he subsidised the HJS over a period of years. But this effort was not rewarded or appreciated – on the contrary. One day, Jamison woke up to find that on the HJS website, he was no longer listed as 'Section Director for Britain', and that someone else's name appeared in his place. This occurred without any prior warning or consultation; it was simply the personal decision of the Executive Director. Eventually, Jamison's name would be removed from the website altogether – again without any prior warning or consultation. This sort of treatment has been the norm.
The people who replaced the HJS founders at the head of the organisation were staff members of another think-tank: the Israel-advocacy organisation 'Just Journalism', of which Mendoza was a member of the Advisory Board and which shared the HJS's London office. At the time of Just Journalism's launch in March 2008, the Spectator columnist Melanie Phillips wrote of it that 'A very welcome and desperately-needed initiative has just been launched to monitor distortions, bias and prejudice in British media coverage of the Middle East.'
(Following the international recognition of Kosovo's independence in February 2008, Phillips wrote in the Spectator: 'It was at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 that some 70,000 died to keep the Islamic Ottoman Empire from advancing further into Europe. What is the point of fighting the jihad in Iraq when we are cheerfully opening the door to it in that very same place?' Despite, or perhaps because of such a worldview, Phillips's books were until recently advertised on the HJS website).
Just Journalism was forced to close in September 2011, only three and a half years after its launch, due to lack of funds, but not before this financially destitute outfit had taken over its financially thriving room-mate. Just Journalism's Executive Director, Michael Weiss, joined the HJS staff in March 2010. His title has been redefined at least a couple of times and at one point he was 'Acting Director of Research', then as 'Director of Communications and Public Relations'.
Some months before Just Journalism closed, Weiss had ceased to be its Executive Director, serving for a while as its spokesman. He says he was taken by surprise by the news that the organisation was to be closed. However, by that time he was safely ensconced in the HJS. I was aware that he had joined the team but otherwise knew nothing about him, though I had accepted his 'friend' request on Facebook (temporarily, as it turned out). I became rather more aware of him last autumn, when he tried unsuccessfully to prevent me publishing my regular monthly report on the HJS website, on the grounds that, as 'Acting Director of Research', it was up to him to decide what was published there. I had by then been contributing articles to the HJS website for six years, and that was the first time I had ever heard of that rule, or of that title. ('Acting' was the operative word, for Weiss didn't appear to direct much in the way of research while he held that virtual title. This virtual title was short-lived, and Weiss was then listed for a while as 'Director of Communications and Public Relations', while the HJS apparently managed to function without any 'Director of Research', 'acting' or otherwise. Now Weiss is again listed as 'Director of Research', though it is possible that his title will change again in a couple of months).
Since the report that I had written and that Weiss tried to veto was scarcely out of keeping with the HJS 'line', and since I had never had any previous dealings with Weiss, I do not attribute his behaviour to political or personal differences with me. Indeed, the report was subsequently republished by The Commentator, the website of senior HJS staff-member Robin Shepherd. Weiss was either attempting to throw his weight around in the section of Mendoza's fiefdom assigned to him, or was enacting Mendoza's policy of squeezing out what remained of the other HJS founding members.
On the occasion in question, Mendoza overruled Weiss, and agreed to publish my report on the HJS blog. Given that the HJS had contracted me to write a monthly report, he may have been legally obliged to do this. But at our last meeting, Mendoza did confirm to me that it would henceforth be up to 'them' to approve who published what on the website. Under Weiss's direction, the website has been not entirely ungenerous in providing space for the promotion of his own work: at the time this article was first drafted, no fewer than five of the ten 'commentary' articles and three of the ten 'blog' articles on the HJS website were by Weiss. And Weiss is not, be it remembered, an academic expert on Syria and the Middle East in the manner of someone like Daniel Pipes, but merely an activist with strong views who follows events there closely.
Recently, Weiss has reinvented himself also as an expert on Russia – about which he has no more academic expertise than he does about the Middle East – using as his launch-pad the HJS website. The latter now hosts a Potemkin-village 'Russia Studies Centre', which describes itself grandiloquently as a 'research and advocacy centre', but is really just a website where Weiss blogs about Russia. Such amateurism is now the norm: of the staff members listed for the London office, Mendoza alone appears to be educated to PhD level, while the average age for those working there is below 30. The website has even started to include anonymous blogger types among its authors, at one point including a certain 'Brett', whose surname wasn't listed.
In addition to Weiss, two other members of Just Journalism's Advisory Board joined the HJS's senior staff: Robin Shepherd as 'Director of International Affairs' and Douglas Murray as 'Associate Director'. Thus, four of the six top posts in the HJS are now held by former managers of Just Journalism. They have ensured that the HJS's political goals have departed radically to those with which it was founded.
Murray was and is also the director of another outfit, the 'Centre for Social Cohesion'. Or rather, he is the Centre for Social Cohesion: the 'About Us' section of its website says only that 'Douglas Murray is the Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion. Murray is a bestselling author and political commentator who regularly appears in the British and foreign press and media. A columnist for Standpoint magazine, he writes for a variety of other publications, including the Sunday Times, Spectator and Wall Street Journal. He is an Associate Director at the Henry Jackson Society. As of the 1 April 2011 CSC personnel has joined the Henry Jackson Society. CSC will continue to operate as a non-partisan independent organisation specialising in studying radicalisation and extremism within Britain.' That is how the organisation defines itself.
In April 2011, the Centre for Social Cohesion merged with the HJS. This merger was engineered by Mendoza without consulting or even informing in advance other HJS staff members; I and others learned about it only from the announcement on the public mailing list. The merger was incongruous, since whereas the HJS was intended to be a bi-partisan organisation promoting democratic geopolitics, Murray's interest lay in opposing Islam and immigration (thus, a few days after the announcement of the merger, Murray published an article in The Express entitled 'Britain has let in far too many foreigners').
The following are examples of Murray's anti-Muslim statements:
'Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board: Europe must look like a less attractive proposition. We in Europe owe – after all – no special dues to Islam. We owe them no religious holidays, special rights or privileges. From long before we were first attacked it should have been made plain that people who come into Europe are here under our rules and not theirs. There is not an inch of ground to give on this one. Where a mosque has become a centre of hate it should be closed and pulled down. If that means that some Muslims don't have a mosque to go to, then they'll just have to realise that they aren't owed one. Grievances become ever-more pronounced the more they are flattered and the more they are paid attention to. So don't flatter them.'
'It is late in the day, but Europe still has time to turn around the demographic time-bomb which will soon see a number of our largest cities fall to Muslim majorities. It has to. All immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop. In the case of a further genocide such as that in the Balkans, sanctuary would be given on a strictly temporary basis. This should also be enacted retrospectively. Those who are currently in Europe having fled tyrannies should be persuaded back to the countries which they fled from once the tyrannies that were the cause of their flight have been removed.'
'We do have a problem; we have a problem when the failures of Islam throughout the world; the failures of all Islamic societies come here into Britain. Their intolerance of freedom of conscience; their intolerance of apostates; their intolerance of freedom of expression and freedom of speech; their intolerance of minorities, other religious minorities, sexual minorities; their intolerance of gays; their dislike and distrust of half of the population – women; and many, many other things. And they call, what is more, for a parallel legal system within Britain and European societies. This is monstrous; no other group behaves like this – asks for parallel laws. This is a fundamental problem, and it's one we're going to have to deal with. It's a problem between a society – Western Europe – that believes that laws are based on reason, and Islam that believes that they are based on revelation. Between these two ideas, I'm not sure there is very much compromise for Europe. It is not Europe that has let down its Muslims, but the Muslims of Europe that have let down Europe. … It is not Europe that has failed its Muslims; it is Islam that has failed Europe.'
Murray is also on record as saying of Robert Spencer (the director of Stop the Islamization of America, proprietor of the viciously anti-Muslim website Jihad Watch and a loud denier of the Srebrenica genocide): 'I happen to know Robert Spencer; I respect him; he's a very brilliant scholar and writer'.
I was shocked that someone with such extreme views about Muslims and Islam should be appointed Associate Director of the HJS. I published an article on my blog explaining how it had been foisted on the HJS without consultation with senior staff members, and condemning his views on Muslims and Islam (after informing Mendoza and Simms well in advance that I would do so). After this article was published, Mendoza phoned me to try to pressurise me to remove it, claiming that Murray would otherwise sue me for libel. By way of warning, he pointed out that Murray had previously threatened legal action against Sunny Hundal, editor of Liberal Conspiracy, forcing him to remove a reference to him on Hundal's website. On another occasion, he had apparently pressurised the Huffington Post into removing references to him as well. In the words of The Commentator, the website of senior HJS staff-member Robin Shepherd: 'Murray warned the Huffpo that its time in Britain would be short if it persisted in libeling people in this manner. At which point, the Huffington Post agreed to remove references to Murray from the story.'
I refused to delete or substantially alter the content of my article, but I agreed to make some minor changes. I had quoted some not entirely unambiguously negative comments that Murray had made about the English Defence League (EDL), and at Mendoza's express request, I agreed to insert into the text a somewhat more negative statement that Murray had previously made about the EDL. The modified article therefore balanced the less-than-negative statements that Murray had made about the EDL with a more negative one, so did greater justice to his vacillating opinion on this organisation. Mendoza also asked me to delete my description of Murray's views on Islam as 'bigoted and intolerant'; I agreed to delete 'bigoted' but refused to delete 'intolerant'. Thus, my article about him concluded with 'I consider his views on Islam and Muslims to be intolerant, ignorant, two-dimensional and, frankly, horrifying.'
Murray's behaviour, in this instance and in the others mentioned above, was somewhat hypocritical, given that he has appeared as a speaker at entire conferences dedicated to attacking Muslims for employing libel 'lawfare' to silence criticism of Islam. On at least one such occasion, he did so alongside Mendoza. Or as he put it: 'If there were one thing I would wish Muslims in Europe could learn today, as fast as possible, it would be this: you have no right, in this society, not to be offended. You have no right to say that because you don't like something, you would use violence or you would like something to be stopped or censored…'.
In retrospect, I should have resigned from the HJS at this point, but I was encouraged to stay by the fact that all three of the founding members with whom I discussed my article (apart from Mendoza) sympathised or agreed with it. I wrongly believed that this constituted some guarantee that the HJS would remain true to its founding principles and retain a pluralistic character. I didn't realise the extent to which the Just Journalism clique had expropriated all power within the organisation, and that the other founding members were all now wholly irrelevant within it.
By appointing as his 'Associate Director' a pundit known primarily for his polemics against Muslims and Islam, Mendoza signalled a change, not only in the HJS's political orientation, but also in its tone. Since then, instead of sober analytical pieces providing analysis and suggesting strategy, the HJS website has been filled with republished op-eds of a more polemical nature, seemingly calculated not so much to influence policy-makers as to pander to the HJS's increasingly right-wing readership. Thus, the HJS has published or republished several articles attacking the marginal, maverick far-left UK politician George Galloway (Douglas Murray, 'Behind Galloway's Grin'; George Grant, 'Galloway back in parliament: Not free from imperialist yoke yet' and 'George Galloway is no friend of the Arab world'; as well as a video of 'Houriya Ahmed on George Galloway's election').
Conversely, the HJS's coverage of more serious international political issues has been less copious. For example, it has made virtually no attempt to provide any strategic analysis, or suggest policy, regarding the Eurozone crisis (James Rogers would have been ideally qualified to do this, had he remained in the organisation). The HJS has effectively given up on analysis of most parts of the world. Its founding member Gideon Mailer was an Africa expert and had written the chapter on Africa in The British Moment, but he too has long ceased to have any voice in the organisation, so the HJS has given up on covering sub-Saharan Africa, except in relation to the Islamist threat. Its geographical focus is now mostly limited to the Middle East and Russia, with some coverage of British and US domestic affairs. The 'France' category of the HJS contains, at the time of writing, seven articles: four on the Islamist perpetrator of the Toulouse killings; one in support of the jailing of a French Muslim woman for violating the burkha ban; and one attacking President Sarkozy for his hostility to Binyamin Netanyahu. And the seventh doesn't say much about France either.
Coverage of the Middle East has, indeed, largely squeezed out the rest of the world, and has become less about policy and more about commentary. But even here, the increasingly blog-like character of the website has taken its toll so far as quality and consistency are concerned. As recently as August, Weiss rejected the possibility of Western military intervention in Syria on the grounds that 'in contrast to Libya's expansive geography, Syria is a densely-packed country where the proximity of military installations to civilian population centers is too close to allow for an aerial bombardment campaign without incurring heavy civilian casualties.' This article has been removed from the HJS website, but is available elsewhere. Four months later, he argued the opposite: that civilian losses could be 'minimized given the technological and strategic superiority of Western powers.' Either the second conclusion is questionable or the first was made too hastily.
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. It has published at least four articles on the Toulouse killings by a lone Islamist, but none on the massacres carried out by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in July. Actually, as European Neighbourhood Section Director, I did publish an article on Breivik and the European anti-Islamic far-right, in which I concluded that 'The Islamophobic, anti-immigration far-right is the no. 1 internal threat in Western Europe to European society and Western values today.' This article was immediately removed from the website and resulted in me having my right to post articles directly to the HJS website revoked.
Mendoza's last reorganisation of the website, earlier this year, resulted in all the remaining founding members of the HJS being removed from the online staff-list, including myself, Mailer, Bew and Jamison – all without prior consultation or notification. When one of my colleagues, so purged, contacted Mendoza to ask about this, he was told that the HJS was 'reducing its online presence', and that he (Mendoza) had written to inform staff members of this, but had forgotten to include the colleague in question's name on the mailing list. This was false, as none of us had been informed.
My own name nevertheless remained on the HJS's list of authors, along with my biography and photo; when I wrote to ask about this, I was told I had been assigned a 'new position'. If this was true, I have absolutely no idea what that 'new position' was, and whatever it was, it was certainly not one I had been invited to take up, let alone agreed to do so.
The leadership of the reconstructed HJS does not appear actually to believe in the liberal or democratic transformation of the Middle East – at least if Murray's views on the subject are anything to go by. Yet its support for war against Middle Eastern regimes, in particular Iran, is very vocal. The HJS has thrown out the progressive and democratic baby but kept the pro-war bathwater.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.