The Henry Jackson Society (HJS), a controversial right-wing ‘think-tank’, has published a report on all terrorism convictions in Britain from 1998 to 2015.
The report was surprisingly endorsed by Mark Rowley, Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations for the Met, and David Anderson, former Independent Reviewer for Terrorism legislation. In a foreword to the research, Anderson described it as “an impressive resource” which will be of particular value to policy-makers, law enforcement”.
This support from a former independent reviewer and a senior police officer is telling of the deeper structural discrimination Muslims are faced with.
While CAGE agrees that policies should be evidence-based, this report cannot be viewed as a reliable resource as it seems to present the numbers in a convenient way, overstating the threat of terrorism and reinforcing stereotypes around Muslim-populated neighbourhoods and Muslim women.
It is also important to understand the ideologically driven agenda behind this report, an agenda which instead of resolving the problem of political violence, actually fuels it.
HJS has manipulated numbers to present exaggerated claims
The report by the HJS makes a number of claims chief amongst them that we are facing “a major home-grown threat” of terrorism.
The 253 terror convictions, not necessarily involving violence, represent an insignificant 0.009% of Muslims living in the UK. Based on this statistic, it’s a huge exaggeration to claim “terrorism was spreading in all corners of the country”, as was reported in the media.
Moreover, 84% of all terrorism cases, are not “serious attack related”, defined as “actual, attempted or planned UK attacks intended to lead to indiscriminate and/or targeted deaths for terrorist purposes”. In real terms these amount to 22 cases in 17 years.
The reports also attempt to push the “jihadi-bride” narrative. Headlines have sensationally announced that that the number of female terrorists in Britain had tripled in the last five years.
Again in context these figures translate to 18 women over a 17 years period, which amounts to 0.001% of Muslim women in the UK.
The report itself concedes that most of the time, these women played a minor role, and that this often involved behaviour that was supportive of a relative or someone with whom they had a personal relationship.
Another narrative parroted by the report is the existence of ‘hotbeds’ and ‘hotspots’ of terrorism in areas of London and Birmingham.
Once the numbers are analysed, it emerges that only 0.01% of the Muslim residents in these areas have ever been convicted of terror offences. This amounts to a total of 117 cases in London and 39 in Birmingham over a period of 17 years.
HJS and a web of controversy and support for hate and torture
The HJS has recently come under the spotlight after allegations emerged that it had received thousands in a deal with the Japanese embassy to wage a propaganda campaign against China.
The Charity Commission, which is said to be considering regulatory action against the HJS, is currently headed by a former council member of the HJS, William Shawcross. He has infamously defended the Guantanamo camps and was branded a torture defender after he appeared to excuse waterboarding.
Read more: Under fire Charity Commission pursues phantoms, flouts rule of law, as it publishes ‘unremarkable’ two-year CAGE funding report
Douglas Murray, associate director of the Henry Jackson Society, has also been accused of making anti-Muslim statements. Standing in front the Dutch Parliament in 2006, he advocated that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”.
He also appeared alongside Robert Spencer, a far-right US Islamophobe banned from Britain. Spencer referred to Murray as a “friend”.
The author of the report, Hannah Stuart, is no stranger to controversy either. She has appeared on national television, seemingly denying that Shaker Aamer and Moazzam Begg had been tortured by US personnel during their years in arbitrary detention in Kandahar, Bagram and Guantanamo.
The report launch was presented by Lord Howard, former conservative party leader and the Chair of Soma Oil and Gas. In July 2015, Soma Oil was accused by a UN body of bribing Somali officials. Following an investigation, the British Serious Fraud Office concluded there “were reasonable grounds to suspect the commission of offences involving corruption”. No further action was taken as there was no “ realistic prospect of conviction”.
HJS is spreading fear, marginalising Muslims and bulking up PREVENT
The HJS report comes at a time when criticisms over the PREVENT strategy have never been so high. The strategy has widely been branded as toxic and calls for it to be scrapped have emerged from all sections of British society.
The latest condemnation came from a Council of Europe watchdog which found that PREVENT was “fomenting fear and resentment among communities, the Muslims in particular”.
Yet, commenting on her report, Hannah Stuart, contended that resources needed to be targeted at “preventative work”.
Since they are fighting a losing battle, the proponents of a closed society such as the HJS have no choice but to spread fear in order to make up for the failures of PREVENT.
In this context, casting suspicion on the entire community, stigmatising Muslim-populated neighbourhoods as “hotspots” and portraying Muslim women as potential ticking bombs is not the result of an evidence-based approach but the reflection of ideologically-driven prejudices.
A seemingly coordinated effort with police
This attempt seems to have been coordinated with the nationwide “Action counters terrorism” police campaign, in which Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, who also endorsed the report, appealed for the public to “act on their instincts” and report even information which they believe is insignificant.
Despite all of the above, the Henry Jackson Society has received very little challenges to its “findings”.
Ending the cycle of violence
After over a decade of the same rhetoric with no result, it is time to adopt a reasonable and dispassionate approach to the issue of political violence. In this context, an organisation with an agenda such as the HJS, is part of the problem, not the solution.
In his latest book, Dr Marc Sageman, former CIA operative and pioneer in terrorism studies, argues that U.S society has been transformed for the worse by an extreme overreaction to a limited threat, despite spectacular incidents, which he takes fully into account.
Sageman criticized US analysts who “mix apples and oranges”. He said: “The result is a great inflation of the terrorist threat to the United States, resulting in popular hysteria that leads to calls to abrogate civil liberties of suspect populations and demands to kill hundreds or thousands of innocent Muslims abroad.”
It seems that the neo-conservative Henry Jackson Society is following the same methodology to further the same agenda in Britain.
Sageman points us towards solutions. In the final part of his research, he concludes that “most often, campaigns of political violence have ended through enlightened state strategy breaking the cycle of violence”.
This includes “a return to justice and fairness through impartial and transparent procedural justice”, “procedures for addressing valid grievances in a legitimate way”.
He adds that “fair and respectful treatment of all societal members, especially impartiality to its minorities, is the defining characteristic of good national leadership”.
“Mutual escalation of conflict leads to the emergence and continuation of campaigns of violence. The key to containing and ending such campaigns is for the state to assess the threat accurately and not overreact”.
Such an approach requires us to engage in dialogue, resist populist temptations and demonstrate a genuine willingness to revise damaging policies, both foreign and domestic.
This has always been CAGE’s call.
CC image courtesy of Unspash – Ethan Wilkinson
(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.)