Henry Who? Scoop Jackson and the Cold War on British Muslims

by Tom Griffin, Hilary Aked, David Miller and Sarah Marusek

Contemporary counter-extremism policies targeting British Muslims are rooted in the Cold War opposition to détente.

First published: 25 June, 2015 | Category: Civil Liberties, History, Racism, The Right

At the Global Security Conference in Bratislava last week, David Cameron identified non-violent extremism, 'quietly condoned' in local communities, as a key factor in causing Islamist terrorism. This drew a rebuke from Sayeeda Warsi, the former co-chair of the Conservative Party, who criticised his focus on 'the notion of Muslim community complicity'. Speaking to the Independent, she questioned whether Government counter-extremism policies represent 'a genuine attempt to deal with extremism in all its forms, as opposed to the current perception that it is a Cold War against British Muslims,' echoing a title of a 2011 Spinwatch report.  In that study we argued that a number of think-tanks had sought to shift official counter-terrorism towards cold war-style counter-subversion, concerned less with violence and more with ideas as a threat in themselves.

The Cold War on British Muslims identified two think-tanks central to this process: Policy Exchange, reputedly 'David Cameron's favourite think-tank', and Douglas Murray's Centre for Social Cohesion. The latter has since been absorbed by the Henry Jackson Society, the subject of a Spinwatch report released earlier this month, The Henry Jackson Society and the Degeneration of British Neoconservatism, and an organisation which perfectly embodies the Cold War heritage of contemporary counter-extremism.

The Society’s name perplexed many observers from the beginning. Reviewing the society’s first book in 2006, The British Moment, Samuel Brittan asked: ‘Why, then, take the name of a US senator with a very mixed bag of views?  Better to have called it the Palmerston Society after the 19th century British prime minister who selectively favoured 'small nations struggling to be free', often with the aid of British gunboats.’

The British Moment provided one answer to Brittan’s question with a short biography of Henry M. ‘Scoop’ Jackson, the US senator for Washington State, who died in 1983.  This described Jackson as ‘an ardent New Dealer, trade unionist, environmentalist and supporter of the early civil rights movement’ and as the ‘scourge of corporate interests, particularly power and oil companies, who objected to his enthusiasm for nationalisation and price controls.’[1]

In seeking to bolster Jackson’s progressive credentials, this account elides important features of his career. Jackson’s record on civil rights was far from unblemished.  As a congressman during World War Two, he opposed allowing Japanese Americans to serve in the military, arguing ‘there is more espionage perpetrated on the part of the second generation “Jap” than the first generation.’[2]

In the 1950s, he was a notably quiescent member of the Senate Investigations Subcommittee during Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunts.[3]  ‘Liberal Republicans started the move against McCarthy’, Senator Eugene McCarthy later said.  ‘Then the Southern Democrats came in, because he was not a gentleman in the Southern tradition. Then liberal Democrats such as Henry came in only when it was safe.’[4]

During his 1972 presidential run, Jackson sought to win over supporters of segregationist George Wallace by proposing a constitutional ban on the practise of school bussing, which had been instituted in an attempt to integrate schools.[5]  If Jackson was a scourge of oil interests, they were nevertheless among the largest backers of his 1972 presidential campaign.  The largest single donation of $225,000 came from oil millionaire Leon Hess, a fact that was not revealed until a list of Jackson’s contributors was released by the Watergate Committee in 1974.[6]

Jackson’s most consistent characteristic, however, was support for the military, which some attributed to his truncated service during World War Two, when he chose to return to Congress rather than remain with his unit which was later sent to Europe.[7]  As early as 1951, Jackson was warning that the US was ‘falling behind in the atomic armaments competition’, citing intelligence reports that he could not reveal for national security reasons.[8]  In the mid-1950s, he was a leading proponent of the false belief that the US was threatened by a ‘missile gap’ that presaged Soviet victory in the Cold War.[9]

Surveying this record in 1975, New Republic journalist Peter J. Ognibene wrote: ‘Jackson believes he is an internationalist and regards those who oppose his cold war outlook as isolationists. His brand of internationalism is more properly called “interventionism” because it is predicated almost entirely on military power. [...] He can reduce the most complex international issue to a matter of arms and their threatened or actual use. Although the word has emotional overtones, he may be properly called a militarist without stretching the definition.’[10]  Ognibene calculated that if all of Jackson’s recommendations had been followed, the US defence budget, which was close to $100 billion in 1975, would instead have been on the order of between $150 and $200 billion.[11]

If American militarism was key to Jackson’s political personality, support for Israel, often seen in the same light, was a much later development. Ognibene noted that he said little on the subject for most of his career, making no public comment during the 1967 Six Day War.  He was also a member of two social clubs which operated an anti-Semitic policy: the University Club of Seattle and the Chevy Chase Club of Washington, the latter of which refused to allow members’ Jewish guests to use the club’s bathroom facilities as late as 1970.[12]  Ognibene saw further evidence of ethnic insensitivity in a 1974 stump speech in which Jackson recounted a meeting with Saudi Arabian politician Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, exclaiming ‘No dirty A-rab sheik is gonna tell us what to do’.[13]

Ognibene argued that Jackson did not begin to build a record of support for Israel until the year before his first presidential run.[14]  If that explanation – implying that Jackson’s shift stemmed from an electoral appeal to pro-Israel sections of the Jewish community – seems too cynical, it is worth noting that at the same time Jackson took a similar interest in the foreign policy concerns of other major ethnic groups in the United States.  In a letter to the Irish National Caucus during the 1976 campaign, Jackson stated: ‘I support a declaration of intent from the British Government regarding their withdrawal from Ireland, and I believe that will be a concrete step towards peace with justice in Ireland, a cause for which an Irishman, Frank Stagg, died recently in a nonviolent, peaceful protest in an English prison.’  The letter proved to be a useful tool for the Irish National Caucus in influencing the eventual Democratic nominee for president, Jimmy Carter.[15]

A more principled explanation of Jackson’s changing position is that by the early 1970s, the Arab-Israeli conflict was becoming much more closely bound up with his Cold War preoccupations.  The outcome of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the superpowers worked together to rein in Israel’s counter-attack at the end of the conflict, strongly reinforced the combination of Cold War anti-communism and support for Israel that defined an emerging movement that was already being called neoconservatism.[16]

As The British Moment says ‘The signature issue of Jackson’s career for which he is still best remembered, was his opposition to détente with the Soviet Union.’[17]  Jackson was the leader of an anti-détente movement, based on an exaggerated view of Soviet strength, which helped to draw a section of former liberals into the conservative coalition of the 1980s, only for its founding convictions to be repudiated by Ronald Reagan himself with the advent of perestroika. Without that legacy, the figure that Jackson presents to history – that of a provincial senator and presidential also-ran – seems of little significance to 21st Century Britain.  The invocation of his name by those seeking to influence British security policies today, underlines the extent to which fashionable counter-extremism approaches often amount to little more than repackaged Cold War paranoia.

New Left Project co-editor Tom Mills has worked for Spinwatch and collaborated with the authors of this article.

Tom Griffin is a freelance writer and researcher and a doctoral candidate at the University of Bath. He is a former executive editor and political correspondent of the Irish World.

Hilary Aked is a freelance researcher and writer and a doctoral candidate at the University of Bath. She is a former editor of London Student, the student newspaper of the University of London.

David Miller is Professor of Sociology in the Department of Social and Policy Sciences at the University of Bath. He is an RCUK Global Uncertainties Leadership Fellow (2013-15) conducting a project to examine the construction, use and impact of expertise on ‘terrorism’.

Dr Sarah Marusek is a freelance researcher and writer. She has a PhD in social science from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. Her doctoral research focused on Islamic activism in Lebanon.


[1] Appendix 1, ‘Who was Henry Jackson’ in John Bew, Gabriel Glickman, Martyn Frampton, eds., The British Moment: The Case for Democratic Geopolitics in the Twenty-First Century, London: Social Affairs Unit, 2006, p.107.

[2] Peter J. Ognibene, Scoop: The Life and Politics of Henry M. Jackson, New York: Stein & Day, 1975, p.56.

[3] Ognibene, Ibid. p.96.

[4] Robert G. Kaufman, Henry M. Jackson, A Life in Politics, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000, pp.74-75.

[5] Ognibene, 1975, p.19.

[6] Ibid., p.24.

[7] Ibid., p.152.

[8] Ibid., p.155.

[9] Ibid., p.157.

[10] Ibid., p165.

[11] Ibid., pp. 167-168.

[12] Ibid., p.193.

[13] Ibid., p.194.

[14] Ibid..

[15] Sean McManus, My American Struggle for Justice in Northern Ireland ... and the Holy Land, Washington DC: Irish National Caucus, 2012, p.122.

[16] Anne Hessing Cahn, Killing Détente: The Right Attacks the CIA, University Park: Penn State Press, 1998, p.30.

[17] Bew, Glickman, Frampton, eds., The British Moment: The Case for Democratic Geopolitics in the Twenty-First Century, 2006, p.107.

All comments are moderated, and should be respectful of other voices in the discussion. Comments may be edited or deleted at the moderator's discretion.

Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?