The day I met Tommy Robinson

Last week Lejla Kuric met the former leader of the English Defence League (EDL) Tommy Robinson. This is what she found out.

Last week I met the former leader of the English Defence League (EDL) Tommy Robinson during a meeting held at the offices of the Quilliam Foundation.

I shook his hand and had a friendly conversation. It was a slightly surreal encounter that would have been unthinkable just over a month ago.

On 9 October 2013, in a surprise move, the EDL’s then-leaders Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll resigned from the controversial street protest movement in order to work with Quilliam, a counter-extremism think-tank founded by former members of the Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir.

This move appears to be the beginning of the end for the EDL and their thuggish street protests as confusion, in-fighting and fragmentation take hold of the movement.

Unsurprisingly, staunch supporters of the dwindling group are angry and feel betrayed.

Surprisingly, this anger is shared by a number of anti-racist groups and many on the liberal left who should – one would have thought – be happy with this turn of the events. In fact, amongst many left-wingers Quilliam were derided as foolish sell-outs, blinded by a desire for money and exposure and consequently duped by Robinson’s cunning.

It is interesting to notice that this narrative is being pushed by the very same people who are often indifferent to Islamist extremism and who are all too willing to turn blind eye to bigotry when it comes from Muslim public personalities.

There are, however, still serious questions and concerns regarding Robinson’s defection from the EDL and the alliance he has forged with Quilliam that need to be dealt with, and the meeting I attended was organised in order to address such concerns.

The meeting began with Robinson explaining how the EDL came about. He asserted that the EDL was initially a response to the extremist organisation Al-Muhajiroun that organised a protest against British armed forces, in which soldiers were insulted and threatened. There was a strong sense of frustration in Luton after this protest since it was felt that nothing was being done about Islamist extremism and that debate was being suffocated by political correctness – “We were gagged” Robinson said.

According to Robinson, he never intended for the EDL to become a racist or anti-Muslim organisation, but the strategy he adopted backfired as anti-extremist rhetoric merged with anti-Muslim rhetoric, thereby attracting racist and neo-fascist elements.

I find this narrative somewhat unconvincing since numerous speakers at these rallies gave blatantly anti-Muslim speeches to rapturous applause, while anti-Muslim chants and comments were commonplace rather than isolated incidents.

When asked why he did not join forces with Muslims fighting Islamic extremism, Robinson said he was not aware of them at the time. His view of Muslims, he affirmed, was distorted by the fact that reactionaries and non-violent Islamists dominated Muslim representation in the media, at interfaith-events and in local government initiatives.

A hijab-clad lady confronted Robinson about anti-Muslim attacks that are increasingly being directed at women like her. Whilst condemning such attacks, Robinson, disappointingly said “Muslim men are also attacking white women”, presumably referring to grooming gangs.

Violence against women should be condemned without the need to make tribal distinction between ‘your’ and ‘our’ women, and Robinson’s use of this argument betrays a reliance on the kind of divisive identity politics he would do well to discard.

Talking about personal cost, Robinson said that he regularly receives violent threats against him and family. At that point I asked Robinson: “While there is no excuse for the threats made to you, don’t you think that it was you who whipped up this level of hostility, where violent threats are commonplace?”. As an example I cited threats he makes in this video clip.

His response was unequivocal. “Yes.” He explained “At the time I thought we need to put pressure on Muslims.”

His straightforward honesty on this issue was commendable.

Could ordinary people – Muslims and non-Muslims – back Tommy Robinson in his stance against Islamist extremism? Yes, but there is a major stumbling block – Robinson’s perceived relationship with anti-Muslim bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.

Robinson did state that he had cut ties with both of them but when pushed to condemn them in public, he was reluctant and demanded to see evidence of their bigotry.

I still find many of Robinson’s views troubling to say the least. However his reasons for leaving the EDL are commendable. I also share his fears about the widening chasm between some communities.

What really struck me was the fact Robinson was prepared put aside differences and work with Muslims for the sake of community relations in this country. This is not the attitude of a hateful fascist he is often made out to be.

Yes, he has made some regrettable comments in the past but it is unfair to indefinitely punish him for his past when he is moving in the right direction. It is movement we ought to encourage and support.

The commentators complaining about Robinson’s lack of a ‘Damascene conversion’ are missing the point. He has come a long way from a man threatening ‘every single Muslim’ to the man I watched positively engaging with Muslims.

The fact that the former EDL leader, former Hizb ut-Tahrir members, former Jihadists, Muslims, ex-Muslims and others were sitting at the same table openly debating extremism, the role of religion and culture was extraordinary. I would go as far as to say it was even a historic occasion.

This is precisely the kind cutting edge, anti-extremism work this country really needs and, in that regard, the Qulliam Foundation is leading the way.

Follow Lejla Kuric on Twitter

36 Responses to “The day I met Tommy Robinson”

  1. Mark

    You’re right to be wary and you’re right to be encouraged. It’s one of those times. But you are completely correct to say that Robinson, faced with “Attacks on muslim women” should not use “muslim men attack white women.” That’s an Ansar-esque deflection tactic and one that is immediately seen through, and brings it down to playground rhetoric.
    So if we all agree that extremism is the problem, which group is left out of the “we”? As you say, the strange reluctance of some left-wing journalists/media who, I suppose, think they must protect a minority (muslims) and in doing so, encompass the extremists.

    The rest of us, I would hope, can easily make the distinction.

  2. Dima

    Very well said. Balanced.

  3. Rashida ISLAM

    ‘Extremists’ on both sides… Was it ‘Jewish extremism’ that saw the rise of the Nazis? My understanding was that it was AntiSemitism that allowed fascists to flourish. Apply a similar analogy to Islamophobia across Europe today. Do we really seek communal relations with groups and individuals who have vowed to hunt down Muslims and violently assault them? This article makes no mention of the spike in Islamophobia and how Robinson has been a contributor to that. How Hijab wearing Muslim women are the most vulnerable to the EDL’s attacks. The Muslim community and all victims of fascists are not likely to be welcoming Robinson despite his protests of reformation. Neither should so-called progressives.

  4. Mark

    I live in a majority asian borough in London and I see no trouble whatsoever. I’ve no doubt there are racists, and there probably always will be to an extent, who are aggressive. But this is not new. Also, I don’t subscribe to the notion that “online” abuse is as bad as anything else. Since the internet started being used by idiots, there has been abuse by people who type something nasty but would not do anything about it in the real world.
    TellMama and (for example) Mohammed Ansar do have to take a look at what they are doing in terms of actually stoking the fire and making people believe things are worse than they actually are.

  5. WhiteProblemDotCom

    Every White country on the planet is forced to become multicultural and multiracial.

    EVERY white country is told to end its own race and culture.

    No one asks that of ANY non-White country. Immigration and forced-assimilation is for ALL & ONLY White countries.

    Anti-Whites call themselves “anti-racist”, but their words & actions lead to the genocide of only one group: White people.

    The true goal of anti-racism is to genocide my people.

    Anti-racist is a codeword for anti-White.

  6. buhbye_antiwhites

    Every White country on the planet is forced to become multicultural and multiracial.
    EVERY white country is told to end its own race and culture.

    No one asks that of ANY non-White country. Immigration and forced-assimilation is for ALL & ONLY White countries.

    Anti-Whites call themselves “anti-racist”, but their words & actions lead to the genocide of only one group: White people.

    The true goal of anti-racism is to genocide my people.

    Anti-racist is a codeword for anti-White.

  7. Kevin Phelps

    Every White country on the planet is forced to become multicultural and multiracial.

    EVERY white country is told to end its own race and culture.

    No one asks that of ANY non-White country. Immigration and forced-assimilation is for ALL & ONLY White countries.

    Anti-Whites call themselves “anti-racist”, but their words & actions lead to the genocide of only one group: White people.

    The true goal of anti-racism is to genocide my people.

    Anti-racist is a codeword for anti-White.

  8. TM

    ‘It is interesting to notice that this narrative is being pushed by the very same people who are often indifferent to Islamist extremism and who are all too willing to turn blind eye to bigotry when it comes from Muslim public personalities.’ The Middle class dominated Left are very quick to show their anger towards prejudice when it is seen to come from more Working class white communities and have been utterly reluctant to condemn the same prejudice and provocative statements from people like Qatada and Choudary and extremist groups purporting to be Islamic. I suggest this is because, above everything, the Middle class are pathologically loathe to be seen in any way as racist, perhaps through being politically correct, as nonsensical and absurd and as contrary as the stance is more and more appearing to be, and basically because of good old fashioned Middle class guilt.
    But rather strangely, they can attack Tommy Robinson for saying exactly the same things as the extremists like Choudary. This confuses people. Is it really an agenda to be fair to ethnic minorities, or is it another way for Middle class white people to indulge in their favourite sport of hating and jeering at poor Working class people, and hating people for their social status or because they come from a council estate background or because they have a regional/Working class accent, as long as they are white of course?
    I seem to think that Middle class in general, not just the Left, are quicker to point out the injustices of racism than they are look at the injustices of the class system, for obvious reasons. Middle class people will talk all day about racism won’t they, but mention class (or even write about it anywhere) and the invariably go quiet, start squirming uncomfortably and want to change the subject as politely, but as quickly, as possible.
    The real agenda is that poor communities, Black, White and Asian, are getting poorer and no one is addressing that issue, not Left or Right. The heart of most problems are economic.

  9. Sparky

    Totally agree. This site is infested with phoney, hand-wringing, right-on, middle class lefties who leap in to condemn white working-class ‘racism’ whilst remaining oddly silent when non-whites call for the murder of gay people and non-believers.

  10. Aldo

    That’s quiet funny actually. Wasn’t it white people that went to America and ended the race and culture of the American Indians. Wasn’t it white people that went to Australia and ended the race and culture of Aboregines. Wasn’t it white people that went to Africa and tried to end the race and culture of Africans. Wasn’t it white people that have conquered most of the world only to use and abuse the natives of each country? I mean if your really pointing fingers then I suppose you need to point one at the white people…what do you think?

  11. jargee

    The cultures of American Indians are far from ended. To the contrary—they are encouraged. The Aboriginal culture is not ended either. Neither is the Maori Culture ended. If you mean by African cultures the endless slaughter of neighbouring tribal members, believe me— African culture is no where near ended.

  12. Michael Simpson

    Anger from anti-racists and liberals? Is that the right word or have you fallen into the same old trap of using heightened, emotive language to leverage your view against the others? He needs to do a great deal before I offer him my trust. For the moment I’m happy to consider it a positive development, like I would see the Iran deal a positive development. However I don’t think it’s unfair to state that given Robinson’s past indiscretions, he will need to do a great deal before he is warmly embraced.

  13. dave stone

    Before Labour lefties start cooing over Yaxley-Lennon’s reformed self perhaps they should revisit the work of the movement he founded:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ik9Lwmj_Gc

  14. Charlotte Barber

    “The fact that the former EDL leader, former Hizb ut-Tahrir members, former Jihadists, Muslims, ex-Muslims and others were sitting at the same table openly debating extremism, the role of religion and culture was extraordinary. I would go as far as to say it was even a historic occasion.” Why didn t you write about it then?I hope someone else present writes up what went on cause you didn t.

  15. swatnan

    I’m willing to give Tommy Robinson the benefit of the doubt. The fact is he has had a damascene conversion, and no longer believes in aggressive threatening and menacing confrontation and protest; he believes in conciliation and in talking and understanding.
    Lets hope he and Quilliam can persuade disaffected young muslims that violence is wrong, that jihad is wrong, that fascism is wrong, and turn them round.

  16. dave stone

    ” he believes in conciliation and in talking and understanding.”

    Perhaps you’d like to explain his reluctance to condemn Geller and Spencer? And also explain why Geller why regards his position unchanged from his pre-“damascene conversion” days?

    Sure, it would be very comforting to believe Yaxley-Lennon is the new Father Christmas but if he wants to convince he’s going to have to deliver the goods unambiguously.

  17. Dixiemink

    Rashida,

    Can you prove that Muslims are suffering from a “spike in Islamophobia” – or are you just referring to their anger at the increased criticism of them brought on by constant news of Koran-inspired violent actions and hatespeech against the “kuffar” we are seeing so frequently? That criticism is legitimate and is not evidence of a phobia of Muslims.

    Also, if I were you I would be careful with regards to bringing up the Nazi Antisemitism and then leaping to compare the treatment of Jews in WWII to that of Muslims now – or even then, since the Holocaust was in part engineered by the most powerful Muslim figure of the time.

    The leader of the Muslim world during WWII was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. He was in fact one of the architects of the Holocaust, helping to devise, encourage and promote it from his perch at the side of Hitler, Himmler, and the Mufti’s own “best friend” Eichmann, during several years in Berlin as Hitler’s VIP guest. I think maybe you should look at the evidence, and then, if you are wise, refrain from mentioning Nazis, antisemitism and Muslim “victimhood” in the same sentence again.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haj_Amin_al-Husseini#The_Holocaust

    http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Journalism/2010/02/07/The-Mufti-of-Jerusalem–Architect-of-the-Holocaust

  18. Matthew Blott

    And the movement he has now left. You berk.

  19. Dixiemink

    “explain his reluctance to condemn Geller and Spencer? And also explain
    why Geller why regards his position unchanged from his pre-“damascene
    conversion” days?”

    Condemn them for what, exactly? And I say this as someone who thinks that Geller is a rather too shrill and unsympathetic a character for my personal tastes. Regardless, she often does amazingly good quality research and so I am willing to put up with the unattractive tone in order to read most of her work.

    And I think T Robinson has himself made it very clear (see video below, for example) that his position on Muslim extremism and its impact on the UK has not changed a bit – what he says has changed is his view on what is the right way to go about challenging extremism.

    Sunday Morning Live BBC News Pts 1 & 2
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQ4OMOEad4U

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_4Ph7M-Clk

  20. dave stone

    “Condemn them [Geller and Spencer] for what, exactly?”

    Geller and Spencer have both been banned from entering this country. According to anti-extremist campaign group Hope not Hate they are both active in spreading anti-Muslim hatred.

    So let’s say: condemn them for spreading anti-Muslim hatred.

    http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/blog/article/2803/geller-and-spencer-banned

  21. Steven Hudson

    I can’t see Lennon stood there ordering EDL thugs to attack that restaurant.

    I think he was idiotic and wreckless creating the EDL, but give the man credit for trying to make a difference through his efforts with Quilliam.

    It is a bold step and is commendable in my opinion.

    A year ago I would not have given him time of day in the street… now I could talk to him.

  22. Dixiemink

    So if I said I “hate the hate-messages in the Koran”. Are you planning to ban me from my own country? Under your speech utopia who gets banned from what and when and why?

  23. Dixiemink

    “Geller and Spencer have both been banned from entering this country.”

    And that is an argument? You must get into the whys, not just the whats.

  24. dave stone

    You’re free to say what you like. But if you want to travel abroad and your presence in a country is not judged to be conducive to the public good don’t expect to have the red carpet rolled out for you.

    Also, you’re free to campaign to to have the Home Office ruling overturned. And you’re free to campaign to have Geller and Spencer deliver speeches at every EDL p*ss-up/meeting – though, in view of the nonsense they produce, I’m not sure they’ll be able boost dwindling attendances.

  25. dave stone

    “You berk.”

    Yaxley-Lennon may have left the EDL but, as his continuing dalliance with Geller and Spencer shows (he has assured them both that his position remains unchanged) he is still part of the movement.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/11/06/edl-tommy-robinson_n_4224937.html

  26. Dixiemink

    Do you even know what the term “third-worlder” means in United States politics? You think its some racist term don’t you? Of course you do. Imbecile. Go back to your UAF meeting and mourn the loss of your former fellow UAFer Michael Adebajo.

  27. dave stone

    Get a grip. I have never had anything to do with the UAF. I’ve never been a member, attended a meeting nor, as far as I know, have I spoken to someone who has.

    Another interesting Geller view is her belief that Malcolm X is President Obama’s father.

    Can’t help but think she’d do best on a comedy circuit playing to the deranged.

  28. BlessPapaBenny

    Anti-racist is a codeword for anti-White

  29. Dixiemink

    I looked it up – she specifically rebuts that accusation here:

    http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/atlas_shrugs/2008/10/how-could-stanl.html

    Got anything else?

  30. dave stone

    I see, she just posts the claim on her blog “because the writer did a spectacular job documenting Obama’s many connections with the Far Left.” By Far Left I suppose she means the Democratic Party.

    Then, following ridicule, she offers a ‘retraction’ but goes on to claim “Stanley Ann Dunham – Obama’s mother – could not have been where the Obama camp says she was at various times.” and “there remain many, many unanswered questions about his early life and upbringing.”

    There are many more Geller howlers on the net – just google “pam geller” and “funny”.

  31. Dixiemink

    No, by “far left” she does not mean the Democratic party. Otherwise she would say “democratic party”. By “far left” she means people like Bill Ayers, rich kid anarchist and unrepentant Pentagon bomber who later launched Obama’s first run for the Senate from his own house, helped write Obama’s autobiography and ran a major educational foundation (the CAC) with Obama for several years – at least if you believe the Wall Street Journal:

    Obama and Ayers Pushed Radicalism On Schools
    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB122212856075765367

    “The Obama campaign has struggled to downplay that association [to Ayers]. Last April, Sen. Obama dismissed Mr. Ayers as just “a guy who lives in my neighborhood,” and “not somebody who I exchange ideas with on a regular basis. Yet documents in the CAC archives make clear that Mr. Ayers and Mr.
    Obama were partners in the CAC. Those archives are housed in the Richard J. Daley Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago and I’ve recently spent days looking through them.”

    And while I don’t go into the birther thing at all, as a graduate (like Obama) of Columbia Law, I was amazed that he could/ would seal his transcripts and papers from there (and basically everywhere else he went to school). It shocked me at the time. So Geller and many others trying to dig up definitive answers to the who what when where and how questions of Obama’s past really isn’t much of a big deal to me.
    The WSJ was wondering why too, for example, in an article entitled

    “Obama’s Lost Years”
    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB122108881386721289

    But Geller does produce some howlers – that I will definitely give you.

  32. James Lovelace

    Of course, what the fascist Left don’t like to tell anyone, is what preceded this.

    Muslims had attacked people from the EDL demo. Just like muslims have been sent to prison for planning to set off a bomb and to behead people at an EDL demo.

    There are videos of that Leicester demo on YouTube, showing muslims running round looking for people to attack. Just like there are videos which show muslims attacking police and random white people in Whitechapel — on a day when EDL cancelled their demo there. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7dSCAinfqUk

    Let’s remember — muslims rioted in Tower Hamlets in the 1990s just because a BNP councillor was elected. You don’t see riots by non-muslims when muslims get elected to be councillors or MPs, even though Mohammed ended his life telling muslims to kill non-muslims (surah 9 was practically the last thing Mohammed said). Muslims rioted in Oldham and Bradford at the start of the 21st century, then again in Harrow in 2009.

    In the entire time EDL has existed, they have not caused the amount of damage that muslims caused in that one riot in Bradford in 2001.

  33. James Lovelace

    I lived in a majority muslim area, and my family were the victim of racist violence by muslims, and the police would do nothing about it – not even visit to see the damage. I’ve seen a small group of white men walk through the area (about 4 or 5) and suddenly be surrounded by 20 muslims, which within 60 seconds swelled to them being surrounded by about 100 muslims. I phoned the police, and the police were there within 2 minutes. If the police did not know that this swarming/gang violence was not endemic in muslim communities, they would not have turned up so quickly. They knew that a potential race murder was in the offing, and it would look bad for the muslims (with whom the police are in cahoots, as muslims have told meetings of leftwingers).

    Here is an example of such swarming from Tower Hamlets, where 30 muslims were involved in a racist attack on 2 white men: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-501105/Asians-guilty-shattering-mans-skull-race-hate-attack.html

    Here is an example of it from Rochdale, where a lone white lad was murdered in the attack: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-100826/Police-fear-new-riots-white-youth-dies-fight.html

    The police and the media ensure these kinds of things get an absolute minimum of coverage (like with the racist murders of Kris Donald and Ross Parker). Only Stephen Lawrence is allowed to be remembered as a victim of racist murder. Because he was black. Even though 50% of the victims of racist murders are white (meaning that non-whites are grossly over-represented as the criminals in racist murders). http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2006/oct/22/ukcrime.race

    But hey, let’s base everything on YOUR individual experience, rather than look at the statistics and the hidden history. I defy you to find me any racist murder of muslims by white people in Britain which comes close to the killing of (forgotten) Stephen Lawrence — the muslims cut off his balls, gouged out his eyes, and set him on fire, all while he was alive.

  34. Dixiemink

    Turns out they were originally being banned for supporting Israel. Oh, and in this article, she calls TR “the worst kind of traitor” and “a turncoat”.
    http://dailycaller.com/2013/12/01/documents-reveal-british-banned-geller-and-spencer-because-of-their-pro-israeli-views/
    So your argument that they were banned for “spreading anti-muslim hatred” falls down as it is now clear that the FO could not find sufficient evidence for that charge alone – otherwise why resort to the multiple mentions of “zionism” and support for Israel? Why indeed.

    And, just to make this single article the perfect rebuttal to your idiotic ramblings on this subject, it also turns out that you were flat out wrong with your argument that she and TR are besties.
    So, everything you claimed was true turned out to be false.
    What else are you wrong about?

  35. Suada

    I think Geller’s support for the war criminal Radovan Karadzic, and the genocidal Nazi collaborationist Chetnik movement should place her well beyond the pale of respectable political opinion and into the fringe far-right.

    Spencer used to endorse similar views, but he seems to now be backpeddling from them somewhat, as I think fundementally he is embarrassed by them.

  36. douglas clark

    I doubt it is easy for anyone to overcome a strongly held position, or more specifically give up the language of the playground in a few weeks. That is the rhetoric he has been spouting and, if it truly is a damascene conversion, it will take him time to learn what is, in effect, a different language.

    Actions will always speak louder than words. To paraphrase the author of this piece, it would be best to see where he goes with this, before attempting an embrace.

    Where stands Quilliam now?

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