The Resistible Rise of Saint Tommy

It’s been a strange year for Tommy Robinson, aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the founder of the English Defense League. In February, he was cited as a key influence on the Finsbury Mosque attacker, Darren Osbourne. At the end of March, he was banned from Twitter. In April, he led a ‘free speech’ demonstration in London that was attended by a few thousand people, mostly from the Football Lads Alliance. Now, in the space of two weeks, this anti-Muslim ideologue, hatemonger and self-promoting grifter has become a hero-martyr and the focus of an international cult following.

This improbable transformation began two weeks ago, on  27 May, when Robinson was arrested outside Leeds Crown Court, during one of three separate trials involving the same group of mostly Pakistani-heritage men in northern cities accused of the sexual exploitation of mostly white women and young girls.

Robinson’s appearance was part of an ongoing attempt to monetize himself as an independent ‘reporter’ – a vocation that has often focused on the issue of sexual grooming cases. For Robinson, these revolting and deeply disturbing crimes are only of interest insofar as their perpetrators are Muslims and their victims are white.

Like his ideological peers, Robinson has presented these crimes as a product of Islam, and another sign that British society is in thrall to a barbaric and alien Islamic culture/religion, supported by a politically-correct liberal establishment. To promote this agenda, this ‘citizen-journalist’ has taken to hanging around outside ongoing trials of grooming cases, in order to frame them for his audiences as ‘Muslim’ crimes…

My piece for Ceasefire Magazine.  You can read the rest here

Tommy Robinson Sees the Light

There is no doubt that yesterday’s jaw-dropping announcement that Stephen Yaxley-Lennon aka Tommy Robinson and twelve senior members of the English Defence League have abandoned their party is good news.

It deals a massive and possibly fatal blow to an organization that has regularly used 1930s fascist street mobilization tactics in an attempt to stir up hatred   against Muslims and intimidate Muslim communities across the country, and whose members have repeatedly engaged in acts of violence and racism.

That is certainly a good result, even if the dozens of outraged EDL members who have been left floundering and bewildered byRobinson’s departure don’t think so.     Even more extraordinary, Robinson will now be working with the British government’s favorite Muslim thinktank, the Quilliam Foundation, which apparently facilitated his Damascene conversion.

Robinson   claims to have left the party he founded four years ago because it has supposedly been taken over by ‘extremists’, and because he now wants   to continue his fight against ‘Islamist ideology’ only ‘not with violence, but with better, democratic ideas.’

In an embarrassing   interview with Jon Snow on Channel 4 News yesterday, he asked his former comrades to understand how hard it was for him to ‘take the flak’ for the ‘extremists’ who have penetrated the EDL against his wishes, and asked Snow to empathize with the difficult choice he made, not just to leave the organization, but to go on tv and ‘sit with Muslims.’

Yes sometimes politics does produce happy endings, it seems.   Or does it?   Because watching his shifty and dishonest performance on tv yesterday, I couldn’t shake off the suspicion that Robinson has shafted his party because he can no longer use it, and because he recognizes that it has run into a political dead end which threatens to take him down with it.

Robinson says that the EDL’s street demonstrations are no longer ‘productive’ – which may well mean that they are no longer productive for him.

After all, we are talking about a man with a string of criminal offences which include violence, traveling on a false passport and falsifying a mortgage application, and who is facing another trial this month that may end up sending up to jail again.     In this context a makeover as an anti-extremist crusader won’t hurt and may well give him a new mainstream importance – not to mention access to the Quilliam Foundation’s cash.

Robinson may also be thinking about a political career that the EDL can’t provide. In the last year he has made positive statements about UKIP, who according to him ‘ are saying what we are saying exactly what we say, just in a different way.’

To enter the mainstream requires a makeover and a reinvention of the past. In his interview with Snow, Robinson described the EDL as   a ‘passionate’ response to a demonstration by Anjem Choudhary’s whackjob Al-Muhajiroun at a British army parade in Luton in March 2009.

But that organization and its various incarnations has always been a marginalized minority within a minority, despite the EDL’s attempts to represent it as representative of British Muslims and Islam in general.   Robinson also insisted yesterday that he had been thinking of leaving the EDL since the beginning of the year, but was galvanized to stay on by the murder of Lee Rigby in May.

If so, he kept his intentions well-hidden.       Take last month’s speech   at Tower Hamlets ,   which was filled with the usual bigoted rabble-rousing references to ‘Muslim grooming gangs’ and ‘Muslims raping non-Muslim children’,   and ‘Muslim’ no go areas.     Only last week he was sending threatening tweets to an anti-EDL protester containing pictures of his house, or trying to anyway.

One one level   there’s nothing new about his current denunciation of the ‘racism’ and ‘Nazis’ who permeate the EDL.     Robinson has always always insisted that the EDL is about ‘human rights’, and ‘democracy’ and against   ‘Islamism’ rather than Islam, even though his speeches and public statements routinely fused religion, culture and ethnicity into toxic narratives of hatred that identified all Muslims as inherently dangerous, inferior and contemptible.

That hatred has always been at the heart of the EDL’s politics- and Robinson’s own.   But the Quilliam Foundation also appears to have forgotten this.     In its statement yesterday the Foundation   celebrated its own role in Robinson’s transformation ‘ as   a huge success for community relations in the United Kingdom’, declaring

We hope to help Tommy invest his energy and commitment in countering extremism of all kinds, supporting the efforts to bring along his former followers and encouraging his critique of Islamism as well as his concern with far-right extremism.

So Robinson has been engaged in a ‘critique of Islamism’ these last four years?     Well I never.     Yesterday Snow reminded Robinson of another speech in Tower Hamlets in September 2011, when he appeared disguised as a Rabbi, and delivered the following warning:

Every single Muslim watching this video on youtube, on 77, you got away with killing and maiming British citizens … you had better understand that we have built a network from one end of the country to the other end… and the Islamic community will feel the full force of the English Defence League if we see any of our British citizens killed maimed or hurt on British soil ever again.’

The least that can be said about this is that it is not the most nuanced critique of ‘Islamism’.   At this point a personal anecdote is worth mentioning.   Last year I participated in an international discussion for BBC Radio about the Breivik trial.   One of the guests, though I don’t know it beforehand, was Robinson.

This was   presumably a typically BBC attempt to provide ‘balance’,   but it immediately became a pretext for Robinson to launch into a diatribe against Islam and its ‘2,000 years of hate’   and how Muhammed was a paedophile etc, etc.

This rant was particularly disgusting, coming from the head of an organization that Breivik drew inspiration from.     And it had nothing to do with a ‘critique of Islamism’ or ‘Islamist ideology’, any more than tweets like these do:

Of course it may well be that Robinson has genuinely renounced such views, even if he has yet to acknowledge that he ever had them.   But his dishonesty about his own past and politics doesn’t give me much room for optimism.     And despite Quilliam’s attempt to reinvent him as another former ‘fundamentalist’ fighting the good fight against what it calls a ‘symbiotic relationship between the far-right and Islamism,   I can’t reach for my handkerchief.

And I can’t help feeling that Quilliam may be in fact facilitating the pseudo-rehabilitation of a man who is not the courageous convert that he appears to be, but a devious fraud, an opportunist and a chancer and the same old bigot, whose essential cause is, and perhaps always has been,   Tommy Robinson himself.



Discussing Breivik

Yesterday I appeared as a guest on the BBC World Service programme World Have Your Say to debate the Breivik trial, which is still available here.   The programme was an interesting format; it’s basically an open discussion with only light chairing from the presenter, involving participants from various countries who speak to each other as though they were in the same studio.

It was also an hour long – a long time for the radio – so that the discussion covered a lot of ground.   Participants included a Norwegian journalist; a young student who lost a friend at Utoeya island; a criminologist from Manchester University; a student from Tunisia; a Swedish journalist and expert on the European far-right; Park Dietz, the forensic pathologist who worked on the Unabomber case, and – somewhat unexpectedly – the EDL leader ‘Tommy Robinson’, standing out like a tarantula on a wedding cake.

Robinson came across as a total bigot (surprise, surprise) and it was actually quite sickening to hear his condemnation of Breivik as a ‘monster’,  given the connections that Breivik had with the EDL and his open admiration for its activities.  Not to mention the overlap in ideas.

Hardly had Robinson finished his perfunctory condemnation of the Norway murders, than he launched into a diatribe about Islam, which drew on virtually every cliché from the counterjihad textbook: Islam is not a religion of peace, no Muslim country has ever been at peace, Muslims have killed 70 million people, Mohammed was a paedophile etc, etc

It was pure hatespeak, despite Robinson’s insistence that he was against Islam, not Muslims.  There was not a word in what he said that Breivik could have disagreed with, whether it was his characterization of Islam or his bitter invectives against ‘multicultural lovenests.’

Robinson is cunning though, insisting that his organization was not far right and presenting himself as a humble man of the people, speaking truths that are denied by the politically correct elite.

Apart from his dismal contributions, which were thankfully brief, the discussion covered a lot of ground.  The decision of the Norwegian authorities to televise the trial was a  recurring theme, as participants considered whether such publicity would give Breivik a platform or whether television would allow the Norwegian public and the world in general to gain a better understanding of his crimes.

Breivik clearly longed for the opportunity to propagandize about his ’cause’ and perhaps to become a celebrity in the process, and he relished his day in court yesterday.   Some participants argued that he should not be given the chance to express his views, given the risk that others may be ‘inspired’ by them.

I’m not convinced by this argument.    In my  view, it is essential to look at the wider background behind the events of last July, and the trial provides an opportunity to do this. Breivik may have acted alone, but his views about multiculturalism and Islam reflect a wide consensus that spans the political mainstream to the far-right fringes- and his belief in an impending European ‘civil war’ is not unique to him.

The scale and barbarism of his crimes makes it difficult to find any form of commensurate justice from the point of view of his victims,  whose relatives and friends will be forced to witness the hollow posturings and self-glorification of this pathetic narcissist day after day.

But his crimes were nevertheless political crimes, and it’s important to see them as such, and to give them a public airing.   The prosecution is seeking to prove that Breivik was insane, and I wrote a piece for  Ceasefire  magazine yesterday on why I hope that does not happen, which you can find  here.

In this dangerous period, when the established far-right and counterjihadists are gaining ground across the continent,  when the conspiracy theory/Islamophobic fantasy of a plot to transform Europe into ‘Eurabia’ enjoys widespread credibility,  and even mainstream politicians deliver coded condemnations of ‘multiculturalism’ as alien and un-European,  the Breivik trial provides an opportunity to consider where such tendencies can lead.

I’m not sure that a televised trial was necessary to bring about this outcome however, because television has a special ability to convert almost anything into a voyeuristic spectacle, and there is a danger that wall-to-wall coverage of the trial might lead to a Stockholm syndrome relationship between viewers and Breivik.

But I hope that the next ten weeks will galvanize men and women of goodwill to come together and reject not just Breivik, but the politics that produced him, and work to build a Europe in which the twisted hatred that he expressed so horrifically last summer will become nothing but a freakish aberration.