Islamophobia Watch: Why Conway Hall was right to ban ‘Tommy Robinson’

Picture of Stephen Lennon (who calls himself Tommy Robinson), leader of the EDL, with an angry and aggressive expression on his face as he is arrestedIslamophobia Watch - Documenting anti Muslim bigotry - Why Conway Hall was right to ban ‘Tommy Robinson’

A comprehensive article about the debate that was to be held at Conway Hall between the “Muslim Debate Initiative”, which believes that the far right is best engaged in open debate rather than banned, and “Tommy Robinson” (really Stephen Lennon) of the English Defence League:

Like all far-right organisations, the EDL puts a lot of effort into acquiring a veneer of political legitimacy, obfuscating over their real aims and ideology in order to present themselves as a mainstream organisation that deserves to be given a hearing. The reality they try to hide, of course, is that the EDL is a movement of racist street thugs, many of them with fascist links, whose central purpose is to attack the Muslim community. As anyone who follows the coverage on Islamophobia Watch can confirm, hardly a week goes by without EDL members appearing in court charged with offences involving racist abuse, intimidation and assault …

In addition to all this, nobody can suppose that Lennon would have turned up at Conway Hall next week on his own – he would certainly have been accompanied by a gang of his thuggish supporters. The MDI was therefore not merely giving a platform to Lennon himself but was in practice extending an open invitation to a mob of violent racists to descend on the area where the meeting was held. While MDI members could happily return to the safety of their homes at the end of the event, local people would have been faced with the prospect of EDL hooligans getting tanked up in a nearly pub and then looking for some “scum” (their collective term for Muslims and political opponents) to intimidate.

This was one reason why Camden Trades Council, which unlike MDI represents people who actually live and work in the area, raised strenuous objections to the debate with Lennon taking place. As indeed did the local MP, Frank Dobson.

In defence of their decision to offer Lennon a platform, MDI asserts that “the Muslim community overwhelmingly welcome such debates, and are eager for such open and frank discussions to occur”. In which case, perhaps MDI should try rearranging the debate with Lennon at a venue in an area with a large Muslim population – in the centre of Tower Hamlets, say – and see how favourably the Muslim community responds to the arrival of the EDL leader and his followers in their neighbourhood.

The MDI is a pretty obscure outfit, which I had never heard of before today, and mostly organises “dialogue” events between representatives of Islam and Christianity, and I also have never heard of either of their two main speakers, ‘Abdullah al-Andalusi” (which I suspect may be a pseudonym) and Sami Zaatari. I am not that fond of the debate format, because it is treated as a sport and is not really about establishing truth but about who can deliver the most effective knock-out ‘argument’ regardless of whether a bystander could identify it as a rhetorical trick which does not advance the argument one bit. It is disrespectful to treat religion as mere entertainment, and it is preposterous to think we can invite the Far Right to play one of the little games we play with the evangelicals and think they will play by the rules. As this extract shows, their history demonstrates that they probably would not, but in any case, we know what the EDL think by what they shout during their demonstrations. Why should anyone bother listening to Lennon’s evasive, semi-sanitised version?

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  • Muhammed Anser

    Muslims are too gormless to intelectually refute bone headed nazis resort to banning everyone, pin heads,

  • Iceman

    MDI has issued a press release in regards to your comments and others. It is a shame to see a professed Muslim, indulge in a strawman of the nature of MDI’s debates, and speculation and suspicion of the motives of them. Allah (swt) guide you.

  • Abdullah al-Andalusi does post some thought-provoking (to me, anyway) comments on his facebook page though. I recently watched a lecture of his on Islam and Secularism which I found interesting:

  • Raja

    Br.Yusuf, I understand your concern, voiced by many people about offering a platform to EDL. But my view is, since Muslims are being accused of anti-reason and pro-fanaticism, is it not appropriate to challenge them head-on? Moreover, all MDI talks get uploaded via websites, FB, Youtube etc.

  • Imraan

    Aah, I was wondering why Lennon didn’t appear. I do think it would be futile to engage with these Far-Right nutjobs who have prostituted themselves to the media, and are no doubt about sloganeering and soundbyte over substance. I think few minds would be converted, nor would any ‘real’ progress occur in terms of shifting the discourse

    Though I can’t, to some extent, help to admire the MDI for trying to engage in some sort of way these opposition groups - I would hope that even one of their members would see that Muslims are actually reasonable people - we aren’t wolves in sheep’s clothing. One of their speakers, Paul Bilal Williams (one of the co-founders, a former atheist-turned-Evangelical Christian-turned-Muslim if I remember correctly) is, in my view, a very reasonable apologist (I don’t really like that word) and seems a knowledgeable fellow (his blog is always thought-provoking).

    You are right, though, that debates are almost an exercise in vanity, and tend to be rather simplistic. But I wish there was a greater public presence in terms of Muslims organising to systematically discredit the EDL (I’m not much for us trying to justify what Lennon calls the 7th Century Islam - that’s more a question of ideology and an exercise that will prove dangerous as the only words people will fixate on are ‘Islamism’ or ‘Shari’ah’) - I think if we are to ‘survive’ (and I fear mass-deportations soon) in the West, we need a sort of media-blitz of our own.