Quilliam out of their depth with Tommy Robinson

Picture of Tommy Robinson, a clean-shaven white man with an aggressive look on his face, being arrested by a London police officerThis week Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon), the erstwhile leader of the English Defence League, announced that he was leaving the organisation he helped found to start some kind of new anti-extremism organisation which wasn’t “street-based”. Lennon was helped in this by the Quilliam Foundation, which portrays itself as an anti-extremism think tank and which includes a number of figures from the “former extremists” circus of a few years ago, including Muhammad Mahbub “Ed” Husain and Maajid Nawaz, a former British Hizb-ut-Tahrir activist who was jailed in Egypt under Mubarak for HT activity. Quilliam claimed that Lennon and Kevin Carroll left because “they feel they can no longer keep extremist elements at bay”, and according to him:

I have been considering this move for a long time because I recognise that, though street demonstrations have brought us to this point, they are no longer productive. I acknowledge the dangers of far-right extremism and the ongoing need to counter Islamist ideology not with violence but with better, democratic ideas.

Robinson was not asked to elaborate, it seems, on which “extremist elements” he disliked within the EDL. I’m guessing the reason is an internal schism in which he looked likely to get thrown out anyway — those sorts of things go on all the time in far-right sects (and Marxist ones too, come to that). The EDL is and always was an extremist group itself under Robinson’s leadership, because it’s an organisation that engages in street violence. Robinson himself was at the demonstrations where obscene slogans about the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) were shouted by large numbers of people, and where their men tried to break through police cordons and damaged surrounding property. He has been arrested a number of times for public order offences related to his EDL activities, been jailed for using a false passport to enter the USA, and also has convictions for drugs offences and assault on a police officer (who intervened in a domestic incident between him and his partner). The EDL’s core is composed of football “casuals”, or hooligans; Robinson knew this all along.

I’ve seen Lennon on TV and know his ability to turn on the waterworks to protest that he’s not a racist (he then showed us a girl he claimed is his daughter, who is black), but I’ve also seen a video of someone telling an EDL rally in Newcastle this past May “send the black c**ts home” (allegedly that man is a “key EDL operative” and had been brought onto the stage by Robinson himself). There have always been racists in the EDL and there have always been tensions between pro- and anti-BNP elements as well as rivalries between supporters of different football clubs; their sole brain, an IT consultant called Alan Lake, suggested a link with UKIP which, at least under the last government, made a name for itself in Islamophobia, hosting Geert Wilders and showing the film Fitna at the House of Lords.

Quilliam are themselves quite out of their depth with Robinson. They have not previously dealt with violent extremists but rather people with separatist beliefs and ideologies such as salafis and Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Their idea of an extremist is someone who seeks to bring the khilafa back or someone who believes that believing in the evolution of the human species makes you unfit to be an imam. It is a huge mistake to facilitate Robinson in trying to set up any kind of non-violent anti-extremist organisation, because Robinson’s organisation has never made any distinction between Islam itself and extremists, or between the actions of individual Muslims or small groups of Muslims (e.g. the Luton demo, the murder of Lee Rigby) and of Muslims in general, their demonstrations and slogans being aimed clearly at Muslims in general, and Robinson has also never contributed anything on an intellectual level. I have never seen articles by him printed in a newspaper or magazine, for example. His “anti-extremist” stance is a very thin cover for an organisation founded on anti-Muslim street violence. So he could not reasonably be expected to lead, other than as a figurehead, any non-violent, non-street-based, anti-extremist organisation — there will likely be someone pulling the strings behind the scenes.

That they should “help” Robinson in setting up such an outfit reflects a lack of courage on their part. They should have simply told him to go away and concentrate on his non-political activities such as the business he runs, or used to run, in Luton. The organisations which are of anything like his ideological stripe are formed of people with degrees who can write a coherent article about politics, like Douglas Murray; whatever else they are, they are not thugs and serial violent criminals and do not need the services of one. Robinson and Carroll have nothing to offer except violence and Quilliam should have refused to entertain them, as there is no need for them to have a public platform and it is in the Muslims’ interest (which Quilliam should supposedly have at heart) that they not have one.

(More: Salma Yaqoob, Mehdi Hasan, Yvonne Ridley, The Staggers, Ben Quinn @ The Guardian.)

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