Readers of a certain age will remember the character of Barry Kent from Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole series of books about a young man growing up in the Midlands (of England) in the 1980s and his progression through adult life. Barry Kent was the school bully who duffed the young Adrian up and left him hanging from a coat hook, but Mole later joined Kent’s gang (where he was known as Brains) and much to the annoyance of the ‘intellectual’ Mole, who had tried unsuccessfully to curry favour with ‘Johnny’ Tydeman at the BBC, Kent later becomes a published poet and diarist despite never acquiring the ability to write coherent sentences. The character keeps springing to mind as I read indulgent articles about Tommy Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, such as this one by James Delingpole on the Spectator’s website. Delingpole professes that, despite Lennon’s long criminal record (mortgage fraud as well as assaulting a police officer and various other violent offences, several of them committed during his time with the EDL), he turns out to like him, finding him “intelligent, quick, articulate, well-informed, good-mannered — and surprisingly meek in his politics for a man so often branded a fascist”. And some of his best friends are Black, and even Muslim.
Delingpole is out to make excuses for Lennon/Robinson’s behaviour at every turn. The “best friends” excuse, even if it is true (and I don’t know what sort of ‘Muslim’ would be friends with a man like this), is a time-honoured excuse of racists. Delingpole rewrites the history of the EDL’s founding, making it sound as if forming a group of football hooligans to intimidate Muslims was just something he had to do:
He only got into activism and street demos because he happened to be a white working-class English lad in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time. It was Luton, unfortunately, that Islamist proselytiser Anjem Choudary chose as the base for his various proscribed organisations.
As a result the character of the town changed forever; and so did Robinson’s life. The trigger was a local Islamist recruitment drive for the Taleban and a subsequent protest against a parade by Royal Anglian Regiment troops returning from a tour in Afghanistan.
As he once told another interviewer: ‘I was like, they can’t do that! In working-class communities we all know somebody in the Armed Forces. I’ve got a mate who lost his legs. And these lot were sending people to kill our boys.’ So Robinson founded the protest organisation that would make him infamous — the English Defence League (he subsequently quit it in 2013).
Anjem Choudary in fact had one organisation: al-Muhajiroun, which reformed under various different names after disbanding in 2004 to avoid proscription (and each time it was re-formed, it was re-banned). Although it had some influence in the Muslim community in the 1990s and was able to attract outside speakers and fill a small hall, its shift to an explicitly “salafi-jihadi” position in the early 2000s alienated everyone outside their small band of followers. They were also notorious for hijacking other Muslim groups’ demonstrations, often claiming the publicity and appearing to discredit the original; they do not have the numbers to control a single mosque, even in Luton, and why would they when it would mean they had no excuse to cause trouble in other mosques? The demonstration that caused all the fuss in 2009 was obviously tiny, yet received media coverage quite out of proportion to its size and that of the group that staged it. Without this media coverage, the movement that became the EDL would have struggled to gain traction outside of Luton, but to suggest that the foundation of this thuggish outfit, which abused and intimidated Muslims in general rather than just ‘radicals’, let alone just al-Muhajiroun, just had to happen in light of the Anglian Regiment protest is preposterous.
Delingpole then alleges:
If you looked at social media in the immediate aftermath of the recent terrorist murders on Westminster Bridge, you might have been surprised by the extent to which the righteous rage of the bien-pensant Twitterati was directed not at the killer, Khalid Masood, and the culture that radicalised him, but rather at that culture’s most vocal critic, Tommy Robinson. According to Robinson, this is no accident.
I don’t recall much media coverage of Lennon’s ‘intervention’ after the Westminster attack, but did see a few references to it on social media. Khalid Masood, the attacker, was dead by that point; Stephen Yaxley-Lennon was not, and was videoed ranting outside Parliament about the war that “these people” had been waging against “us” for 1,400 years — a remark that belies Lennon’s insistence that his campaign is against “radicals” rather than Muslims (as do the slogans people used to chant at his EDL rallies) — and claimed that political leaders “want to invite more”. I don’t know who on Twitter or off wouldn’t condemn Lennon for turning up within two hours of the attack, before it was known who was responsible, to make a political speech and attack immigration (the attacker was not an immigrant) other than one of his fellow thug-bigots or their dishonest pseudo-intellectual alt-right admirers.
Delingpole then tells us of Lennon’s life inside prison, some of the details of which are very dubious:
While he was in prison, he refused to eat any regular food (he believed it would be poisoned or otherwise contaminated, so he stuck to tinned tuna), and made sure to cause sufficient trouble so he wound up in solitary where no one could stab him. His front teeth are all fake, the real ones having been knocked out when he got trapped in a room with eight Islamists. The only reason he didn’t die, he says, is because they didn’t have any ‘shivs’ (bladed weapons).
He’s a strong advocate of separate prisons for Muslims and non-Muslims: the scale of bullying (no one dare be caught cooking bacon, for example) and the extent of radicalisation, he argues, makes it culturally suicidal to continue as we are.
According to the Prison UK blog, prison diets vary from prison to prison, but the author does mention that sausages do feature on the menu and that some prisons have farms which rear pigs for both prisoner consumption and sale to the public, though he does also mention that there is an extremism problem in some prisons, with some Muslim prisoners demanding that their non-Muslim cellmate refrain from eating non-halal food in the cell (the cellmate eventually got moved, after a struggle). In any case, Delingpole appears to take Lennon’s stories at face value when more plausible explanations exist: maybe he was put on segregation (which is what ‘solitary’ is actually called) because he caused trouble so as to be put there where “no one could stab him”; perhaps he caused trouble because he’s a thug. As for the claim that Lennon’s teeth were knocked out when he found himself in a “room with eight Islamists”, he was in fact charged with common assault and later battery over a fight that took place during that stretch; his supporters claim that the conditions he was held under were worse than Nelson Mandela’s, which is an obscene comparison and entirely inaccurate. Segregation is often an extremely harsh environment; people are sent there as punishment, and sometimes because they ask to be (the governor has to agree) for their own protection; the usual takers are sex offenders.
While I agree that Muslims (or any other religious group) should not be allowed to totally dominate other prisoners, preventing them having the food they are accustomed to rather than simply having food they can eat, there have been occasions when Muslim prisoners have been attacked by racists in prison as well (in one notorious case a juvenile detainee, Zahid Mubarak, was murdered by his cellmate, a known violent racist); complaints about racist treatment are common but only 1% are ever upheld, a statistic the Prison Reform Trust believes is simply not credible.
Most laughably, Delingpole claims that “his kids are as yet unaware of his notoriety (Tommy Robinson is a pseudonym)”, and he does not mention Robinson’s real name anywhere. In fact, Robinson’s real name, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is common knowledge, and he would have had to explain his absences during his time in prison to his children somehow. The media do not typically refer to any other criminal by their chosen nickname and withhold their real name; why do so for this one?
Lennon has been on the scene since 2009, and there is no sign that he has developed any kind of coherent analysis of Islam, immigration or anything related in that time. It does not take a degree in politics to be able to discuss politics at an intelligent level, but if someone is going to be indulged in a political magazine on pressing subjects like immigration and terrorism, they should be able to do so at a level above that of a bigot in a pub. It’s worth observing that, although this article is based on a meeting with him, it can’t really be called an interview with him because there is next to no contribution from him. In Adrian Mole, we saw the media fawn over Barry Kent’s feeble witterings (and material plagiarised from Mole’s diaries) while ignoring the fact that he was not very bright and not very pleasant; in fawning over this vacuous hoodlum as if he were a serious political leader or thinker, the media look like a parody of themselves.
Possibly Related Posts:
- Silent liberals?
- Why Aditya Chakrabortty (may have) called himself Paul
- Review: Silent Witness, “One Day”
- It’s not just the Far Right
- Review: Panorama, “White Fright”