This is a cross-post from homo economicus by John Sargeant
“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. ~ Tommy Robinson”
On hearing the news that Tommy Robinson has left the English Defence League he formed in 2009 I was hopeful, but cynical. Hopeful because he seemed to recognise the problem with street marches I had criticised the EDL for but cynical that he has changed his mind on key issues he stood for. As I said in an article he read and tweeted:
Our criticisms require us to be well heeled in knowledge of Islam and extremism without wearing jackboots ourselves. If the shoe fits I hope you find it uncomfortable and take off quickly before marching against the ideals you claim to be protecting.
As Ghaffar Hussain says, ‘The far-Right has been evolving in their tactics and strategy and seeking to adapt to their environment in order to survive. One of the outcomes of this adaption has been the attempt to hijack the anti-extremist agenda in order to drive through a hidden racist and xenophobic agenda.’
I will continue to criticise religion – but I will not welcome as fellow critics those on the far right that promote solutions that would erode secularism in this country, not encourage secularised Islam to flourish, and would deny freedoms that are the rights of all citizens in this country regardless of creed or skin colour.
At the press conference Tuesday 8 October we heard from the same Tommy Robinson who was at a demonstration a few weeks ago in Sheffield complaining about another mosque being built stating “at what point does diversity become takeover?” He claimed at the press conference that his target all along was Islamism. This revisionism just does not wash – his actions and words are too well documented unless you want to believe otherwise. The EDL under his leadership were against Muslims and he gave voice to this whether on immigration or as part of the community.
This Saturday there is to be an EDL march in Bradford. How well this is supported and by whom may give us an early indication on the organisational abilities of the group. What seems clear is that Tommy, with like minded ex EDL members and co founder Kevin Carroll, wish to create a new group.
This appears to be a lobby group – and Tommy has had meetings not just with the Quilliam Foundation in order to understand Islam better. However, those instincts and prejudices we have seen will die hard. The suspicion is not at all – the most we can hope for is that less public agitation on the streets may make public order and community tensions easier.
That though is not in the hands of Tommy and Kevin any more. Tommy revealed there was an attempt to usurp him whilst he was incarcerated. So this may be more a career move than a change of heart considering the inner conflicts that were looking to remove both him and Kevin. Forces he freely admits he could no longer control.
If we genuinely believe Tommy the EDL could become even worse – the question is will it disband into its component parts or become more potent on the streets. It would benefit all to think we can now concentrate more on radicalisation to extreme Islamism, combating militant Islamism and Islamist ideology.
We have, given his character, behaviour and past actions, not just the right to be sceptical but the need to be so till Tommy proves himself. Quilliam have given Tommy that opportunity. Let us see if he can seize it. He needs more than a name change this time to try and escape his past.