What simulacrum of reality is Chris Allen inhabiting? He suggests that Tommy Robinson has attracted countless acolytes, rejoicing at his (partial) change of heart.
And none more hyperreal is the resurrection and subsequent veneration of Tommy the Messiah. Adored and worshipped by his newfound troop of advocates and followers, many of whom are desperate to tell us about how their bad-boy-turned-good is now a changed man; one who has rejected his sinful past for the sake of the common and everyday man and woman who can now partake in his glory via the medium of populist entertainment and mass audience delectation.
In fact Robinson has lost many of his old supporters, disgusted at his decision to work with Muslims, while most former opponents of the EDL remain sceptical, indeed cynical about his move. In the latter group you find Matthew Goodwin, cited with approval by Allen:
A cynic could point to the fact that both the EDL and Quilliam have had their own difficulties in recent months and that this is all a ruse to make Lennon’s warped view of Islam seem mainstream.
This was a strange thing to say. In so far as Lennon’s (i.e. Robinson’s) view of Islam was warped, Quilliam have earnestly tried to get him to shift his perspective. But Goodwin seems to imply that Quilliam and Robinson are conniving in promoting the ‘warped’ version. So perhaps it is Quilliam’s more liberal, secular reading of Islam which agitates Goodwin.
This might seem a perverse interpretation of Goodwin’s words. But it’s one which leads me back to the most egregious part of Chris Allen’s article, his bizarre account of Maajid Nawaz’s encounter with Mo Ansar:
The foil for Robinson was ‘Mo’ - Mo Ansar – a figure who made for uncomfortable viewing throughout but especially so in two scenes: the first, where he was grilled about stoning and chopping off hands by the Quilliam Foundation’s Maajid Nawaz; the second, being excluded from the press conference where Robinson spoke about his decision to quit.
In terms of the latter, it seems bizarre that the ‘Mo’ in the title was so publicly excluded – and humiliated? – from this crucial moment. For me, this was evidence enough that in the bigger picture, he and many of the other British Muslim ‘allies’ appearing in the film were little more than convenient stooges.
As regards the former, Ansar was a rabbit in the headlights as Nawaz savagely tore into him about his hypothetical views in relation to shariah law, something that would seem to be markedly different to the approach taken by Nawaz about Robinson’s actual views about Islam, Muslims and more.
Allen seems to be saying that the programme’s main end or purpose was the humiliation of Ansar, and that the other Muslims in the programme who perhaps disagreed with him, including not just Quilliam supporters but Salma Yaqoob, were dupes, willing or unwilling, in this process. Allen invokes the hyperreal, but the way he brushes aside the issue of hudud punishments is more simply surreal.
Robinson’s actual views about Muslims and Islam, expressed in the programme, may be open to criticism, but are hardly uniformly shocking. He seems genuinely pleased to discover Muslims he can agree with, as you can see at the end of the Ansar/Nawaz clip. Allen’s distinction between hypothetical and actual is really weaselly – maybe he should read the opening paragraphs of Mehrdad’s post. He implies that it’s more acceptable to think someone’s hand should be cut off in an ideal state than to express concerns about passages which seem troubling in the Qur’an.
Later he asserts:
We venerate the most-shallow of idols, adoring them for their apparent excesses and greed in turn desperate to find out what corner their unfolding hyperreal ‘real’ lives will turn next. And as a consequence of this, we show cultural antipathy and disdain towards intellectualism a process that promotes and reinforces a collective nihilistic and myopic rejection of social and personal morality.
This last sentence is rather obscure. Is the word ‘process’ in apposition to ‘cultural antipathy and disdain’ – or to ‘intellectualism’? On the basis of the article, I’d say the latter.