Tommy Robinson: The man behind the British version of Pegida

English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson is now the UK co-ordinator for the anti-Islamist movement Pegida, which is launching next week in Britain.

It’s the latest twist in Robinson’s controversial life. Robinson’s eventful career has seen him briefly embrace anti-extremist think tank Quilliam and serve jail sentences for mortgage fraud and a passport offence.

In the city of Dresden, where “anti-Islamisation” group Pegida originated, weekly demonstrations attract thousands of middle-class Germans. Now, 33-year-old Robinson is hoping the movement can attract a similar demographic in Britain, in contrast to the EDL, whose events became notorious for loutish behaviour and alcohol-fuelled violence.

“We’re isolated, away from pubs. We are going to walk from here in silence because now we are trying to create a passive resistance to what’s happening.

“We are taking the whole football culture, which was embedded in the EDL, out of it and we are trying to create a safe environment,” he adds. Robinson founded the EDL in 2009, after Islamist extremists shouted abuse at troops during a march in his home town of Luton. Robinson promises that when Pegida march, anyone who shouts or shows any sign of aggression will be removed.

But while the tactics may have changed, Robinson’s fiercely anti-Islamic views show no sign of having mellowed. He’s calling for a halt to all immigration by Muslims, the closure of religious Sharia courts, a ban on the wearing of the burqa in public, and an end to the building of new mosques. Suggest that any of these ideas might be considered extremist, and he bridles. “If people wish to be a religious Muslim inside their home, then fine,” he says.

From Robinson’s perspective, the extremist views represented by groups such as the so-called Islamic State are indistinguishable from devout Islam, even though numerous mainstream Muslim organisations have condemned the jihadists and their interpretation of the Koran.

Is the party over for the EDL?

October 18, 2013

 

The English Defence League is likely to splinter into smaller regional units with some supporters shifting to more extreme movements in the wake of the leadership’s resignation, according to a former member of the police unit that spent years covertly monitoring the group.

Even before last week’s shock decision by Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll to abandon the anti-Islamic street movement they formed in 2009 – saying they no longer wished to be associated with the far-right extremists that came to their rallies – there were signs that the group was splintering and losing support.

Local EDL leaders held a Skype conference on 9 October in which they agreed to establish a new committee of regional organisers. They chose a new chairman, Tony Ablitt, a former organiser with the British Freedom Party, a short-lived political front for the EDL. They are due to hold a meeting on 26 October to discuss the group’s future strategy.

“The legacy of the EDL is a few thousand young, working class men who have been radicalised and handed a warped view of British Muslims and their beliefs,” said Matthew Goodwin, associate professor at the University of Nottingham. “It is unlikely that now, with the resignations, those men are simply going to abandon those views.”

Matthew Goodwin, from the University of Nottingham, stated that it would be hard for Mr Robinson to change.

“He comes from a section of society that is already likely to feel left behind by the economic transformation of Britain and under threat from immigration and seemingly ‘new’ groups in society, like Muslims,” said Matthew Goodwin. “Those views were forged during his younger years, so it is distinctly unlikely that he will fundamentally overhaul his beliefs. Once we are hard-wired in this way, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to move in a radically different direction.”

 

The Independent:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/is-the-party-over-for-the-edl-8889961.html

My 18 months with former EDL leader Tommy Robinson by Mohammed Ansar

October 18, 2013

 

It was April 2012, and it was my first face-to-face meeting with Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon), the leader of the English Defence League (EDL). We were appearing on a BBC1 programme called The Big Questions. Little did I know this would be the start of an 18-month journey together that would end with Tommy leaving the EDL.

It was an odd position to find myself in. I had spent years as an outspoken advocate against Islamophobia, working to counter extremism and trying to address what I felt was an emerging civil rights crisis for Muslims in Britain. Muslim communities everywhere were under threat, attacks against mosques and individuals were at epidemic levels and rising. Yet the Islamic tradition is that you do not try to crush those who wish to oppress you, you try to educate them. You pray for them. You enlighten them. Despite the heated exchanges that day, I was able to extend to Tommy an offer: that we have dinner.

Three hours of debate followed. Tommy meanwhile seemed to enjoy ordering the most expensive thing on the menu. He liked his steak on the rare side. At the end of it we both tweeted two statements from Tommy – that I “must be reading a different Qur’an to everyone else” and “if every Muslim was like you there would be no problem”. The response was shocked and sceptical. That I had passed the Tommy Robinson test for acceptability was nothing to be pleased about. He had to meet more people. We needed to do more work.

So our journey together continued. Despite both my mother and wife questioning my sanity, I had always wanted to stand up and address an EDL meeting, and come face to face with Tommy’s supporters. A town hall-style meeting was arranged at a hotel in Luton. Because of the risks, the crowd was limited to around 50 people, and I was given a four-strong security team, including my own bodyguard, a Jehovah’s Witness called Rudi. It was a stressful experience. The anger and hostility from EDL members surfaced over things I thought long gone, with the National Front-daubed brick walls of 1970s Britain: coming over here and taking our jobs and our women, erosion of culture (they even believed they were limited from practising Christmas), multiculturalism, and immigration. It was important to listen – they are not uncommon views. Painful ones.

At the end of the meeting, I had to break my fast, as required in the month of Ramadan. I invited Tommy back to my room and he stood with me as I offered a dua supplication/prayer. We ate food from a local Indian takeaway. Tommy’s insistence on refusing halal meat on camera was a regular theme throughout our time together, despite the fact he eats it at Nandos and his favourite Turkish kebab shop. As I prayed maghrib (sunset prayers) he watched, quietly. Tommy has always been much better to talk to in a one-to-one setting. We could have a real conversation. When the camera was rolling, I felt we rarely saw the real Tommy.

Later Tommy held a conference with Maajid Nawaz, of the counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam, and announced he was quitting the EDL. I was cautiously optimistic. Throughout the journey my aim had been simple – to see if we could move Tommy on his views and to see if the British public would shift on theirs. My view had always been that any new future should be conditional on Tommy distancing himself from former extremist pals, and that shared ideology.

My journey with Tommy has shown one thing – that to embrace diversity in modern society we need to work out our differences. It’s often a messy and imperfect process, but it’s vital that we remain hopeful. Discourse and dialogue can work. How else can we tackle hate and prejudice?

 

The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/19/my-journey-with-edl-tommy-robinson

Selfridges faces backlash after giving EDL leader Tommy Robinson free steak lunch

Department store Selfridges has courted controversy again after giving leader of the English defence League Tommy Robinson a free steak to apologise after a member of staff refused to serve them. The menswear employee was temporarily suspended for violating company policy after refusing to serve Robinson’s friend. Robinson, a convicted criminal who leads anti-Islam protests across the country, was in the Oxford Street store with his friend who was looking to purchase a pair of jeans.

 

Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, filmed himself challenging the shop assistant who reportedly refused to help Robinson’s friend, saying “f**k off, I am not serving you” after asking if he was with the EDL leader. Robinson said he assumed the shop assistant was a Muslim as he “had Mo on his name tag”.

 

A spokesman said anyone was welcome to shop in the store “regardless of political opinion”. To apologise, Selfridges gave Robinson and his friend a three course meal at the store’s in-house Hix Restaurant, Champagne and Caviar Bar, which included a prawn cocktail starter, steak and chips, finished off by chocolate cake and ice cream.

 

Robinson has insisted his friend is not associated with the far-right group.

 

The decision to give Robinson and his friend a free meal was met with wide spread criticism on Twitter, with many threatening to boycott the store.

 

Islam is way more English than the English Defence League

The English Defence League’s definition of what constitutes the English working class is a classic case of projection. To take the “working class” tag, never mind that Tommy Robinson (the leader of the EDL) owns his own business and so is technically petit-bourgeois – making him officially entitled to buy a cream and gold bathroom. The more contentious bit of the EDL’s identity is its claim to represent “the English”. The problem with this claim is that a hundred people will come up with a hundred ways of defining Englishness and each with disagree violently with each other. To quote George Bernard Shaw: “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.”

 

So while football hooliganism (out of which the EDL has spawned), covering your car in St George’s flags (English flag as opposed to the Union Jack), wearing balaclavas (a prevalent item of clothing at EDL marches and rallies) and spending time in prison (Tommy Robinson the leader of the EDL has been convicted of assault) is one definition of Englishness, others do exist. Today our meetings with foreign cultures are awkward precisely because we lack a solid sense of who we are. A lot of the fear shown towards Islam comes from the death of the Christian soul – we see a people who actually believe in something and we are intimidated.

 

By contrast, most Muslims cling on to values that were once definitively English and that we could do with rediscovering. Islam instructs its followers to cherish their families, to venerate women, to treat strangers kindly, to obey the law of any country they are in (yes, yes, it really does), and to give generously. One recent poll found that British Muslims donate more money to charity than any other religious group. Much is written about the need for Muslims to integrate better into English society, although states that 99 per cent of them probably already do.

 

This is a blog post written for the Daily Telegraph by Dr Tim Stanley. He is a historian of the United States. His biography of Pat Buchanan is available now. His personal website is www.timothystanley.co.uk and you can follow him on Twitter @timothy_stanley.

 

English Defence League leaders arrested on way to Woolwich

Two English Defence League leaders arrested as they attempted to visit the spot where Drummer Lee Rigby was murdered have been released on bail. EDL leader Tommy Robinson and his co-leader Kevin Carroll were detained by police on suspicion of obstructing officers outside Aldgate East station in east London as they attempted to stage what they claimed was a charity walk to Woolwich Barracks via the East London Mosque. Scotland Yard said it had imposed conditions due to fears that both the march and gathering would “result in serious public disorder and serious disruption to the life of the community” and a breach of the conditions would be a criminal offence. The police said attempts had been made to discuss the march and gathering with the EDL and offered it two alternative routes that avoided Tower Hamlets, home to the East London Mosque.

The best way to fight the EDL’s anti-Muslim bigotry is by showing solidarity on the streets

Before the renewed wave of anti-Muslim bile after the horrendous murder of Lee Rigby, the EDL seemed to be staring into the abyss. Their rallies attracted increasingly derisory turnouts, notable for punch-ups between drunk racists: impressive shows of force by anti-racists in Walthamstow and elsewhere humiliated them.

 

But last week, their leader – who operates under the pseudonym “Tommy Robinson”– was treated to a reprehensibly soft interview on BBC’s Today programme: the activities and beliefs of Robinson and his gangs were barely scrutinised. Such appearances do nothing but help legitimise racism, treating it as just another valid political perspective that can be calmly engaged and debated with just like any other set of beliefs. A bunch of thuggish racists are running rings around the Establishment. In the Daily Telegraph, its former editor Charles Moore defends the EDL as “merely reactive”, as non-violent, as “the instinctive reaction of elements of an indigenous working class which rightly perceives itself [as] marginalised by authority, whereas Muslim groups are subsidised and excused by it”. Allegations of racism or fascism “are not strictly accurate”, he reassures us. Tommy Robinson himself demands that Muslims follow British law: odd from someone who struggles with the same advice, having served a 12-month prison sentence for assaulting an off-duty police officer who tried to stop a domestic incident with his partner, as well as convictions for “threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour.” He once warned “every single Muslim watching” that the “Islamic community” would face “the full force of the English Defence League” if any British citizen was hurt or killed. Here are Moore’s non-racist, non-violent “reactive” band.

 

Anti-Muslim prejudice, however, remains worryingly widespread. Over a third of Britons think they pose a serious threat to democracy; and while the number who believe Muslims are compatible with the “British way of life” has increased, just one in three believe that. The EDL threat has to be taken seriously, but it needs careful thought. The truth is the EDL are simply a striking symptom of a society where anti-Muslim bigotry is acceptable: it passes the “dinner table test”, as Tory minister Sayeeda Warsi has put it. Now it’s Muslims; once it was Irish people who faced racist scapegoating after terrorist attacks: a twisted irony, then, that Tommy Robinson is himself the son of Irish immigrant parents. But this prejudice is not confined to the right. Some on the left seem to believe defending Muslims  is somehow a betrayal of secularism. Studies show newspapers routinely portray Muslims in a negative light. And so here is the dark truth. After a month in which the EDL have enjoyed a resurgence; Muslims abused on the streets and online; mosques firebombed – all those who have fanned bigotry, take responsibility, because these thugs are your children.

‘I am not a Nazi’, says EDL leader Tommy Robinson

 

Tommy Robinson, who is the organisation’s co-founder, was grilled about the EDL in a highly charged interview on the BBC’s Sunday Politics. Confronted by images of EDL supporters giving what appeared to be Nazi salutes, Mr Robinson said it was a “manipulated photo”. Asked by presenter Andrew Neil if it was a “fascist Nazi salute by any definition” he said: “I am not a Nazi, I hate Nazis, I hate fascism.” Mr Robinson said that the EDL had now advised that “whenever people hold their hands up like that we have told them to give the V” to avoid any misunderstanding. He said: “Nazism and Islamism are on the opposite sides of the same coin – we oppose both. Nazism has been defeated and Islamism is spreading across the country.” Mr Robinson said it was “political correctness gone mad” that the Help the Heroes charity had turned down a donation from the EDL in the wake of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich. He added that the EDL had support among serving British soldiers: “Ordinary British squaddies support us – I know they do.” Last week serving soldiers were warned that taking part in any EDL activities could result in their dismissal. Asked if Britons were expected to believe that the EDL was “no more menacing than the Girl Guides”, he said: “Has anyone from the English Defence League blown anything up, has anyone from the English Defence League killed anyone, has anyone planned to bomb anything? “What you have to understand is there is a massive undercurrent of anger across this country – I have got my finger on the pulse, people are angry, you need to harness and channel that anger which is what we are trying to do.”

EDL leader Tommy Robinson ‘utterly condemns’ attacks on Muslims

The leader of the English Defence League has said he “utterly condemns” attacks on Muslims, and called for the internment of Islamic extremists. Tommy Robinson’s comments, made on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, come the day after six extremists were jailed for a total of more than 100 years for plotting a gun and bomb attack on an EDL rally in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. He also denied claims his group had firebombed an Islamic community centre in north London on which “EDL” was spray-painted. He called for the internment of Islamist extremists and the outlawing of all aspects of Sharia law. “I’d stop the building of mosques in this country until Islam reforms in such a way and works in this country with Western democracy and freedom,” he added.

English Defence League cancels anti-Muslim march

20 October 2012

 

The English Defence League (EDL) is set to march in Walthamstow, east London, on Saturday. The move is thought to be very provocative since the area is densely populated with Muslims. In addition, Leader Tommy Robinson vowed to show the inflammatory film Innocence of Muslims in the suburb. However, he was arrested in the US and remains in custody. Also, according to the reports, the co-founder of the EDL will not be attending the march as he was arrested by Scotland Yard on suspicion of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance in east London.