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.