I appeared on this morning’s Sunday Morning Live programme on BBC1 with Tommy Robinson – the former leader of the English Defence League – and Esther Rantzen, to discuss TR’s spectacular resignation from the EDL earlier this week at the hands of the Quilliam Foundation.
When I first heard of TR’s resignation, I thought this might be the first decent thing the vile witch-hunters at QF may have ever done and I posted a quick message on Facebook accordingly. Very soon though, I began hearing stories about Tommy Robinson that cast serious doubt on whether this man had genuinely changed his repugnant views about Islam and Muslims. It also questioned the dubious role of Quilliam in trying to whitewash this far-right thug.
As Mehdi Hasan tellingly asked: had Tommy Robinson truly reformed or merely rebranded? I was told that Tommy Robinson – or whatever his real name is – was in serious trouble with the law. He is expected to be in court within the next ten days to answer public disorder allegations arising from earlier arrests. He has already served a stint in prison earlier this year and therefore a conviction for public disorder offences involving provocatively marching on an area with a very dense Muslim population was unlikely to be viewed leniently by the courts. There are also strong rumours whirling around about certain assets being frozen. I can’t go into more detail here.
Unfortunately, we could not discuss this on the TV programme today as it is the subject of an on-going court case but it definitely raises very serious questions about Tommy Robinson’s motives in so suddenly and dramatically resigning from the EDL and blaming other EDL activists for giving him a bad name.
Just before the SML programme was about to go on air, Esther Rantzen who was seated to my right, turned to Robinson – who was seated to my left – and said ‘Well done on Newsnight earlier this week!’ Now I had watched Jeremy Paxman’s interview with Tommy Robinson and thought Paxo had done well to tease out whether TR was genuine or not. So, what was Rantzen doing? Being Jewish, was she not aware of how the Blackshirts had targeted UK Jews in the 1930’s? So, what was she doing massaging TR’s ego? Salma Yaqoob has written elsewhere of how the EDL has received support from Zionists in Israel though not to the extent to which TR would have liked, but I let it pass.
As for the SML interview itself, I tried to pin TR down as to whether he really now disowned the statements that he had personally made describing Islam as a ‘disease’ and demanding that ‘no more mosques’ be built in the UK. Despite his constant references to being an opponent of ‘Islamist ideology’, these statements were simply anti-Muslim, full stop. Interestingly, he appeared not to retract these statements and to me it seemed that TR was indeed engaged in an cynical exercise at rebranding himself.
According to Shiv Malik in the Guardian, Quilliam’s Maajid Nawaz has said that he intends to “work to introduce Robinson to his own contacts in government and the Home Office in an attempt to procure government funding.” This is mind-boggling given that just last month, Robinson was arrested by the police for trying to march on Tower Hamlets.
Quilliam’s latest witch-hunter – see here for more details – Usama Hasan was brought on the programme via Webcam. And here, I must admit to a weakness. I just go bonkers whenever I see anyone from Quilliam. They drive me nuts! I made a mistake of questioning Usama Hasan about where Quilliam was getting its funding from these days. Although this question is of course of significant interest to Muslim activists and one should always ‘follow the money’, to the majority of the non-Muslim viewers it would have no doubt sounded just petty. I later got an email from a non-Muslim friend to say that my Quilliam distraction definitely lost me a point in the debate. I have to agree.
Finally, who really knows what is in another person’s heart? Certainly not me. And maybe TR will prove me wrong and turn himself into a model citizen who has recognised the error of his ways. On today’s events, however, I have to say that I am very sceptical about TR and the dubious role of the Quilliam Foundation.