The announcement yesterday morning that Tommy Robinson and Kev Carroll, co-founders of the English Defence League, were to leave the group took many by surprise. By removing himself from the far-right movement, Tommy Robinson is changing his tactics, but – as I learned at the press conference last night – there’s little to suggest he will be denouncing Islamophobic views anytime soon.
Only this year, Tommy was filmed at an EDL organised street demonstration shouting how ‘Islam is not a religion of peace, it is fascist and violent’, and last night Tommy refused to take back comments made in the past concerning his views on Islam.
He seemed wholly uncomfortable when faced with questions regarding his views on Halal cuisine, and would not retract past comments that mosque-building in the UK should be limited. If this wasn’t ringing enough alarm bells, Tommy still asserted he stands by past comments made about “links between Islam and paedophilia.” However, last night the Quilliam foundation, who broke the news of Robinson’s retreat from the EDL, were keen to reiterate that “Tommy and Kev do not hate Muslims.” The two journalists next to me both commented at this point “something here isn’t right”.
When asked if this was the easy way out for him, Tommy said that he “only got 45 minutes sleep last night”. He’d “neglected his wife and family”, he said, and told us he was “dreading going home”. At one point I came close to feeling sorry for the bloke who has had such a ‘difficult’ time of it, but then I remembered he’s Tommy Robinson from the EDL. It needs to be made clear, these men last night made no attempt to denounce actions of the EDL in the past, nor the principles the EDL stands for.
More disconcerting was that it transpired that Maajid Nawaz, co-founder and chairman of Quilliam, an anit-extremism group, had only started speaking to the ex-EDL frontmen over the “last couple of days.” It certainly was made no clearer at the press conference last night as to what the EDL leadership had done to prove they weren’t actually racist - but Nawaz pointed out that he and his colleague were Muslim, and therefore how could Tommy be racist?
In essence, I was left wondering what on earth was going on. For Tommy and Kev it’s clear they have a lot to gain from moving away from the EDL, a failing organisation described by the men as “out of control”. This way they can be seen as more moderate, a voice of reason from the right.
Moreover, with groups such as UKIP finding such electoral success in the UK, is it any wonder that Tommy and his cronies are looking for ‘a more democratic’ way of pursuing their racist agenda?
However, for Quilliam, this move presents a wonderful publicity stunt if nothing more. Nawaz was clear last night that the ex-EDL leaders were to receive “training and education” through his foundation to “educate them on Islam”. However, there was no plan presented of how this would take place, or what Quilliam envisaged doing with their latest recruits. Speaking to an international relations scholar last night at the University of Oxford, who has spent time working with Muslim community groups in the north, I was told that “nobody in the Muslim community takes Quilliam seriously.”
Last night Tommy asserted 'there are problems and we need to solve them. We must confront the problem but marching and chanting is offending moderates'. Clearly, he and Carroll are trying a change of tactic, but their dangerous views have not suddenly been enlightened. “We are singing from the same song-sheet, just the same sheet as Quilliam against Islamism” Carroll told the audience. Forget Quilliam, the song-sheet Carroll and Robinson hold is full of bile, and a change of key won’t change the message.