Before I begin this article proper, I’m obliged to point out that I don’t agree with everything Tommy Robinson says or with the entirety of his positions and opinions. This rather obvious disclaimer seems to be a unique prerequisite when writing or speaking in defence of Mr Robinson in a way that it isn’t for anyone else. The fact that there isn’t a single person alive or dead that I agree with 100% on every topic under the sun really goes without saying, but in the case of Tommy Robinson, it seems that expressing this explicitly is the standard mandatory requirement.
So let’s get this out of the way; I don’t agree with everything Tommy Robinson says. But…
The amusingly named organisation Tell Mama, which monitors apparent anti-Muslim attacks, has published an article on its website which amounts to an “attack” on Robinson by its own notoriously flexible definition of the word, and this article deserves to be rebutted.
It begins by announcing that Tommy Robinson “seems unchanged” since his departure from the English Defence League in 2013, the implication being that he was a bigoted extremist when leading the EDL and has not renounced this extremism upon his departure. This is a common refrain among critics of Robinson. The truth of the matter though, is that he was never a bigot or an extremist and therefore has no requirement to stop being something he’s not. His reasons for leaving were as a result of a reconsideration of the effectiveness of street protest and an inability to effectively patrol the far-right racist elements that had crept into the organisation. He has never credited his parting ways with the EDL to a softening of his views on Islam or Islamic extremism and has, in fact, repeatedly stated the contrary.
Tell Mama then proceed with a two paragraph character attack, essentially describing him as a far-right attention seeker and criminal who uses a pseudonym and promotes inflammatory stories on Twitter without citing context. Somewhat hypocritically, the author of this disingenuous article, himself unrestricted by the character limitations imposed by Twitter, also fails to indicate the context of any of the charges it levels against Robinson. For example: the author neglects to mention that a pseudonym was adopted by Robinson in the early days of his activism as way of maintaining anonymity and avoiding violent reprisals. And it worked until his identity was made public resulting in a string of violent attacks against him, death threats on a virtually daily basis and an unconscionable level of mistreatment at the hands of Bedfordshire police. I once asked Robinson how many times he’d been physically assaulted due to his political opinions, his answer was unsettling: “I’ve lost count mate.” He anticipated this level of hostility towards him and took measures to protect himself. Tell Mama have decided to omit this information from their article.
In describing Robinson as “far-right” they undermine the constant battle he was engaged in for over 4 years to identify and expel any genuine far-right elements from his organisation. He has constantly been targeted and threatened by real far-right extremists who object to the multi-cultural attitudes within official English Defence League policy. Robinson has, on numerous occasions, reiterated the inclusive stance of the organisation he founded, in one instance signing off a speech in Tower Hamlets with these remarks:
“This is not about colour. This is not about race. This is about ideology… Through non-violent, peaceful protest we will win the hearts and minds of the people of this country. Everyone is welcome in the English Defence League all colours and races. God bless.”
Upon discovering the presence of far-right elements in attendance, a clearly irate Robinson addressed the mass of demonstrators at a 2013 EDL march in Birmingham with the following statement:
“I’ve heard certain people here today are Nazi’s. We do not welcome Nazi’s. There’s a lady here, a Caribbean lady, who has flown here today from the British Virgin Islands. We have West Indian youth here today. We have Sikhs here today. And it is out of respect for every one of those communities that Nazi’s are the enemy. You will be treated as the enemy! And the fact that we’re 4 years in and you still ain’t got the message that you’re not welcome on the streets with the English Defence League is disgraceful!”
Again, it doesn’t appear to serve Tell Mama’s agenda to divulge this information in their article.
The accusations of spotlight chasing are in response to Robinson expressing his intention to stage a Draw Mohammed event in solidarity with the organisers of a similar event in Garland, Texas who were shot at by Islamic extremists earlier this year. As I have stated previously; events of this kind are an absolutely vital display of the fundamental liberties we sorely need to reclaim from the grip of fascists and terrorists. There can be no leeway on this subject. We categorically cannot abandon these principles to those who claim a right to commit murder in response to free expression. In organising this event, Robinson is at once displaying a level of bravery and commitment to the liberties we value that is sorely lacking in many of our politicians, and expressing solidarity with the myriad victims of Islamic theocrats determined to murder those whose speech they deem blasphemous.
The article goes on to berate Robinson for his opinion on the mandatory training of Taxi drivers in Caudwell in spotting signs of Child Sexual Exploitation. I’m unsure as to whether I agree with Robinson on this point or not. I would like to hear the arguments from both sides before forming an opinion. What I find problematic in Tell Mama’s article, however, is their assertion that “far-right extremists”, including Robinson, are engaged in the cynical manipulation of child grooming cases to build political capital.
“These activists have done little justice to the victims nor have they cared about community tensions in the wake of their activities. They have also attempted to place all Muslims and individuals of Pakistani heritage into the camp of being ‘suspect’ paedophiles by virtue of their faith.
Their theory goes something like this. Recent child grooming cases have involved people of Pakistani and Muslim heritage, so Islam must be at fault according to them. The logic is not only incoherent, it seems to miss one simple fact out. If this logic is to be followed, then all of the faiths of the world can be blamed since CSE sadly affects all communities and in different forms.”
Focusing on the harm done to community tensions by highlighting the issue of Muslim grooming gangs seems to me to be an exercise in tastelessness, considering that the reason child exploitation at the hands of Muslim men was allowed to flourish for so long in Rotherham and other cities, was a reluctance by the authorities to act for fear of inflaming these community tensions.
“Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought of as racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.” – Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (1997 – 2013)
The claim of Tell Mama is that linking the behaviour of Muslim men to the belief system they subscribe to is logically incoherent. But embarrassingly enough for them, reports have come to light two days after Tell Mama published their article, which show that Islamic State fighters consider the rape and sexual slavery they commit to be overtly Islamic and draw their inspiration from Islamic scripture.
There are verses in the Quran which appear to condone sexual slavery in reference to “those whom your right hands possess” and a multitude of Hadiths which also reinforce this notion.
“O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those (slaves) whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee.” – Quran 33:50
“Some of the Companions of the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) were reluctant to have intercourse with the female captives in the presence of their husbands who were unbelievers. So Allah, the Exalted, sent down the Qur’anic verse: “And all married women (are forbidden) unto you save those (captives) whom your right hands possess.” That is to say, they are lawful for them when they complete their waiting period.” – Abu Dawud 2150
In the BBC documentary When Tommy Met Mo, Historian Tom Holland and Islamic theologian Dr Usama Hasan both stated to Robinson personally that the meaning of the phrase “those whom your right hands possess” refers to concubines/sexual slaves, an understanding that is also echoed by highly respected Islamic scholar Sayyid Abul A’La Maududi:
“Two categories of women have been excluded from the general command of guarding the private parts: (a) wives, (b) women who are legally in one’s possession, i.e. slave-girls. Thus the verse clearly lays down the law that one is allowed to have sexual relation with one’s slave-girl as with one’s wife, the basis being possession and not marriage. If marriage had been the condition, the slave-girl also would have been included among the wives, and there was no need to mention them separately.”
It appears then, that there may be some scriptural basis for the sexual slavery perpetrated by Islamic State, but is it logically incoherent to extend this theological component to the behaviour of grooming gangs in the UK? During the same program, Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation stated the following:
“There is a significant over-representation of Pakistani men in on-street gang grooming of which the majority of the girls that are groomed are white. We as a community have to be honest and open about that.”
To which Robinson retorted:
“You’re saying what we say but you’re ok to say it. You’re a ‘heroic moderate’ for saying it and I’m a ‘far-right hooligan.’”
Others have also posited a possible link between the religion and the behaviour of these sexual predators, and these are people that Tell Mama would presumably not categorise as bigoted extremists. In sentencing a group of Muslim men for the grooming of underage girls in Rochdale in 2012, Judge Gerald Clifton stated the following:
“All of you treated (the victims) as though they were worthless and beyond respect. One of the factors leading to that was the fact that they were not part of your community or religion.”
Speaking on the BBC program The Big Questions in 2013, journalist Andrew Norfolk had the following to say:
“The vast majority of child sex offenders in this country are white men acting on their own…What is very different about this is that when the government ordered an assessment last year of street grooming, they found that in a country that’s 6% Asian, 46% of all offenders were Asian. And when it came to groups it was actually over half.”
This represents a significant over-representation of “Asian” men in cases where underage girls had been groomed and abused by groups. Furthermore, the term “Asian” is almost certainly a euphemism for “Muslim”. The British Sikh and Hindu communities have complained bitterly that the media, in describing these grooming gangs as “Asian” are unfairly tarring them with the same brush – a valid criticism, one would think, since Sikhs and Hindus are frequently the targets of Muslim rapists. The BBC, in 2013, broadcast an investigation into the sexual grooming of young Sikh girls by Muslim men in which Mohan Singh, of the organisation Sikh Awareness, described the problem as “massive”:
“Just imagine you get a 24 hour helpline which, to be honest, never stops ringing. The more we dig into it, the more we find. Currently we’re dealing with 19 cases all the way from the North to the South; In Leeds, In Bradford, in Birmingham and in Southall.”
This is not a new phenomenon. An article in The Independent dated June 24 1989 reported on the court case of Muslim gangs touring daytime discotheques in Birmingham and kidnapping Sikh girls for use as sex slaves.
In seeking answers to his suspicions about the role of religion in these abuses, Robinson took the opportunity on a radio program to ask Anjem Choudary for confirmation that the Prophet Muhammad was a 56 year old man when he consummated his marriage with a 9 year old girl, and that the goal of Mr Choudary was to emulate the behaviour of the Prophet. Choudary admitted both to be accurate summations.
The victims in Rochdale, Derby and Luton were exclusively non-Muslim and the perpetrators almost exclusively Muslim. The fact that up and down the UK, gangs almost entirely comprised of Muslim men are targeting predominantly non-Muslim children for grooming and sexual abuse would suggest that there are legitimate concerns to be addressed with regards to the role of religious ideology in these crimes, and Tommy has every right to raise these concerns.This is clearly a topic that deserves far more scrutiny than the simple throwaway dismissal provided by Tell Mama which essentially amounts to arguing that not all sexual exploitation is the result of religious ideology therefore none of it is. If an accusation of logical incoherence is applicable, then it belongs here.
Tell Mama choose to end their article on another criticism of Robinson trotted out many times when he was still leading the English Defence League: the cost to the public and to the state in accommodating the demonstrations of the EDL. It seems that another fundamental liberty that Tell Mama are not overly concerned with protecting is Freedom of Assembly as detailed in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is unfortunate that Tell Mama view Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Association as disposable rights in the event that they disagree with the message or that they cost too much, but there are many of us who believe that these principles are too important to abandon. As members of the working class community, the only means the people of the EDL felt they had to get their voices heard was to exercise their right to protest. Robinson has stated previously that during his days leading the English Defence League, the families of grooming victims would contact him out of desperation over the lack of action by the police and in the interest that the EDL would highlight the issue in their demonstrations.
On several occasions these demonstrations became violent, in many cases due to the vicious behaviour of counter demonstration groups such as the ironically named Unite Against Fascism, which undoubtedly added to the cost. In any case, it is odd that Tell Mama should highlight the monetary value of these marches as a cause for concern when it was marches of this kind that put pressure on the police to act upon instances of sexual grooming. In 2012 when a young Sikh girl in Luton was raped and the police refused to act, hundreds of Sikhs arrived in Luton and, together with the English Defence League, blocked a major duel carriageway in the town. They confronted the police and demanded that action be taken, a measure which subsequently resulted in the arrest and conviction of the rapist.
Thankfully there are signs that Robinson has begun to be treated with more respect by the media both mainstream and otherwise. Interviews with the NOTA Network, the Sikh Channel, the Godless Spellchecker podcast and a major BBC documentary have given Tommy the space to put his point across without being shouted down and constantly accused of racism. The voice he always sought in the EDL is finally being allowed a platform. This is a good thing for Tommy Robinson and for everybody who is interested in what he has to say.
Having been invited to address an audience at the Oxford Union in 2014, he delivered a thoroughly respectable speech in defence of his founding the EDL. Although he was legally prevented from discussing the disgraceful persecution he has faced from the police, the story he presented was potent enough to change a lot of people’s opinions about him. I overcame my lazy preconceptions about Robinson years ago when I actually took the time to listen to what he had to say. Since that time I have been thoroughly impressed by his courage and commitment to the cause he rightfully identifies as one of the most important issues of our generation – all in the face of constant harassment and violent reprisals including assassination attempts.
During his Oxford Union speech, Robinson repeatedly asks the audience to consider what they would have done had they grown up in Luton in the same circumstances and witnessed the same issues. Implicit in this question is the notion that Tommy was only acting how anyone would in that situation. He’s wrong. Unfortunately the vast majority of people would not have put themselves on the line to stand up for their principles the way he did. The kind of bravery exhibited by Robinson is a rarity. With this in mind, it’s a shame that Tell Mama seem content to continue their smears and accusations of bigotry, but then to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens: some people are unable to recognise courage of any sort, even when they see it, because they are invariably unable to summon it in themselves.