A martyr is someone who suffers for a cause. And Tommy is most definitely someone who has suffered for his.
He is currently in a cell in Bedford Prison, having broken his bail conditions in order to attend the EDL demonstration in Tower Hamlets. There were many good reasons why we chose to demonstrate in Tower Hamlets, and Tommy simply felt that he could not sit idly by whilst the movement he founded took to the streets to protest against the formation of Britain’s ‘Islamic Republic’ (not our words, but those of a “very senior figure in the Tower Hamlets Labour Party”).
Ever since the EDL was founded we have found ourselves battling against politicians, but we have also sought to maintain a commitment to peaceful protest, respect the role played by the police, and never seek to undermine the law of the land. Tommy’s decision to break his bail conditions was therefore far from an easy one. It was not a reckless decision, but one made with a full appreciation of the likely consequences.
Tommy judged that the right to free speech, the right to peaceful protest, and his duty to speak out against the tyrannical influence of radical Islam, outweighed the court’s decision to place such strict limitations on his freedoms; a decision lent weight by the European Court of Human Rights’ rulings on the right to freedom of assembly.
He judged, quite rightly, that in breaking his bail conditions he would treated far more harshly than we have seen radical Muslims treated. He was certain this would send a clear signal to anyone concerned about freedom of speech or about the influence of radical Islam in this country, that our freedoms are under attack, and the government, the courts, and the media are yet to wake up to the threat. In the worst cases, they’re even complicit in this attack on freedom.
If anything, the fact that Tommy will spend the rest of the week in prison just confirms what many of us will have suspected for a long time: that the charges against him are motivated more by politics than they are by the desire to see justice done. That makes them all the more suspect.
On June 24th, Blackburn Magistrates Court heard that on April 2nd 2011 Tommy had assaulted a man at a demonstration in Luton – a charge he denies. The court granted bail, but subject to the following conditions:
- He must not knowingly organise, travel to, or participate in any march, demonstration, protest or similar.
- He must not send any article, letter, fax or email that seeks to promote or publicise any match, demonstration or protest in the open air.
- He must report to Luton Police station every Saturday between midday and 2pm.
Until the Tower Hamlets demonstration on September 3rd, he had dutifully complied with these restrictions – restrictions that are far more extensive than the ‘control orders’ placed on suspected ‘hate preachers’ or other Muslim radicals. Added to the threats he and his family have received (threats that the police thought serious enough to issue Osman warnings), the suffering that he has had to endure over the last few months may be easily imagined. It is hardly surprising that he feels let down by the legal system that the EDL have pledged to protect from radical Islam and from the creeping influence of Sharia Law.
In Tower Hamlets Tommy made a very clear statement:
“When you let me out of court with any bail conditions that restrict my democratic right to oppose militant Islam, I will break them the minute I walk out of that court room.”
The question then becomes: is Tommy Robinson being held captive because he has dared to challenge the authority of the court (in the way that radical Muslims and supporters of Sharia Law do every day), or because he dared to challenge the government’s view that we should engage with, appease, and even fund militant Islam?
What is more dangerous, the possibility that Tommy Robinson may inspire people with similar restrictions on their freedoms to violate their bail conditions, or that his example will once again underline the fact that the government’s counter-extremism strategies just don’t work?
Tommy handed himself in to Luton police after the Tower Hamlets demonstration, but soon after was re-arrested on orders from Scotland Yard: a clear sign the government has played a role in deciding how the law ought to be applied.
Tommy has been targeted not for what he has done, but for what he represents. He represents thousands of ordinary people who know that they’ve been lied to. They don’t suspect, they know. They know that radical Islam isn’t restricted to a few fanatics. They know that radical views are a problem across the Muslim community in Britain, and across the Muslim world. They know that in order to put an end to Islamic extremism we need to look at the causes, to take robust action, and to engage in an open public debate about what those causes are and what those actions should be.
They know that it is ridiculous to refer to Islam as ‘the religion of peace’, given that an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of terrorist acts are committed not just by Muslims, but by Muslims who justify their actions with verses from the Qu’ran, and who cite the example of Mohammed as their inspiration.
They know that they have been fed a politically correct understanding of Islam that is designed silence dissenting voices and prevent what we believe to be much-needed criticism of the Muslim Community’s continued inability to tackle radical Islam.
At times this can lead to frustration, and tempers flare on either side. But there’s one thing we do know about the people of this country; and that is that together we actually form a remarkably tolerant society. We have a proud history of respecting the rights and freedoms of individuals, and whilst safeguards must always be put in place, there should be no reason to suspect that even the most vitriolic criticism of the causes of radical Islam would result in unfair discrimination or divided communities.
But treating people like idiots, and demonising the dissenting voices, will lead to division. When the debate is reduced to nothing but a constant exchange of insults, it’s time to consider what action can be taken to change the way we go about things.
This is not the state of play today, it is how things were two years ago, when the EDL first formed. We were fed up of radical Islam and we were fed up of inaction. But we were also fed up of how the criticism of radical Islam was suppressed, and how only someone educated at the right university, or with the right qualifications in ‘community cohesion’, or with a job at the BBC, was allowed to criticise Islam.
We began giving a voice to legitimate criticism. We were quick to make clear that we reject all forms of extremism, and we worked tirelessly to ensure that the EDL attracted only decent, well-meaning supporters by taking every opportunity to explain what we stand for. At every stage, Tommy has led from the front.
We have worked hard to disprove those critics who would call us ‘racists’ or ‘fascists’, but these criticisms keep coming. At some point you have to consider that these repeated accusations (or insults, as they have become), say more about the name-callers than they do the accused. But it would not be fair only to lay the blame at the opportunistic agitators of the far Left. Beyond the obvious falsehoods, (the accusations of ‘Islamophobia’ or Nazism, for example) there are slightly more subtle slurs that are employed by far more respectable members of the political and media establishments.
Recently, Scotland Yard’s National Co-ordinator for Domestic Extremism, Adrian Tudway, wrote in an email to an as-yet-unnamed Muslim group:
“In terms of the position with EDL, the original stance stands, they are not extreme right wing as a group, indeed if you look at their published material on their web-site, they are actively moving away from the right and violence with their mission statement etc.”
This is not the first time, he has made similar points, and yet we’re willing to bet that most of the country’s national newspapers and television channels will ignore the words of one of the country’s foremost experts in domestic extremism. We’ll continue to see the EDL referred to as a ‘far right’ movement, without there being any explanation of what this means, or any evidence for the views that might be ascribed to us.
But perhaps the most important piece of advice given by Adrian Tudway was as follows:
“I really think you need to open a direct line of dialogue with them that might be the best way to engage them and re-direct their activity”
Dialogue is exactly what we have been hoping for, but not dialogue that will only be permitted on politically correct terms. We want to represent the legitimate concerns of our supporters, and we want them to be listened to. If legitimate concerns exist outside of what is considered to be politically correct, then the problem is with the political establishment, not with the ordinary people who we represent.
In his now infamous ‘multiculturalism has failed’ speech, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, seemed to recognise this. But what has he done to distinguish the coalition government from the previous government? The same old stratagem that saw criticism of radical Islam restricted, presumably in a naive effort to win over ‘moderate’ Muslims, is still in full force. Rather than winning over what the government presumably sees as ‘potential radicals’, continuing with Labour’s failed approach is just emboldening radical Islam by effectively outlawing the only effective means of changing a whole community’s outlook: gradual, pervasive, peaceful, and effective social pressure.
To defeat radical Islam we need would-be radicals to realise that they have little hope of success. When their most effective critics are imprisoned by the state, it is not difficult to see why radical Muslims flock to ‘soft touch Britain’.
The answer (or at least the start) should be simple: support freedom of speech, and permit and encourage legitimate, fair-minded criticism. British Muslims must feel the need to change their community: to root out and destroy the extremism that continues to give them a bad name. This must be achieved not through intimidation or violence, or as a result of prejudice, but by dialogue, and by mutual understanding. But it must be a discussion that proceeds on the shared understanding that we live in a liberal democracy where everyone’s freedoms should be respected, not in an authoritarian state all must repeat the party line or face being demonised or even deprived of their freedom.
Only the Prime Minister can really set the agenda for addressing the threat posed by radical Islam, and that is why Tommy Robinson recently challenged David Cameron to a live debate. So far, David Cameron has failed to articulate a confident anti-extremism strategy. He should listen to Adrian Tudway, and he should listen to the people of Britain – people who know that Islamic extremism is by far the most dangerous form of extremism we face, and that attempts to make it ‘just another form of extremism’ are counterproductive and dangerous. But he should start by recognising that Tommy Robinson is a political prisoner.
Perhaps Mr Cameron would care to visit Tommy in Bedford Prison, or perhaps he’ll wait until he is freed. Either way, if he recognises that at the root of the Labour government’s failures was the refusal to speak with what he loves to call ‘the Big Society, then he would be incredibly foolish not to accept the offer to engage with this country’s leading anti-extremism organisation.
In the meantime, Tommy has begun a hunger strike to protest against his treatment. When he is finally released, he faces another court appearance on September 29th, where it is possible that he will be served with an ASBO preventing him from joining a protest for three years. Evidently the government does not want the EDL led by a man who has done so much to safeguard our movement’s commitment to peaceful protest and just criticism of radical Islam.
In support of Tommy, the EDL will be conducting ‘flash demos’ up and down the country calling for his release. Tommy has asked for all demonstrations to abide by the following rules:
- We must maintain our commitment to peaceful and lawful protest. Tommy’s rights may have been taken from him, but for now at least the rest of us are free to peacefully protest. There should be no need for the police to make any arrests.
- We must ensure that demonstrations do not cause any disruption or inconvenience to the general public. Their support is critical, and we must not forget why it is that we demonstrate – to help safeguard our communities.
- We must make sure that the public are aware of why we are protesting, and not be afraid to engage with critics. Anything you can do to spread the message is of great help. The more people we speak to, the more realise that EDL supporters are just ordinary people trying to do the decent thing.
It may be worth considering focusing your demonstrations around police stations or government buildings, but we’ll leave that up to each division and to each individual who wants to help make a difference.
If the government and the media continue to throw insults rather than allow for a public debate, if they continue to refer to the EDL as a ‘far right’ organisation, in spite of the evidence and in spite of the expert opinion to the contrary, then they will have contributed to divisions and to the breakdown of community cohesion. An open and honest debate is needed not only to help formulate the means by which Islam in Britain can be reformed, but to prevent frustrations (on either side) from spilling over into violence.
Given the past failures, the government, the media, the police, and the Muslim community all need to prove that they are committed to protecting freedom of speech and defeating radical Islam. To do so they should join us in calling for the release of Tommy Robinson. Until they do, their silence will continue to reverberate through the patriotic blood of this nation, and fuel our calls for continued peaceful protests.
We are not all martyrs to the cause, but the government will soon learn that we are all Tommy Robinson.