I barely need to explain who Tommy Robinson is. He started out wearing a balaclava and leading a rag tag bag of football hooligan friends protesting against a group of Muslims shouting insults and obscenities at British soldiers. He became the figurehead of the English Defence League (EDL) – a nationalistic street movement that he has since left behind.
Tommy Robinson’s new book – Enemy of the State – tells his story. It is more entertaining, funny, bitterly depressing and exciting than most of the fiction I’ve read lately. It had me laughing out loud then thumping soft furnishing in frustration over the injustice of it all. It’s not about the EDL but his involvement with the EDL is clearly the main driver for most of what’s happened to him.
It’s a relatively long read at 330 pages, and the style perfectly captures Tommy’s voice and background. Some of the phraseology will upset English grammar teachers: it’s always “me and my football pals” but that’s authentic Tommy-speak.
The book sets the scene for the formation of the EDL by explaining something of the life he led in Luton growing up.
He was hanging out with other kids in a solid working class neighbourhood. From the start it’s clear race was not something he, or most of the mixed race crowd he ran with, ever paid attention to. But as time passed the separation (on religious, not race grounds) between Muslims and everyone else grew clearer, the fights grew more serious and the impact on society more palpable.
Tommy had a conviction and prison sentence for a serious violent assault against an off duty policeman before he had anything to do with the EDL.Of course when Tommy tells the story in more detail the facts are a little nuanced. He claims he was assaulted first by a man who never identified himself as a policeman: the conviction came because he took it one step too far by kicking him on the ground. That kick and, according to Tommy, the police officer lying about identifying himself, led to the conviction and harsh sentence.
He’d also had (in the years after his imprisonment for that assault) one minor drug offence. His description gives a hint of the humour on display throughout the book.
One night I was walking through town when a female officer in a police van told her colleagues to stop and search me. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but she knew who I was. They found a trace of cocaine – just about enough to make your hamster pedal his wheel a bit faster, but that’s all. I got a £300 fine and for the future enemies of Tommy Robinson, my record was elevated onto something close to the level of a Colombian drug baron.
But contrast those convictions from 2004 and later with a story he tells when out filming a documentary in Luton. He comes across a well known Muslim leader, Sayful Islam, and all the following can be seen on YouTube (strong language warning):
Sayful noticed us, noticed me, and started shouting. Traffic is always slow through Bury Park and he walked into the road, demanding to know what was happening. Look it up, see for yourself. Google it on Youtube. You’ll see him smack me in the face, completely unprovoked.
I got assaulted by an off-duty copper, retaliated and was given 12 months in prison. This bloke who preaches hatred and murder of British people walked up and belted me in the chops, on camera, and the police were not remotely interested. Not for one second.
Early convictions established Tommy as a violent football hooligan and gave the media a pigeon hole for him and his organisation. The strongest theme in the book (and the reason for the title) is the persecution of Tommy as an individual.