The vicious vindictiveness of the UK judicial system vis-a-vis Tommy Robinson is horrendous.
UK: Two Systems of Justice
- Robinson is in an exceptionally unfortunate position. He is not a radical Islamist and nor is he from any discernible minority. He is a white working-class man who, it appears, can thus not only be harassed by certain authorities with impunity, but can find few if any defenders of his rights among the vast panoply of people in our societies who are only too keen to defend the rights of Islamists.
- Civil liberties groups such as “Liberty,” which are so stringent in protecting the rights of Islamist groups such as “Cage,” are silent on the case of Tommy Robinson.
So farewell, then, Anjem Choudary. For two and half years at least. On September 6, the radical cleric was sentenced by a British judge to five and a half years in prison for encouraging people to join the Islamic State. If he behaves himself in prison he could be out in half that time, although whenever he emerges, it is unlikely that it will be as a reformed character. But the law has taken its course and in a rule-bound society has responded in the way that a rule-bound society ought to behave — by the following due process. So it is useful to compare the experience of Anjem Choudary and the way in which the state has responded to him with the way in which it has responded to another person.
It is now seven years ago that a young British man from Luton going by the name of Tommy Robinson formed the English Defence League (EDL). He did so after he and other residents of the town of Luton were appalled by a group of radical Muslims who protested a home-coming parade for British troops. There is some interesting symmetry here in that the Islamists present in Luton that day were members of Anjem Choudary’s group, al-Muhajiroun. Robinson and other residents of Luton were not only taken aback by the behaviour of the radicals but by the behaviour of the police who protected the radicals from the increasingly angry local residents.
Whatever its legitimate grievances when it began, the EDL did undoubtedly cause trouble. Protests often descended into thuggery, partly because of some bad people attracted to it and partly because “anti-fascist” counter-demonstrators often ensured that EDL protests became violent by starting fights with them. But through most of the time that Robinson led the EDL, there did appear to be — confirmed by third-party observers including independent journalists — a sincere and concerted effort to keep genuinely problematic elements out of the organisation. To those who said that Robinson and his friends had no right to organise protests, there are two responses. The first is that they had as much right to be there as anyone else. And second, that the problems they were objecting to (hate-preachers, grooming-gangs and so on) are real issues, which the state has increasingly realised are such in the years that followed.
In 2013 Robinson left the group he started, and in the years since, has engaged in a range of activities, including authoring a book. The book chronicles, among other things, a campaign by the state of harassment, which began from the moment Robinson formed the EDL. His own house and those of his nearest relatives were repeatedly raided by police, and computers and other materials taken away for examination. Any fair reading of the book — whose details have again been broadly confirmed by the few journalists who have been interested in the case — suggests that there was a very clear and concerted effort to find something — anything — on Robinson to get him locked up.