Like most people when I heard the news that Tommy Robinson (whose real name is Stephen Lennon) and Kevin Carroll had left the English Defence League (EDL) I was cautious about jumping up and screaming 'Finally, Tommy we told you so'. Indeed, the recent news that the anti-Muslim activists Pamela Gellar and Robert Spencer have also distanced themselves from the English Defence League makes me more suspicious than simply shouting at the top of my voice 'Hallelujah'. So after presiding over 4 years of hate, violence and anti-Muslim prejudice, the majority of Muslims are right to be cautious over this 'tactical' move. And let there be no mistake, this was simply put, a 'tactical' decision. After all how can a man who once said he 'was against the building of all mosques' now overnight become a beacon for humanity. Or has Tommy Robinson suddenly heard an angel from heaven come down and speak to him about community cohesion and explain that Muslims are not the 'Bogeyman'. I am all for forgiveness as a Muslim, as it is a major part of the Islamic faith. However forgiveness must work in a parallel dimension with sincerity. And I am not so sure he has repented for his sins. If we are to believe his story, that he is worried about extremist elements, in his organisation than surely he must first have a look in the mirror, as he is the embodiment of far right extremism.
I also think two key things emerge from this announcement, on the one hand, the victims of Tommy Robinson's thuggish and cowardice behaviour should not be forgotten. Tommy Robinson must realise and accept that he has caused a lot of pain and suffering for thousands of Muslims by his actions. He should lower his head in shame and not use this announcement as an opportunistic way of exploiting his own personal ideological viewpoint. Secondly, the news that the Quilliam Foundation (a government funded organisation) aimed at tackling home grown extremism had facilitated this change of heart also raises serious questions.
After holding a press conference late last night, the co-founder and chairman Maajid Nawaz looked pretty pleased with his overall performance. He tweeted "Now time for Islamist extremists to step up&leave their groups too. @QuilliamF Challenging Extremism, Promoting Pluralism, Inspiring Change!" The problem however is how do you challenge extremism and promote pluralism when both Quilliam and Tommy Robinson are viewed in such a negative light. One has been tainted with allegations that they are spying upon Muslims and the other has created and exacerbated a climate of Islamophobia. Indeed, both seem to have lost credibility.
Therefore whilst some people will be congratulating Quilliam I am concerned more with those victims of Tommy Robinson's relentless abuse. If we are too genuinely believe he is remorseful than he needs to meet those victims face-to-face and apologise for his actions. He needs to begin the process of rehabilitation with the magic words 'I AM SORRY.' Instead, he has continued to praise his own efforts and argued what he did was correct, but no apology is forthcoming. So sorry for sounding so pessimistic but Tommy Robinson's announcement does not fill me with confidence. As he sat down to make his announcement yesterday the metaphor, like a chameleon comes to mind. No doubt, Tommy Robinson for his followers is a charismatic and cunning individual. And yesterday in his press conference I could visibly see the colours changing from red to blue, but lets hope there is now a shade of nuance in his approach to extremism. However, I think he will continue to change colour.
The EDL website had no information last night about the news of Tommy Robinson's shock announcement. Instead the words 'Not Racist, Not Violent, Just No Longer Silent!' were visible on the front home page. It appears it's leader has now jumped ship after seeing it well and truly sinking with the loss of there most prominent Sikh member Guramit Singh, and allegations of financial problems which has left the organisation in crises. Perhaps, the last word should go to Tommy Robinson. In an interview yesterday on Channel 4 in reference to Quilliam he spoke about how he was excited about the challenges ahead in tackling extremism. He said: "I've watched the work his office is doing putting themselves on the front line and that's what I want do do, I want to tackle extremism." If it was only that simple!