By New Worker correspondent
|What Yaxley-Lennon really thinks?|
STEVEN Yaxley Lennon, commonly known as Tommy Robinson, former leader of the Islamophobic English Defence League, and his main side-kick Kevin Carroll, last week stunned their followers by announcing they were leaving the EDL.
On Tuesday evening they gave a press conference in central London to explain their reasons. It was hosted by the Quilliam foundation – a think-tank that aims to counter extremism by non-violent means.
Maajid Nawaz, a co-founder of the Quilliam Foundation chaired the press conference and opened by explaining his own history with extremism. As a British Pakistani youth he had suffered bullying by the neo-Nazi Combat 18 and had joined the fundamentalist Muslim organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
This led to him being jailed when studying in Egypt and, in discussion with other Muslim scholars, he came to understand that “Islamism is not the same thing as religion of Islam”.
Upon being released by Amnesty International he renounced Hizb-ut-Tahrir and helped to found Quilliam.
Tommy Robinson gave a similar account of his own disillusion with violent street activism. Spending a couple of months in jail earlier this year had given him time to reflect and realise that his tactics were counterproductive to what he wanted to achieve.
In addition his movement had somehow attracted a lot of hard-right neo-Nazis who tended to take it over whenever he was not around to keep them under control. And now he “wanted a chance to prove I am not happy with the neo-Nazi image the EDL has got”.
He said that now he still wished to combat Muslim extreme fundamentalism but through peaceful political channels and that the Quilliam foundation would train him to do this.
He portrayed himself as someone well loved and respected by all the ordinary working class of his home town, Luton, and that they were all deeply worried about Muslim extremism and looked to him for leadership.
He said of the EDL membership: “I hope they will stop and think about it and then support me in my new path.”
He and Carroll also warned that it was the only way forward, that people of different faiths should work together to resolve their differences peacefully – as though no one had ever thought of this before – and that the only alternative was to leave “a mess” to future generations.
Repeatedly they claimed never to have been against Muslims but only against “Islamism”.
Journalists present quoted back to him many of his past comments, made in speeches to his followers, where he did indeed threaten all Muslims – and the effects of extreme fear invoked in innocent Muslim citizens.
He fudged. He claimed he had been misquoted, that people had not understood what he meant and that Muslims were mistaken to be afraid of him.
“I want to lead a revolution against Islamism but not against Muslims,” he repeated.
When questioned about who had financed and directed the EDL he denied any finance at all except from supporters’ donations.
He refused to renounce his friendship with the American extreme right-wingers Pam Geller and Robert Spencer, who he said, had helped paying the rent for his wife and three children when they had been forced into hiding because of his violent street activities had attracted death threats.
Maajid Nawaz claimed that Robinson and Carroll were very brave to renounce the EDL and its violent methods and that doing so had put them in danger. He said they deserved support and it was better for them quit their old ways than for them to continue.
Robinson came across as a very egocentric person who, having admitted very serious errors of judgement, now seeks to lecture those peaceful, anti-racist, multicultural and multi-faith organisations that he and his friends have been trying to smash to bits for years.