Richard Elliott interprets Tommy Robinson’s departure from the EDL as a chance to intelligently discuss radical Islam.
Tommy Robinson, the public face of the English Defence League since its inception in 2009, has stepped down as the head of the organization, citing the dangers of extremism and his general concern for Muslims themselves. In the report by the BBC, Robinson lamented, “When some moron lifts up his top and he’s got a picture of a mosque saying ‘Boom!’…that’s not what I’ve stood for…Whilst I want to lead a revolution against Islamist ideology, I don’t want to lead a revolution against Muslims.”
In this seemingly noble gesture by Robinson, who it appears to acknowledge that his intentions were not shared by many followers of the EDL, the only person supporting the organization capable of putting forward a coherent statement about their public intentions is now out of the picture.
How I react to this is as follows; now that the EDL has lost its only credible member, perhaps we can now have a serious, grown-up discussion about the social and geopolitical impact of radical Islam.
…now that the EDL has lost its only credible member, perhaps we can now have a serious, grown-up discussion about the social and geopolitical impact of radical Islam.
The fact is, for a long time now, the likes of the BNP and the EDL have enjoyed hegemony over criticism of Islam. And what a hegemony it has been! Instead of discussing textual interpretations of the Qur’an and the Hadith, and the authorial intentions behind these works, as well as many other important issues, the followers of the EDL (rather than the organization’s public front, which is actually quite the opposite of what many of the EDL’s followers conceive of it in private) have been far more likely to reduce the discourse to shouts of “send the paki’s home!”, or other such obscene misnomers instead.
The reductionist effect of sheer racism and the worst, most irrational forms of nationalism that this has had to the possibility for debate has been disastrous; in justified opposition to the thuggish antics of many followers of the EDL, the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater, and the debate about the compatibility of Islam with Western culture has stagnated. Truthful discussion has been handled with kid gloves as a result of the shameful prejudices displayed by the followers of the EDL.
Whilst the raw emotive feeling of resistance to the spread of Islam is there within the EDL, it has been conflated with racist dogmatism and xenophobic trash-talking. As a result of this, protestations about the spread of (and indeed the indoctrination of the young into) radical Islam have been left to the worst kinds of people; people who you wouldn’t want to sit next to on a public bus, let alone be out in the streets defending free speech, the empowerment of women and gay rights for you.
Whilst the raw emotive feeling of resistance to the spread of Islam is there within the EDL, it has been conflated with racist dogmatism and xenophobic trash-talking.
The reason the debate has for so long been overrun by thugs and racists is not solely the fault of the follower base and members of groups like the BNP and the EDL. However, it is also in a large way our fault – you and I. Many people have long blamed politicians for pandering to other cultural practices as the primary catalyst for the rise of Islamism within Britain; this is true only to an extent. The reason why sensible people who can read and who don’t see a 3 litre bottle of White Ace as ‘lunch’ aren’t engaging in debates with moderate Muslims (there are a bunch of them, you know) who see integration into Western culture as an inherently good thing is because those same sensible people have been too damn lazy. Because of this collective apathy, someone else did all of that for us. Unfortunately, they had cans of extra-strength lager in their hands and a racist motivation in their heads whilst they did it.
With any luck, the EDL, with their only articulate member gone, will quickly vanish from the public sphere, remembered only as an interesting case study in how xenophobia and intolerance can spread when education is lacking on the subjects. I’m not alone in my optimism on this, either. The hole that they will leave, however, must be filled with a reasoned debate: a debate not just about the fears of the spread of a particularly malevolent outlook of the world inspired by one reading of Islam, but also the hard evidence and the lessons from recent history which many seem so unable or indeed unwilling to grasp. It’s time to have a proper discussion about these things, before it’s too late, and the intolerant football hooligan-style thugs who constitute a majority of the followers of the EDL dominate the debate once more.
The hole that [the EDL] will leave, however, must be filled with a reasoned debate…