The decision by the EDL leaders Tommy Robinson* and Kevin Carroll to leave the movement has been so abrupt that it raises severe doubts about the nature of the EDL. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/10363174/EDL-Leaders-quit-over-concern-about-far-right-extremism.html).
The resignations of Robinson and Carroll are made all the stranger because both men were enthusiastically purveying the normal EDL line at a rally in Sheffield on 21 September, only 17 days before their resignations were announced (http://www.englishdefenceleague.org/tommy-robinson-in-sheffield/). Here are a few samples statements made by Robinson at the rally:
“At what point does diversity become takeover?” (enter video at 1 minute 50 seconds)
“English girls in Sheffield are being groomed and raped… by members of the Islamic community” (3 minutes 21 seconds)
“We don’t want any more mosques in this country” (4 minutes exactly)
“People will no longer stand by and watch their towns and cities being taken over” (3 minutes 30 seconds).
It is rather difficult to square such comments with Robinson’s claims so soon afterwards that he now thinks the EDL is no longer the vehicle to combat Islamicists because it has been, he claims, taken over by right extremists .
These recent Sheffield comments become even stranger in the light of his Newsnight resignation interview on the day of his resignation when he says in response to a Paxman question that he decided to leave the EDL in February 2013 – see http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=744_1381276885 – enter at 4minutes and 4 seconds). Robinson needed an exit strategy but this was just about as clumsy a one as it would be possible to construct. If he had really wanted to go as early as March why wait for six months?
Caroll’s Sheffield speech was primarily about the double standards of the police when treating Muslims and non-Muslims, but it included what looks like in retrospect a piece of howling cynicism when Caroll boasted to the crowd that “We are getting bigger and stronger everyday”. (Enter the video at 12 minutes and 58 seconds - http://www.englishdefenceleague.org/kevin-caroll-in-sheffield/)
The ostensible reasons for the resignations
During his various media appearances announcing the resignations Robinson said “I have been considering this move for a long time because I recognise that, though street demonstrations have brought us to this point, they are no longer productive.
“I acknowledge the dangers of far-right extremism and the ongoing need to counter Islamist ideology not with violence but with better, democratic ideas.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24442953).
But he also laid emphasis on the threats to his family and the fact that he was judged by what the more extreme members of the EDL did, viz: “When some moron lifts up his top and he’s got the picture of a mosque saying ‘boom’ and it’s all over the national newspapers, it’s me, it’s when I pick up my kids from school the parents are looking at me, judging me on that.
“And that’s not what I’ve stood for and my decision to do this is to be true to what I stand for. And whilst I want to lead the revolution against Islamist ideology, I don’t want to lead the revolution against Muslims.” (Ibid).
The problem with these reasons is that they have existed throughout the four years of the EDL’s existence. That does not mean his fears are invalid but we do require an explanation from him as to why they have suddenly become intolerable.
Nonetheless, it is not implausible that Robinson in particular may have simply tired of the harassment and worse he has experienced. That the harassment has been considerable we know because many publicly reported instances of marches being hamstrung or stopped altogether and the frequent arrests fo EDL members. But there is also what goes on without getting into mainstream media reporting. In his recent Sheffield speech (enter the video at 5 minutes 44 secs) Robinson said that as a consequence of being charged with criminal damage valued at a paltry £30 (something he is still waiting to go to court about), the police obtained warrants to search his parents’ house and his house, the officers who arrived at his house he said were armed with machine guns. Robinson also spent 18 weeks in prison earlier in the year and with three young children he does have reason to fear for their safety.
Is all not as it seems?
There is a well tried and tested intelligence service technique of setting up a front organisation which ostensibly provides a platform for those opposed to government policy or just the way society is organised. The idea is that the front organisation acts as a light to a moth and attracts dissidents. This allows the security service to both monitor and manipulate those considered politically dangerous to the status quo. The manipulation may be anything from infiltrating agent provocateurs to persuading a dissident by one means or another to change their ideological tune.
What are the signs that point to a front organisation? Such things as rapid formation, a ready supply of money both initially and as the organisation progresses, organisational skill and a failure to make any progress towards attaining its claimed ends despite making a good deal of public noise. MigrationWatch UK strikes me as a classic example of a front organisation – see http://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2010/11/25/is-migrationwatch-uk-a-security-service-front-organisation/.
The other and very obvious used security ploy is to infiltrate an existing dissident group and attempt to monitor and manipulate it.
Which is most likely in the case of the EDL? Well, it rose quickly and has displayed a certain organisational aptitude. It runs a decent website and can get marches, rallies and demonstration up and running with sufficient people to raise them above the risible, especially when their performance is put in the context of the considerable harassment they have suffered both from the British authorities and the hard Left.
To those facts you can add the concentration on Muslims and the elements of political correctness in in their repeated claims that the EDL welcomes all creeds and colours and that they are a human rights organisation. A Machiavellian case can be made that it suits the British political elite to have a “working class” protest group which concentrates on Muslims (because it diverts attention away from the general question of mass immigration and its consequences) and plays the multiculturalist tune as it marches. Such a case could also be made for the political elite finding it useful to have an ostensibly independent grass roots political movement opposing Islamist groups as a distraction from the insidious and much more damaging gradual imposition of Muslim ways on British society as the British elite generally give way bit by bit to Muslim demands. A good example is the recent permitting of Muslim pupils to wear a beard, something which is forbidden to non-Muslim pupils at the school (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10374528/Bearded-Muslim-schoolboys-barred-from-class-allowed-to-return-because-of-human-rights.html).
But on balance I doubt whether this is a security front organisation because it simply is too uncontrolled. If it is a front organisation it has not been very successful in channelling dissident behaviour. Not only that but most of the possible advantages for the political elite which I listed above arise just as readily if the EDL is simply what it says it is, a spontaneous grass roots, mainly working class movement.
How likely is it that the EDL will have been infiltrated by the police or the security services? You can bet your life that it will have been. Will the state have been controlling the EDL leadership? Quite possibly, not necessarily from the first but at some point when they had found a lever to control the leaders.
A strong pointer to what may have happened is Robinson and Caroll’s new association with (but not joined) the Quilliam Foundation, a body which describes itself as a think-tank tackling extremism in all its forms, although its focus is heavily on Islamicist actors. When Robinson and Caroll’s resignation were made public they appeared with two of the senior members of Quilliam, the chairman and co-founder Maajid Nawaz (a one time Hizb ut-Tahrir member) and Usama Hasan, Quilliam’s senior researcher in Islamic studies. Both Nawaz and Usama come from an extremist Muslim background. The narrative provided by both Quilliam and the two ex-EDL leaders is that it was engagement with Quilliam which led to the resignation of Robinson and Caroll, viz:
Quilliam is proud to announce that Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll, the leaders of the anti-Islamist group, the English Defence League (EDL), have decided to leave the group. Having set up the EDL, infamous for its street protests, in 2009, they wish to exit this group, because they feel they can no longer keep extremist elements at bay……
Quilliam has been working with Tommy to achieve this transition, which represents a huge success for community relations in the United Kingdom. We have previously identified the symbiotic relationship between far-right extremism and Islamism and think that this event can dismantle the underpinnings of one phenomenon while removing the need for the other phenomenon. (http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/press-releases/quilliam-facilitates-tommy-robinson-leaving-the-english-defence-league/).
The fact that Quilliam are involved is decidedly interesting because they have been seen by some as Home Office stooges as a result of the large amounts of public money pumped into the think-tank after its foundation in 2008. (http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/oct/12/tommy-robinson-quilliam-foundation-questions-motivation) . There have also been rumblings about the large salaries drawn by the senior members of Quilliam, for example, Nawaz paid himself £77,438 in 2012 (ibid).
Quilliam’s Home Office funding ended in 2011 and its overall income dropped severely putting it into the red (ibid). When the Guardian tried to get an up to date set of accounts they were ‘told by a press officer: “There is only one print copy and that that has gone missing.”’ (ibid)
The Guardian article suggests that the embracing of Robinson and Caroll by Quilliam may be a ploy to increase funding both through the publicity they are now receiving and because by widening their natural remit to include “right wing extremism”, viz: “In 2010, when it began to look like Islamist extremism was slightly on the wane and there was an interest in far-right extremism, some people were slightly cynical that the Quilliam Foundation had originally said they were the specialists in Islamism but suddenly started to want to do work on far-right extremism as well. Some people feel that was a cynical land-grab to keep them in the media. But they are a thinktank that has to raise money and has to be visible.” (ibid). This could well make them flavour of the month again with the Home Office.
What is in it for Robinson and Caroll? Apart from taking them out of the EDL firing line, assuming they are genuinely worried about that, it could give them, especially Robinson, an entry into the media and even access to public funds. Imagine a future for them in which they become the “right wing sinner who repenteth”. Stranger things have happened, think of John Bercow moving from Monday Club enthusiast to his present devout political correctness. Or it could be that Robinson and Caroll are merely being led to think that they have such prospects and will be dropped soon, their utility to the politically correct project being judged to be exhausted.
The future of the EDL
The EDL website has a remarkably sanguine official view of the resignations , viz:
“We are grateful to Tommy and Kev for their hard work and dedication in helping to set up such a large and strong organisation as the EDL four years ago. We can easily appreciate the pressures and strain their leadership of the EDL has placed upon Tommy and Kev, not just personally, but also on their families and those dear to them. Not many people could have stood firm in the face of death threats, assaults, police intimidation and state interference. While we regret their decision to leave the EDL, we can understand their reasons and we respect them, as we hope everyone else will.
The EDL was founded for a reason. We had a cause in the beginning and we continue to stand by that cause now. We cannot at this moment say with any confidence what form the EDL will take in the future, but we can say with firm conviction that the EDL will continue to oppose militant and extreme Islam. We will further endeavour to apply our Code of Conduct and reject all Nazis, all extreme right wing organisations, and those who express racism either on our Internet forums, our Facebook pages or on the streets at our protests.
In these times of change, we are determined to fulfil our declared mission and carry on. Our next demonstration in Bradford will therefore go ahead as planned, with a number of guest speakers as well as the regular speakers and including ex-members of our armed forces. The EDL will continue its ideological struggle against Militant Islam and we collectively will not Surrender!” (http://www.englishdefenceleague.org/tommy-and-kevin-resign-from-the-edl/).
To put it mildly that is not a viewed shared by many EDL members judged by the comment on the various social media.
But the flight of Robinson and Caroll from the EDL is not the main problem for the movement. The main problem is that EDL has always been ideologically confused. This is because the party tries to fit its aims within a politically correct envelope on anti-racism. Here is an extract from their mission statement:
“The English Defence League (EDL) is a human rights organisation that was founded in the wake of the shocking actions of a small group of Muslim extremists who, at a homecoming parade in Luton, openly mocked the sacrifices of our service personnel without any fear of censure. Although these actions were certainly those of a minority, we believe that they reflect other forms of religiously-inspired intolerance and barbarity that are thriving amongst certain sections of the Muslim population in Britain: including, but not limited to, the denigration and oppression of women, the molestation of young children, the committing of so-called honour killings, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and continued support for those responsible for terrorist atrocities.
Whilst we must always protect against the unjust assumption that all Muslims are complicit in or somehow responsible for these crimes, we must not be afraid to speak freely about these issues. This is why the EDL will continue to work to protect the inalienable rights of all people to protest against radical Islam’s encroachment into the lives of non-Muslims.
We also recognise that Muslims themselves are frequently the main victims of some Islamic traditions and practices. The Government should protect the individual human rights of members of British Muslims. It should ensure that they can openly criticise Islamic orthodoxy, challenge Islamic leaders without fear of retribution, receive full equality before the law (including equal rights for Muslim women), and leave Islam if they see fit, without fear of censure. “(http://www.englishdefenceleague.org/mission-statement/)
There are two problems with this stance. The first is what constitutes a moderate Muslim, not merely as things are, but in a future in which the Muslim population of Britain will almost certainly be considerably larger, both absolutely and as a proportion of the British population. For any sincere Muslim there can be no question of moderation as we would understand the term in Britain, no equivalent of faint hearted Anglicanism where to mention God is felt to be decidedly vulgar, nor a ready acceptance of criticism of religion.
There will be Muslims who eschew violence and Muslims who embrace it, but many of both the violent and non-violent would be comfortable with a state in which Islam was the faith of a majority of the population and in consequence placed in a privileged position. There would not have to be a formal Islamic theocracy, as there is not in Pakistan, merely Islam as the majority religion with the state turning a blind eye to the oppression of non-Muslims.
The implications of this is that there could never be a movement which is simply opposed to the most extreme Muslim elements, because potentially all Muslims will support the imposition of Islam as not merely the dominant religion but the dominant way of life.
The second difficulty is why just Islam? Islam may be the most aggressive and high profile minority group at present, but they are far from being the only threat to the British way of life. Mass immigration generally constitutes such a threat, for heavy settlement of particular ethnic and racial groups, aided and abetted by the pernicious embrace of multiculturalism by the British elite, has produced what are in effect colonies in Britain of groups who have no wish or intention of assimilating or even integrating to a substantial degree. Each of these groups seeks privileges for itself which it frequently receives from an increasingly frightened political elite who fear any honest public discussion of what has been done through mass immigration will result both in inter-ethnic violence and public anger directed at themselves.
Many who have been drawn to or will be drawn to the EDL in the future will be generally hostile to mass immigration and its effects. Thus, it is improbable that the EDL will ever be able to be a single issue– anti-Islamist movement promoting the multicultural message.
How will the EDL develop? It could simply become an increasingly marginalised group such as the BNP of National Front. However, it differs from such groups in one potentially very important respect, namely, it is overtly representing England. That could give it greater staying power than the likes of the BNP because it is filling a very real political void, that of a grass roots movement representing, however imperfectly, the resentments and fears of the English.
*There is considerable dispute over Tommy Robinsons’s name. It is definitely not his true name, but whether his true name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, Andrew McMaster or Paul Harris is a matter of some debate. Yaxley-Lennon is probably his true name. For the purposes of this essay I shall call him Tommy Robinson.