Mohammed Ansar spent 18 months trying to turn Tommy Robinson into a traitor to his cause. Has he succeeded?
I am only posting a few excepts from the article. You can read the rest here: The Guardian
I met Tommy at a hotel somewhere near St Albans. He was flanked by a cameraman and was clearly revelling in his cult celebrity status – the working-class voice for the common man, little Englander, defender of the English. Tommy seemed happiest when he slotted into his groove – a well-rehearsed hustings tirade conflating Islam with terrorism, paedophilia and sharia. It hadn’t been too hard to figure out that verbally attacking him in return would merely cause the barriers to go up. Islam advocates a soft-hearted, patient approach. So despite the occasional urge to let rip, I had no choice but to talk to the man, not the caricature.
Three hours of debate followed. Tommy meanwhile seemed to enjoy ordering the most expensive thing on the menu. He liked his steak on the rare side. At the end of it we both tweeted two statements from Tommy – that I “must be reading a different Qur’an to everyone else” and “if every Muslim was like you there would be no problem”. The response was shocked and sceptical. That I had passed the Tommy Robinson test for acceptability was nothing to be pleased about. He had to meet more people. We needed to do more work.
So our journey together continued. Despite both my mother and wife questioning my sanity, I had always wanted to stand up and address an EDL meeting, and come face to face with Tommy’s supporters. A town hall-style meeting was arranged at a hotel in Luton. Because of the risks, the crowd was limited to around 50 people, and I was given a four-strong security team, including my own bodyguard, a Jehovah’s Witness called Rudi.
It was a stressful experience. The anger and hostility from EDL members surfaced over things I thought long gone, with the National Front-daubed brick walls of 1970s Britain: coming over here and taking our jobs and our women, erosion of culture (they even believed they were limited from practicing Christmas), multiculturalism, immigration. It was important to listen – they are not uncommon views. Painful ones.
Our last scheduled day of filming took place at a club in Mayfair earlier this month. Afterwards, I had a private discussion with Tommy. He had certainly softened on some of his views of Islam, he was better educated, but it was a question of whether he could leave the politics of prejudice behind and face the public and his tribe. He believed that the EDL would “fall apart” without him at the helm.
In the coverage that followed Tommy’s announcement, I began to wonder how far he had really renounced his previously held views and whether the film had been a cynical ploy on his part. He seemed to have refined his rhetoric but little else. And there remains legitimate concern now about the mainstreaming of Tommy’s far-right, extremist views.
It remains to be seen how genuine Tommy’s move from the far right is. For my part, I will continue to work to help reduce prejudice against Muslims and Islam in this country. But despite my reservations about Tommy, I would do it all again.