The London Economic News

The Curious Case of Tommy Robinson and the Murky World of Counter Extremism

It was a disaster waiting to happen. In a highly publicised press conference, Tommy Robinson and Quilliam announced that the former had seen the error of his ways and decided to part with the English Defence League, a hard-line anti Islam group.

Many prominent organisations and personalities had expressed scepticism at the time, dismissing it as nothing but a PR stunt to bolster the images of both Quilliam, a counter extremism think tank founded by former members of the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which had allegedly been floundering with financial issues, and of Tommy Robinson, a man, who in his own words, was even being shunned by other parents when picking up his children from school.

Others went so far as to suggest that Maajid Nawaz, co-founder and chairman of Quilliam, was using this to boost his own political ambitions. He did later mount an unsuccessful campaign as a candidate for the Liberal Democrats party in the 2015 UK general elections.

Nawaz argues that it was his duty to engage with extremists from all sides, whether Islamist or anti Islam, in order to help de radicalise them. In that, I whole heartedly agree with him. In fact, if I had been in his shoes, and Tommy Robinson had contacted me saying he would like to change, I would have definitely welcomed the opportunity to facilitate the change. No one in their right mind should question Quilliam for attempting to do so.

But the revelations by Robinson yesterday, that he was paid thousands of pounds by Quilliam to leave the EDL, lends credence to the suspicions of many who thought there was something sleazy about the whole affair.

Quilliam has denied the accusations, stating that Robinson was only paid to cover costs he incurred related to community outreach.

Widely circulated emails from Maajid Nawaz, in which he appears to be actively soliciting donations for Robinson, seem to contradict that statement. In fact, the emails appear to show that Nawaz is fully aware that Robinson was financially dependent on EDL donors, and was asking for donors to help financially support him instead.

If Robinson’s transition was dependent on financial support, then it was not much of an ideological change to begin with- definitely not one that warranted a full-fledged press conference and staking the reputation of an organisation on.

At the time, Fiyaz Mughal, the director of the anti-Islamophobic monitoring group Tell MAMA, had told the Huffington Post UK, “This is an extremely short-term measure for Robinson, who needs money, and who is desperate to get out.”

This does raise troubling questions about the extent of Quilliam’s awareness of the disingenuous nature of Robinson’s change, and whether they turned a blind eye to the warning signs for their own benefit.

Many, including Mehdi Hasan, Sunny Hundul and Mughal, had warned that Quilliam was legitimising Robinson, and helping him rehabilitate his image without him showing any meaningful signs of reform.

Robinson’s twitter account had continued to share highly inflammatory posts about Muslims, and as the Afzal Amin scandal, where the Tory candidate had hoped to utilise the EDL to increase his votes, showed, Robinson still maintained close links with the organisation, despite having left it in an official capacity.

His recent announcement about his alliance with the UK charter of anti Islam group Pegida, which aims, amongst other things, to stop Muslim immigration to the UK and the construction of mosques in the country, shows it’s business as usual as far as Tommy Robinson is concerned.

One thing that Robinson is right about though is the lack of any credibility the organisation seems to have in the mainstream Muslim community, where it is viewed by a significant number with a mixture of disdain and contempt- especially after revelations that it had allegedly compiled a dossier of peaceful Muslims and groups for British security officials (unsolicited), as well as its co-founder, Ed Husain’s apparent endorsement of the government’s right to spy on all Muslims, whether they are suspected of terrorism or not.

When I raised this with Maajid Nawaz, he took offense to the use of the word dossier, insisting that it was just a report compiled by the think tank listing Islamist organisations that the government should not ban.

Maajid Nawaz

Journalists, including Glenn Greenwald, on the other hand, were sharing articles on social media, including one by Guardian that seemed to paint another picture.

Nawaz, in particular, has often been singled out for criticism that he helps to legitimise figures of anti Muslim and anti Islam bigotry, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Sam Harris by adopting the role of the token “Muslim friend” for these individuals, in order for them to deflect such accusations.

Several critics have argued that by engaging with them as peers, instead of people who have made highly charged and often inaccurate statements about the adherents of a major world religion, and never calling them out on it, Nawaz lends them credibility in the eyes of general population.

Ayaan Ali famously called for Islam, not radical Islam, all of Islam, including the overwhelming majority of peaceful, law abiding Muslims to be crushed and defeated. Many argue that she is now a different person, yet she has not, to the extent of my knowledge, ever publicly apologised for those remarks, nor admitted they were hateful and bigoted.

When I raised this concern with Nawaz, he replied, “Intellectuals don’t always apologise, they adjust their positions & admit it.”

It is comments like these, and the apparent double standards when dealing with intolerance from the “left”, that rile a lot of his critics. I might not be considered an “intellectual”, but I do feel that calling for military action against over a billion peaceful people, solely based on their religion, at least warrants a public apology.

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Maajid, to his credit, has gone after Trump for his bigoted statements, but many people question whether Trump’s ideology is really that much different than Ayaan’s when it comes to dealing with Muslims.

Accusations that some Muslims or former Muslims allow themselves to be exploited by anti Muslim or anti Islam groups, helping foster an environment of persecution and hate against the wider Muslim population, are nothing new. Similar things have long been said about figures such as Tarek Fatah, Asra Nomani or Taslimah Nasreen to just name a few.

In fact, I just read a joke online that went, “Ayaan Ali, Tarek Fatah and Taslimah Nasreen walked into a bar.” “Yeah?” “Maajid Nawaz was bar tending.”

Whether justified or not, many figures who do not profess the mainstream views of their own community have always been labelled as selling out, and such accusations should be taken with a grain of salt, unless there is substantial evidence pointing to it.

What is worrying though, is there are links being reported associating Quilliam with neoconservatives, and far right figures and proponents of anti Islam sentiment, such as Pamella Gellar, Robert Spencer and Douglas Murray.

Chad Sweet, who is currently serving as the chairman of Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, was reportedly appointed to Quilliam’s US board of directors by Nawaz himself.

Extremist Islamist ideology and the presence of organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir on university campuses is a major cause for concern for everyone. As recent events have shown, with the advent of social media, ISIS and such organisations, are becoming more capable in targeting impressionable individuals to join their evil cause. Just as worrying should be the rise of violence by right wing fanatics.

This makes the work of counter extremism and moderate think tanks more important than ever before. However, it is imperative that we don’t let our fears get exploited by those with ulterior motives. And for that more transparency and accountability should be demanded from all involved.


3 Responses

  1. Sugar Beet

    Afzal Amin places significant emphasis on his Army career, although spending less than 10 years in the British Army as a commissioned officer. Amin’s career began with a TA Engineers unit where he claimed to have served as an Officer. There is little evidence to support this except that he occasionally wears a Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal (in spite of the fact that he is not properly entitled to wear it).Afzal Commissioned in 2003 into the Education and Training Services Branch of the AGC having struggled to complete Sandhurst. He was put on a number of formal warnings, and failed numerous physical tests on account of a vague back injury that excluded him from performing. Having been back-termed at Sandhurst (for poor performance) he then went to Germany as a 2nd Lieutenant.It was at this time that Amin’s economy with the truth meant that he exaggerated his knowledge of Arabic and managed to get deployed with 20 Armoured Brigade to Iraq following the British invasion of Iraq in March 2003.Attached to a number of regiments and units, including a short stint in the Brigade HQ, Amin was sent back to Germany in disgrace after 3 months (half the tour). The Lancers regiment were horrified at his continuous lies and pompousness and coupled with poor weapon handling incidents decided he was better out of Iraq.Upon return to Germany, Amin was shunned by many of his colleagues proving a duplicitous individual. In the Summer of 2004 he was posted out of Germany a year early, and sent to another Education centre where a number of issues surfaced regarding misuse of military vehicles, military kit being taken by him and complaints about his attitudes towards women.Amin’s career then saw him short toured for another 7 years, with spells at the Defence School of Languages where he failed to qualify in any language and managed to destroy a number of courses through absence, lies and selfishness. A brief time at Windsor as an education officer briefly coincided with the arrival of the Royal Princes, something Amin now claims add made him their personal tutor even though there is no evidence he actually ever did anything involving them. A lacklustre postgraduate qualification with the University of Kingston was also achieved. Amin’s academic abilities are unclear, despite having been educated in the West Midlands, Amin makes much of his “Black Country Boy” roots.Amin’s last posting was to the Afghan Coin Centre as a staff assistant. This involved him helping to prepare material and attend briefings about training the Army. Amin claims this makes him a counter insurgent strategist, although he produced nothing of any note. During this period so troublesome was Amin he was sent to Afghanistan on no less than 3 separate occasions, even then these were for short periods – something Amin now claims constitute “tours”. Typically these are 6-7 months for most personnel, Amin spent something like several weeks.Having failed to promote to Major (or even being considered in spite of his best efforts) Amin left the British Army at the start of 2013. In sum, a fantasist with questionable integrity Amin has now managed to create an image of some sort of war hero, despite of never actually contributing beyond a token presence.Numerous individuals who have worked with Amin state his intelligent use of a “race card”, coupled with plausible and convincing lying. Selected to contest Dudley North in the next general election he has already set out to paint his military career as successful and operationally active. At best a fantasist, at worst a liar and cheat, Amin succeeds by those around him underestimating his network and ability to charm authority figures.

  2. max

    Wow! what an article. A piece of deep ignorance and dishonesty. Have you done any actual research on Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Sam Harris? Ayaan herself is an ex Muslim who was circumcised, had her friend butchered in the street and is under constant threat of death. She doesn’t need a token Muslim friend to defend herself against ridiculous charges of anti Muslim bigotry or whatever you want to call her valid criticism of religious beliefs and ideas which are responsible for the deaths and suffering of thousands. So which one are they guilty of by the way? Anti Muslim or anti Islam bigotry?

    You seem to think they are one and the same. Criticizing a particular group of people is NOT the same as criticizing the religion they belong to. I cant believe I need to spell this out for you. Sam Harris has never criticized Muslims for being Muslim and has always said that no one suffers under Islam more than Muslims themselves and especially Muslim women. He mentions this a lot and if you need proof just read his books or watch his debates( one with Chris Hedges is good). Please cite proof where Ayaan stated that she wished for the destruction of Islam and all Muslims across the world. By your logic she wants death for her parents who are Muslim?

    Today, it seems to be socially acceptable to criticise Christianity and not be called a christianophobe. You can criticise paedophile priests, the Vatican, the general precepts of religion and be applauded for it. This criticism can be found in books, art, theatre and music. Yet when the criticism is applied to Islam and its practices, the critics are automatically called anti muslim bigots. The regressive left love patting themselves on the back for being liberal and feminist and yet protect the rape culture that is rooted in Islam by ignoring it or calling any criticism of it as “islamophobic”.

    Maybe have the courage to support brave people like Ayaan, Maajid and Sam who are fighting for freedom and happiness of millions around the world instead of smearing them.

    1. Mani

      @max You do know that much of Ayaan’s history was fabricated and she left the Netherlands in disgrace? She was almost stripped of her passport, and many believe that it was only because of saving political face for the ruling party that it didn’t happen.
      Maybe have the courage of doing a simple google search with her quote to see for yourself. It’s not something she has ever denied saying.

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