Quitting the English Defence League: When Tommy met Mo

This programme’s title puts a spin on recent events which some might dispute. Yes, Tommy Robinson has quit the EDL, and he has also met Mo (ad nauseam).  However, according to Robinson’s own testimony, there is little causal association between these two facts. He tweeted:

“If I’m honest, @Mo Ansar strengthened my belief against Islam during our journey!”

Ansar has seemed torn between a wish to claim credit for TR’s change of heart, and a great reluctance to accept that there has been any real reformation.  And in fact TR himself is asserting that his core concerns remain the same, even though his tactics and emphases may have shifted.  An important new theme, however, is his wish to work with reformist Muslims. (4:40 minutes in here)

Oddly, some of TR’s friends who were featured on the BBC programme didn’t seem convinced by Mo Ansar, the reformer: ‘he’s just pandering to the audience’, complained one sceptic, faced with Ansar’s account of his championing of gay rights. It was a relief to TR (and me) when Usama Hasan and Tom Holland intervened to introduce a cooler and more scholarly perspective. And it was particularly gratifying to see Maajid Nawaz challenging Ansar over his views about hudud punishments – an encounter which helped Tommy Robinson realize that some Muslims are genuine liberals, not just faux progressives.

I’ve often criticized TR’s inflammatory comments, the way he addresses Muslims as an undifferentiated group with collective responsibility for the actions of a few. Some viewers of this programme have been complaining that TR has not truly been rehabilitated, and I also find some of his current views (still) wrongheaded, unacceptable. But seeing the discomfiture of both hard core EDL supporters and a very disgruntled Mo Ansar at the end of the programme was decidedly satisfying.