The international media, particularly in the United States, has taken an interest in a current scandal involving Tommy Robinson – the pseudonym used by a UK activist called Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon. Before delving into the significance and or lack thereof regarding the current scandal, it is imperative to offer background information about who Tommy Robinson is and what he represents.
Football hooliganism turned street politics
In 2009 the then little known Tommy Robinson gathered a group of football hooligan friends and started a group called the English Defence League (EDL). The EDL was never a political party but instead an organiser of street protests that were intended to shine a light on what Robinson and his cohorts felt were the dangers of Muslim immigrants in England and later in Europe as a whole.
The group’s protests were often rowdy alcohol fuelled events that were little more than gatherings of football hooligans with a bit of provocative language towards Muslims thrown in. The protests occasionally became violent although there are disputes as to whether the EDL or various counter-protesters were the first to initiate the violence at various rallies.
In 2012 Robinson famously quit the EDL complaining that the group had been taken over by what he called “far-right extremism”. At this point Robsinson also claimed to express contrition for the EDL campaigns of slander against Muslim communities in Europe and Islam as a whole.
Back to his “roots”
In January of 2014 Robinson was sentenced to 18 months in prison over participating in a mortgage fraud scheme with several other individuals. He was released from prison in November of 2014 after serving only a portion of his initial sentence. It was around this time that the contrition Robinson expressed towards Muslims he had previously slandered gave way to a return to his anti-Islam activities which included a controversial speech before the Oxford Union debating club.
Shortly thereafter Robinson became involved with the German based anti-Islam group Pegida. His stint with Pegida was however has last in terms of being involved with street-protest movements. Beginning in 2017 he went into pro-Zionist/anti-Islam media where he would frequently appear on camera making provocative statements about the dangers of Islam in-line with the so-called Hasbara propaganda proffered by the Zionist regime in Tel Aviv.
Trips to “Israel” and supporting terrorism
The Tommy Robinson of the last few years has essentially been a pro-“Israel”/anti-Islam agitator whose opinions have become increasingly embraced by many on the America and Europe right and increasingly, also the political centre. The narrative that the policies of “Israel”, the US, France and Britain have nothing to do with the contemporary chaos in the Middle East and that instead there is some inherent flaw in the hearts and minds of Muslim men and woman is a theory peddled not only by Tommy Robinson but by most mainstream European and American politicians and popular commentators in 2018.
The only differences is that Robinson’s choice of vocabulary is more direct than that of most politicians and ‘mainstream’ commentators and his manner of speech is more casual than the uptight speech of many politicians, with the exception of the endlessly colloquial Donald Trump whose son Donald Jr. has Tweeted in support of Robinson.
In this sense, for those who like me oppose Robinson’s message, the real worry shouldn’t be Robinson and his social media channels but the fact that the political and media establishment largely agree with his substance, even while many still distance themselves from his style.
But it was not only his open Zionism and his smirking photos with “Israeli” soldiers that worried many. Robinson openly came out as a supporter of the terrorists attempting to conquer the Pakistani province of Balochistan. Had Robinson said about Baloch terrorists in Pakistan what he said about them in England, he would have certainly been arrested for inciting and glorifying terrorism.
The worrying reality is that supporting terrorism in a European country is only a problem if one supports the “wrong kinds of terrorism”. In the streets of Germany, France and Britain, it is not an uncommon sight to see individuals marching with flags from the deadly PKK terrorist organisation without being questioned for a moment by police.
Therefore, while Robinson’s support for Baloch terrorism is deeply dangerous and immoral, like the PKK, Baloch terrorism is given a pass when supported on the streets of Europe due to what can only be called an atmosphere of complete hypocrisy when it comes to fighting terrorism.
On the 25th of May, Robinson was arrested outside a criminal court while in the midst of delivering live video commentary on a trial which he had previously been convicted of reporting on in spite of a court order to gag all press coverage of the case until the trial was over.
Robinson entered a guilty plea to the charges of contempt of court and was sentenced to 13 months in prison. This was the second time that Robinson had violated a gagging order regarding the trial he commented on in his live video. Perhaps ironically, the judge who handed Robinson the 13 month sentence later gagged the media from reporting on Robinson’s own arrest, guilty plea and sentencing but after US media refused to comply with the court order, corporate UK press convinced the judge to resend his order two days later.
Since his imprisonment, thousands have taken to the streets to protest for Robinson’s release while virtually every US political commentator who helped elect Donald Trump in 2016 has taken Robinson’s side, stating that his free speech was violated.
Nothing happens in a vacuum – Britain’s antiquated laws and poor policy making have become comical
When compared to the United States, laws about trial reporting in the UK often appear antiquated. In the US, not only is it typically fully legal to report on the course of major criminal trials except in the most extreme circumstances, but many major trials are televised in full, most famously the O.J. Simpson murder trial.
By contrast, English courts are able to enforce strict press gag orders regarding press reportage of ongoing trials. In theory, these gag orders are supposed to preserve a non-biased position of the jurors, but in an age of international media which de-facto does not answer to the ruling of an English judge, many global outlets, especially from the United States, will happily report on an English trial of supposed international relevance in spite of such an order. Of course, because the internet is international, a juror in England has every bit as much opportunity to come into contact with foreign media as domestic, thus making the gag orders somewhat obsolete in so far as they stifle freedom of speech locally while not maintaining an atmosphere of non-bias for jurors who can stumble upon international news about the trial without even trying.
Because of this, many influential international journalists have found that the English court’s gagging of commentators like Robinson have a stifling effect on freedom of speech and furthermore, many feel that his 13 month sentence for what much of the world views as a minor infringement, is excessive and disproportionate.
Beyond the legal intricacies at hand, the matter of perception or “optics” remains important as the Robinson affair is now an international news item. For a country like the UK that often criticises foreign governments for their allegedly cruel and excessive treatment of self-appointed radical political opposition leaders, it now seems that the UK itself has used what for the rest of the world is an obscure legal loophole to jail a radical self-appointed political opposition leader for what most of the world sees as a minor infraction at best.
In Russia for example, the ultra-racist self-appointed opposition leader Alexei Navalny has committed far more serious offences in his country than Robinson has in England, but nevertheless, Navalny’s sentences have been largely suspended while his frequent minor offences of staging a protest without a permit often see him arrested and released within 24 hours. Thus, Russia has treated its obscure racist radical street protester of the day in a far more lenient way than England has treated its own version of Navalny in the form of Tommy Robinson. When approached from a worldly perspective, Britain – a country that constantly takes the sides of lawless miscreants in Russia, Iran, China, Pakistan, Syria, The Philippines, Turkey and elsewhere against the legitimate authorities of each aforementioned country, has found itself on the receiving end of international criticism for its excessive punishment of a home grown trouble maker, one who to be fair is generally less troublesome than those jailed in Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, The Philippines and Turkey.
Thus, one sees a situation where English judges and policy makers are acting in a far harsher way than those in Russia, a country constantly vilified by Britain as excessive in its harshness towards controversial political speakers, while the most influential political commentators in the US – in some cases those with a direct line to the US President are openly calling Britain a police state.
From obscure idiot to free speech martyr
Taken holistically, the perception of Robinson’s arrest whether in Russia, Europe or the United States is one that makes the authorities in the UK who jailed Robinson appear excessive and cruel. As someone who opposes everything Robinson stands for, I also agree that not only was his sentence foolishly excessive but tragically hypocritical. The reason I have found myself calling for Robinson’s release from prison is due to the fact that I oppose hypocrisy in policy making, while I’m also aware that when a domestic issue becomes one of international interest, it becomes a foreign policy issue – whether domestic politicians like it or not. In this sense, Robinson’s jailers have scored a titanic own goal as a man just days ago had support among a limited base while facing ridicule or excoriation elsewhere is now in a position to be portrayed as an international “media martyr” in an age where free speech in the west is already under threat from a culture of misguided and unevenly enforced political censorship.
As someone who believes in harsh sentences for dangerous and provocative crimes, I would have personally been pleased to see Robinson put in prison for 25 years for glorifying terrorism against Pakistan. Yet I am not so naive as to believe that western governments will ever be even handed when it comes to pursuing the glorification of terrorism. I’m also aware that as many western politicians not only fail to see terrorism where it is (e.g. the PKK, Baloch terrorists), they also often see terrorism where it isn’t, particularly in Palestine. In this sense, the hypocritical dithering over the issue of defining terrorism can cut both ways and one would be naive to pretend otherwise.
Secondly, Robinson’s intentional provocations against Muslims and his open slandering of the Islamic faith would not be tolerated in an orderly multi-racial/multi-confessional society like Singapore. But until European countries like the UK adopt all of the virtuous policies of Singapore, one cannot be so naive as to expect that Robinson would be treated in England, the way he would be in Singapore, even though Singapore’s solution to such miscreants is in my view not only just but advisable.
Therefore, because Robinson’s major disturbances of the peace have resulted in virtually nothing happening to him, it does seem both hypocritical and unfair for a small video in which few specifics of the trial in question were even mentioned should land him in prison for over a year. This is especially the case when violent criminals including murderers are running rampage throughout major English cities in a crime wave that the authorities have thus far completely ignored.
I do not support Tommy Robinson’s moronic propaganda nor do I like his tactics, his attitude, his style nor his substance. However, I dislike the hypocrisy of his jailers even more. From a perspective of policy making, it seems ludicrous to imprison Robinson for a comparatively minor violation, considering that his major misdemeanours such as glorifying terrorism have gone unnoticed. It is further scandalous that many powerful European politicians have Robinson’s same views regarding a hatred for Palestine and a willingness to promote the destruction of Pakistan’s sovereignty and yet no one draws this important parallel.
Robinson might be obscure in his tactics, but his message is increasingly mainstream. This is not because Robinson has moderated his views but because the western mainstream media has become increasingly bigoted, hateful, irrational and downright stupid. Because of this, one cannot ignore the fact that the specifically unfair situation that Robinson finds himself in could easily be replicated only with a pro-Muslim/pro-Palestine or pro-Pakistan activist on the receiving end of the same excessive treatment. Given that in terms of substance (as opposed to style) Robinson is one of the establishment’s ‘own’, one could only image how much worse it would have been were an anti-establishment commentator in Robinson’s same position given the caustic political atmosphere in 21st century Europe.
Therefore, it seems somewhat perverse for a legal technicality to be used in the name of passing an excessive sentence upon a man whose message is little different than that which is being spewed by prominent European politicians. It is because of this that I believe Tommy Robinson should be freed from his current prison sentence and should then take the time to educate himself about Palestine, Pakistan, the history of the Islamic world as a whole and all of the other important things that European politicians woefully neglect.
Of course, Robinson could always be offered asylum in “Israel”. As Robinson has done enough propaganda work for the Tel Aviv regime, it is perhaps the least they owe him in return. It remains to be seen whether such charity is forthcoming.