Last week, Tommy Robinson’s surprise resignation from the English Defence League (EDL), which he himself founded, stirred serious controversy. Founded in 2009, the EDL, a far-right and extremist organization, seeks to counter Islamism and the observance of sharia-based law. It is also widely known for rousing anti-Muslim sentiment throughout the United Kingdom.
Robinson’s decision to leave his post at the EDL received mixed reactions due to the fact the EDL has provoked serious criticism in the UK since its inception. After his departure, he was interviewed by the Guardian on the reasons why he left the group. He apologized for blaming “every single Muslim for getting away” with the infamous 7/7 bombings that attacked London’s subway system. Having participated in defamatory street protests against British Muslims in the past, Robinson now wants to fight Islamic extremism with more democratic means, rather than targeting the UK's mainstream Muslim population.
Robinson has partnered with the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist think tank, to voice his change in opinion on issues pertaining to Islamic extremism. He is only now beginning to learn about what Islam preaches and emphasizes.
Robinson’s decision to leave the EDL is encouraging, but the real (and much more subtle) problem concerns the the party's ideology, which has created serious disturbances in and further polarized British society.
Organizations like the EDL are inherently grounded in far-right extremism, but this is not the best way to confront the dangers of Islamic radicalization. It's counterproductive to use an extremist ideology of racist-based language and calumny against Muslims, most of whom happen to be citizens of the UK and having been living in the country for decades. It’s individuals like Robinson who fail to notice that their “racist” techniques are not only targeting radical Muslims, who happen to be in the minority, but also an all-encompassing group of people that together form the largest minority in the UK.
Simply denouncing Muslims is certainly not the means to ending Islamic extremism in Great Britain. The EDL has instead continued to polarize British society and has also received considerable criticism from political leaders. In 2010, then-prime ministerial candidate David Cameron remarked, “The EDL are terrible people, we would always keep these groups under review and if we needed to ban them, we would ban them or any groups which incite hatred.” This truly underscores how societal divisions have deepened as a result of the EDL’s presence.
Most of the problems surrounding Islamic extremism are homegrown and part of an international movement. Most of the Muslim youth in the UK are unemployed, face worsening living conditions, and are likely to be susceptible to Islamic radicalization. To correct all this, the solutions to these problems lie largely in the socioeconomic sphere rather than the political one.
Having a constructive and broader means of eliminating extremism will not be done through protesting against Muslims or their beliefs. What we have in the EDL is a quasi-fascist ideology targeting a particular group that is actively confronting issues relating to integration and assimilation. Pursuing all-inclusive educational programs for British citizens, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, will allow everyone to clear misconceptions and misunderstanding associated with Islam and extremism. In this way, there can truly be a thriving democratic culture in which all citizens can express their voice on issues of a shared concern. But targeting one entire group is a big taboo.
If such targeting continues with the EDL despite Robinson’s resignation, a severe backlash could manifest itself through Islamic extremism, compelling Muslims to adopt an “us-them” perspective. Working with Muslim leaders and followers will be imperative. Mutual respect and responsibility should be emphasized during this critical time, and I firmly believe that extremism should be cracked down upon, but anti-Muslim extremism should be stopped and doing so must be a priority. That’s a path we should definitely choose for practical reasons.