The much anticipated documentary following Tommy Robinson and Mo Ansar was finally aired on our TV screens a few nights back. The apparent aim of the programme was for Mo to understand the concerns that Tommy and his EDL supporters have with Islam and Muslims in Britain, and for Mo to dispel the many incorrect beliefs Tommy and his supporters hold about Islam. However, during the filming of this documentary, Tommy Robinson made the remarkable move of leaving the English Defence League and joining the Quilliam Foundation as he felt they were a group of ‘moderate’ Muslims who were genuinely trying to ‘reform’ Islam in a way palatable to him.
Naturally, members of the British public have had numerous questions surrounding this move, the primary one being whether Tommy Robinson had truly renounced his ignorant views on Islam, or whether this was just a publicity stunt to allow himself and Quilliam to gain undeserved legitimacy in the media spotlight. Desperate to get an answer to this key question, we were told to wait for the documentary where all would be revealed.
The documentary was quite bizarre and one couldn’t help but feel some pity on Mo Ansar. For 18 months, he tried tirelessly to win the heart of Tommy Robinson (despite him cruelly making fun of Mo Ansar’s body habitus), only for him to be dumped at the last minute by Tommy for a more handsome prospect in the form of Maajid Nawaz. Poor Mo even tried to gate-crash their ceremonial committment in a last minute ditch to save their relationship, but Maajid and Tommy didn’t want any unwanted guests to spoil their special day, and Mo was told he wasn’t welcome.
In terms of answering the question whether Tommy had changed his views, it is clear after watching the documentary that very little has changed about Tommy’s views, and just for good measure, Tommy confirmed this to everyone after the documentary was aired. Whilst most of us had anticipated the answer to this question prior to the airing of the film, a number of unanswered questions remain. For example, as a ‘counter-extremism’ think tank, Quilliam claimed victory in ‘de-radicalising’ Tommy, illustrated by him stepping down from the EDL leadership. However, can Tommy stepping down from the leadership of the EDL even be counted as de-radicalisation if he still holds the same abhorrent views about Muslims? Perhaps more worryingly, do the staff members at Quilliam share the views of Tommy Robinson and his posse, with the only difference being the manner in which they articulate themselves in public?
And what of Mo Ansar? Nobody knew of him a year ago, and now he has become a popular media spokesman for Muslims. Whilst many, including myself, applaud him for being one of the most vocal individuals in highlighting the dangerous rising trend of Islamophobia in Britain, many Muslims are still not sure what to make of him, primarily because of his choice to keep his credentials somewhat secretive. For anyone to claim legitimacy as a spokesman for a community, their credentials should be known and respected by the members of the community they represent. He describes himself as a theologian and a visiting lecturer, with no details as to where he received his theological training from or which academic institutions he lectures in. By sharing his background, it would illustrate to Muslims in Britain whether there is more to Mo Ansar than his thobe and topi.
Above all, I wonder what this documentary really achieved? If the aim of the documentary was to correct Tommy’s misperceptions of Islam, then this certainly wasn’t achieved. If anything, Tommy Robinson attained fantastic PR courtesy of the BBC. Moreover, it appears as if he is starting to gain legitimacy for his ridiculous beliefs as he sat beside academics, politicians and finally being given the seal of approval by Quilliam. However, the fact that Tommy seems to be morphing from the village idiot against Islam into a respectable individual with ‘genuine concerns’ is something that is perhaps most troubling.