18 June 2018

#FreeTommy: Shouting “FIRE” In a Crowded Theatre

The latest in a series of public events associated with Tommy Robinson took place in and around Whitehall on the 9th of June this year. Feedback during and after the event indicated that for many it was a wholly positive, peaceful and pleasant experience. Several notable speakers such as Geert Wilders and Anne Marie Waters gave rousing speeches on Whitehall, and the bulk of the crowd moved on to outside of the Palace of Westminster without any trouble. However, unfortunately there was a significant minority that did cause trouble. I was criticised on the day for posting negative images of the public disturbance and while I do concede that this was not reflective of the majority of the attendees, I do feel that we have to hold our own into account, to rub our noses in our mess, so to speak.

Several splinter groups of men were seen chasing police officers down side streets as well as throwing traffic cones and acting in an overall aggressive manner. This behaviour seems to be reactionary backlash of a fast-growing movement that is attempting to highlight the structural breakdown of law and order in the UK and the increased criminalisation of criticism of the religion of Islam. For example, the case of Lauren Southern being denied entry to the UK for distrubuting so-called ‘racist leaflets’ in Luton Town Centre earlier this year.

The headline grabbing crimes committed against young girls are the stuff of nightmares - bodies fed into kebab machines, tongues nailed to tables, backsides being branded with hot irons. These stories catch the attention of the average newspaper reader and stoke their anger. Now there is also emerging a group of those directly affected by this kind of Child Sexual Exploitation who are starting to find their voice. They are bringing often more substance and tangible documentation of the mundane realities of a often repeated cycle of abuse and control.

The abuse is real, the crackdown on speech within social media, the workplace and the education system is also real. There is no doubt about it in my mind. But for us to achieve any progress, to retain credibility, to be constructive, the reaction to these restrictions and encroachments must remain universally civil in nature at all times. We can not allow anger over our own growing awareness of the problems to be the very thing that acts as a hamstring for our effectiveness in solving them.

So whilst there is a small part of me which wants to raise my fist in the air when I see public out on the streets as they were, loudly demanding a return of law and order, I am held back in doing so by my own experience of these movements from within - which can at times be deceiving and even detrimental to ‘the cause’.

I ‘left the left’ because I didn’t feel comfortable following political movements which were at times disingenuous and who wouldn’t hold themselves to scrutiny. I found that criticism of bad behaviour within the group was ‘taboo’ and could often land you with social alienation and exhile. And, of course, rampant hypocrisy and denial ran throughout as a result. There was also a common theme whereby a ‘cult of personality’ would form around political activists, and the movement became more about them than about forming useful and concrete solutions to the issues raised.

Sound familiar?

After taking some time to step back and think about this movement, as well as observing it from an “outsider’s” perspective, I think there are some things which need addressing in order to help us achieve our goals. That is - to tackle grooming gangs, challenge hate-speech laws in the UK and highlight things like Sharia Law and the two-tier policing system. These goals are attainable, but we must work together and utilise the fact that we have thousands upon thousands of people up and down this country who all want to help. Good people, who care and who won’t stand idly by any longer.

Tommy Robinson is a figurehead for this movement. He speaks well, he can manage a crowd, he can deliver a clear message which resonates with thousands and he knows this game very well.

What I saw at the #FreeTommy protest was a loss of control.

I feel it is wrong to point the finger of blame solely at the police officers who were there on the day trying to control the crowds with very little notice. One policeman had a bottle smashed in his face, luckily he was in riot gear. Then, of course, there’s the image of the police medic bleeding, which went viral. Another photo circulating on the day shows an elderly woman on the floor being assisted, seemingly after been caught in the fray. 

This behaviour gives key sections of the press exactly what they want, which can then be used in order to turn more moderate observers away from looking into the problems these groups have been highlighting over the years. It turns the phrases ‘grooming gangs’ and ‘free speech’ into ‘far right’ phrases and it incentivises a further crackdown on monitoring activists on social media - as well as pushing the narrative of ‘the rise of the far-right’, which we know to be over-exaggerated enough as it is. I would not be surprised if many of the people who either attended the march or were praising it are now on watchlists or even facing arrest themselves. And for what?

One of the things which needs to be desperately addressed is that some of the e-celebrity commentators may not be presenting their arguments totally impartially. This is a business and your outrage, valid as it is, will be monetised as such. That’s not to say it doesn’t go towards a good cause, but if you are a content creator it is of the utmost importance to retain transparency with the distribution of donations and to present arguments in a balanced way - not to simply tell people more of what they want to hear. To dismiss those who have valid criticisms because they are not part of your ‘tribe’ is irresponsible.

I’ve been lucky to have travelled up and down this country, from Scotland to Sunderland to Stockport and everywhere in-between. I’ve seen the nods, the handshakes, the winks which people give Tommy on a day to day basis. We have supporters everywhere and from all walks of life - good, decent people who want to fix this mess. We can’t do so if we aren’t being shown objective truth.

Also, this is not a popularity contest. Our supporters may not be able to speak out due to work and family commitments and a genuine fear of state suppression, so if others are willing to do it for them they should do so with the best intentions. There is a very clear ‘narrative’ being formed and many of my own friends within the movement are starting to notice the negative reaction they receive for questioning it. They are starting to call me up, worried.

We must seek to better our approach and act with integrity. We must listen to the evidence, we must hold ourselves accountable, or we risk becoming a mirror image of those we criticise.

I still believe we have problems.

I do not want an Islamic Britain. I do not want girls to be abused, I do not want to be afraid of finding out who is doing it and naming them. I don’t want any more bodies lining the streets and concert halls. I do not want forced marriages, FGM and Islamic Law to be allowed to continue operating in this country. I do not want people to go to prison for writing a status on Facebook or for telling jokes.

I will never go back to believing that this is all some sort of far-right conspiracy theory because it is not. A lot of it is true and it is in desperate need of addressing, by the left and the right alike. We must work together.

I met one victim last year who told us her story - she was mentally handicapped but very eloquent and brave. She told us that her abusers - some men she worked for in a chicken shop - would mock her regularly, make her work without pay - even on Christmas - and eventually she said one of them sexually assaulted her on the premises. She went to the police, who took so long to help her that these men were freely walking around town, following her in the streets and heckling her. Her little brother became so frightened that he couldn’t leave the house. He was only a child. Eventually she snapped and vandalised the shop - painting the words RAPIST across the door. That girl is a victim of a failing system. She shouldn’t HAVE to call Tommy Robinson to see if he can do something about it. She should have been safe, but she was let down.

There must be more we can do, if every one of us takes it upon themselves to think about how they can help in their local area. Instead of going to march after march and letting this energy dissipate and devolve into egos and infighting - what if we were to work with local MPs and councillors and to ensure corruption is monitored and rightly critisised and brought to light. Or perhaps focus on helping in the public sector and giving assistance to victims of grooming - educating parents, teachers and children alike to be able to spot the signs. Why not start up a neighbourhood watch or a local committee which puts aside political differences to focus solely on protecting the safety of children in high-risk areas, as well as helping grooming victims find a safe place to live and a support network.

As much as we may disagree with a lot of people on the so-called ‘left’ or ‘radical left’, these people do not want young girls to be abused either. This is not what is being disputed, it is the spreading of ‘fake news’ on our alternative media outlets which they are calling into question. And this is where I have to speak out. 

The narrative that Tommy is a political prisoner who may be murdered by the state is one which is whipping people up into a frenzy and I worry that some are on the cusp of acting out their frustrations against Muslims as a result. That’s what I am beginning to see. I’ve never seen this before, not in the way it’s playing out now. It should be up to the commentators to ensure that these matters are explained in a way which doesn’t add further sensationalism to an already sensational story. People are at breaking point, we must not push them further for the sake of money or fame. That is beyond contemptable. And, to play devil’s advocate, an attack against Muslims would serve to do nothing but increase the crackdown on speech laws and online surveillance.

There is a scene in Fifth Element, where a space ship encounters an enemy aircraft. The President orders to send missiles to destroy it, but a priest warns “evil begets evil, shooting will only make it stronger”. That scene often plays in my mind when I think about the possibility of a civil war. It seems as though many feel in their gut that civil war is an inevitable outcome to this chaos. But does it have to be so? 

 Anonymous Twitter user

Don’t get me wrong - I hate what’s happening. I hate watching it and feeling helpless. I hate the lies, I hate the propaganda, I hate the hypocrisy and the treasonous behaviour. I hate it. But if I were to start to hate people...that’s where I have to stop and take a moment. We musn’t let ourselves reach a point of barbarism. We should be able to address our problems without resorting to violence. I have to believe that, or else there is no hope.

I do recognise the thousands of decent people who were in attendance at the march on June 9th engaging in peaceful and harmonious protest. But to those who were chasing the police - while your anger is justified - these methods are detrimental and illegal. I can’t bear to think that someone innocent could be hurt or even killed as a result of this furore - it could be the start of a truly horrific course of events which I am increasingly worried about, and it will not solve the problem. There must be another way.

And finally, above all, shame on our politicians for putting us in this fucking mess in the first place.