I met Stephen Lennon/Tommy Robinson once, in Luton. Dreadful place – I’d wear a niqab just to reduce my view of the appalling architecture (like in Birmingham, the hub of the town is a shopping centre surrounded by a sort of ring road).
I never liked the organisation’s tactics, nor am I completely sure of what their aims were, but as Lennon described it – of people openly recruiting for the Taliban while his classmates were off in the Army – the anger was understandable. In Luton, in particular, the Labour government also funded mosques in a way that was bound to lead to resentment among the white working class.
The arguments Robinson made about Islamic extremism were perfectly reasonable on paper, but of course in reality the EDL suffers from exactly the same problem as Islam – there is no central authority from which to control the more troublesome elements. So of course it’s going to end up with a load of drunk white guys threatening minorities – anyone can see that.
But neither he nor the other EDL member I met (who, he was keen to point out, had a black wife) considered themselves to be racists; one of his main complaints was that white guys could not date Muslim girls without being attacked, one of the many examples of Islamic separatism that they identified. One of the main failures of multiculturalism was that, while the British went through a sort of collective course in de-racialisation, the prejudices of minority groups were left untouched by the authorities and the chattering classes (now, with a new generation of British Asian intellectuals, that is being addressed).
If anything they saw themselves as a sort of Christianist organisation, and they only stumbled upon the use of Emperor Constantine’s motto (‘From this sign I will conquer’) after dropping the original idea of a Crusader Emblem.
The interview was actually for a feature on the Christian influence on the European counter-jihad movement, for The Catholic Herald, which never ran for various reasons, and after the interview Lennon was off to church to prepare for confirmation as a Catholic. Curiously Joseph Pearce, the former youth leader of the National Front, left the organisation after converting to Catholicism in jail, a story he recounts in his recently published memoir, Race with the Devil.
Maybe the whole Catholic guilt thing got to Robinson, too.