Shiv Malik writing for The Guardian.
The former leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, has apologised for causing fear among British Muslims and for issuing bigoted, anti-Islamic statements during his time with the group.
In an interview with the Guardian, Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, said he was sorry for helping to create a culture of “us and them” and for frightening the UK Islamic community.
Pressed as to whether he now believed it was wrong to blame “every single Muslim” for “getting away” with the 7 July bombings, and for calling Islam a fascist and violent religion, he held up his hands and said: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
Robinson, 30, who this week dramatically quit as leader of the extreme rightwing group known for thuggish street protests and openly racist followers, also said he would now talk to police to help them investigate dangerous racists in the organisation.
“I apologise for [creating] that fear,” he said, “but there’s fear in my house too.” The people he had represented in the EDL and his home town of Luton were afraid of what they perceived to be growing Islamic radicalisation, he said.
Explaining past inflammatory statements, Robinson said they had often been fuelled by alcohol and the adrenaline rush of “leading the biggest street protest movement in Europe”, as well as by anger over the murder of drummer Lee Rigby.
Sitting beside Maajid Nawaz, a former prominent member of the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, Robinson said he had been sobered by his stint in prison and would now work to stem such angry and “ill-judged” outbursts.
Nawaz, who heads the deradicalisation thinktank the Quilliam Foundation, and is also a prospective Lib Dem MP, said he had refused to sit with Robinson after being approached during the filming of a BBC documentary last week.
“I shook his hand and said I’m sorry, I’m not going to sit with you … until you’re ready to talk about leaving the EDL. I can’t give legitimacy to the EDL.”
Nawaz revealed that, off-camera, Robinson indicated that he was willing to depart, and last weekend they began a series of lengthy conversations.
“We spent the weekend talking over the phone, and then he came in [to the foundation] all day Monday and all day Tuesday.”
That Tuesday night, Quilliam held a hastily arranged press conference at which Robinson announced his departure. However, until Thursday’s Guardian interview, Robinson had refused to express any remorse for his past behaviour.
Asked to define the concept of “Englishness” he had professed to defend during city street protests that often descended into brawls with police, Robinson said it was a feeling that people had about being attached to the nation and that he was passionate about his country.
Prompted by Nawaz, Robinson appeared to agree with a vision of multiculturalism inclusive of a variety of ethnic and religious groups, but said he did not want to see some groups receiving “special treatment”.
Nawaz said he would work to introduce Robinson to his own contacts in government and the Home Office in an attempt to procure government funding. Robinson said his future work would involve taking on radicalism on all fronts, although he could not support anti-fascist groups because they also subscribed to “communism” or were “anarchists”.
When pressed as to whether he would work with the police to root out criminal racists in the group he helped form four years ago, he agreed he would now talk to the authorities.
Robinson, whose financial assets have been frozen because of ongoing criminal proceedings for public order offences, said he did not doubt he would be successful again in any endeavour he pursued as long as he was passionate about it.
“Fascists and Islamists, they are both sides of the same coin,” he said.
This article was originally published in ‘The Guardian’ on 11 October 2013.
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