The former EDL leader has taken responsibility for his followers’ extremism. Will his former allies do the same?
I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you can not put downe; by the Which I meane, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use.
Thus does one necromancer advise another in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. One doesn’t read Lovecraft for political analysis, but this neatly summarises the recent departure of Tommy Robinson from the ranks of the EDL, as well as the reaction from his transatlantic colleagues Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. They have called up something they cannot put down.
To summarise my concerns about the EDL, the movement is worthless as a means of democratic protest, but would work very well as a movement of violent revolution. Despite hysterical projections on the internet, the Islamic far Right will never consolidate Europe into a caliphate; it is unable to re-establish it in entirely Muslim lands. However, it could succeed in shattering the European liberal order. It is the sad truth of our species that human beings are not fundamentally rational actors but tribal actors and it takes very little to push people back into tribal war.
Though Tommy Robinson has not identified which “extremists” have taken over the EDL, I can guess. If you know where to look on the internet, you will find those who do not talk about counter-extremism, but about mass deportation of Europe’s Muslim populace — and as the 20th century teaches us, deportation inevitably means extermination. That this has occurred within the EDL is wearily predictable: in any radical movement, the movement is always to the extremes. The Jacobins strike down the Girondists, the Bolsheviks crush the Mensheviks. This is exactly why the EDL has been a dangerous idea from the start.
Robinson seems to have understood this; his partnering with the Quilliam foundation certainly suggests it. Quilliam is the brainchild of former members of the Islamic far right such as Ed Husain and Majid Nawaz who are now trying to wean others from that path. Their willingness to embrace Robinson and his willingness to reciprocate speaks well. One cannot say the same thing of Spencer and Geller, both of whom still seem unaware of the kind of things they have been calling up. Despite Robinson’s hopes that they would be able to remain friends, both Geller and Spencer have denounced him for being willing to work with the Quilliam foundation — for the foundation’s supposed deceit and willingness to advance the jihad (Geller in particular seems unwilling to listen to reason: for reasons best known to herself, when Robinson said that he felt a deep personal affection and gratitude for her, she chose to take it as a mortal insult).
This is lunacy and dangerous lunacy at that. If even Muslims who face social ostracism and risk their lives to oppose sharia and speak in favour of democracy are to be considered an enemy, then what is left except to embrace the most intransigent and eliminationist views and prepare for civil war? This point has been put to them before, but neither Geller nor Spencer have provided any answer, nor have they any substantial argument against such views. Despite their other virtues, Spencer and especially Geller have a taste for highly irresponsible rhetoric that ends up promoting extremely unpleasant types. This is why they are unable to put down what they have called up, nor have they grasped that some doors are best left shut.
That said, the liberal mainstream deserves the lions share of criticism. As Lovecraft’s necromancer continues: “Ask of the Lesser, lest the greater shall not wish to Answer, and shall commande more than you.” Good advice — by attacking even the mildest criticism of Islam with accusations of racism and the stupid term “Islamophobia”, the mainstream has left itself with no words to describe those for whom Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic are heroes to be emulated. It has also evaded the fact that discussions about Islam are nothing like other discussions over immigration. Those concerned about immigration in general may take views from the racist to the rational — or at least debatable — but they will not typically mention honour killings, international terrorism, violent anti-Semitism, lynch mobs directed against cartoonists and novelists or the rest of Islam’s grisly parade. These phenomena are only discussed when one subject comes up and it is idle to pretend otherwise.
In fact, one could go further and argue that, given the presence of British born and raised jihadis from Syria to Somalia, the problem is one of emigration. In more liberal Islamic lands, such as Tunisia, London has already become a byword for reactionary fanaticism. By failing to clamp down on the Islamic far Right, the British mainstream has not just failed its citizens, and not just provided the perfect recruitment for the EDL, it has failed in its internationalist obligations — as was seen in the slaughter in Kenya.
Tommy Robinson deserves full credit for his willingness to take responsibility. It would be nice if more followed suit.