Two recent British TV documentaries have looked into Islamic fundamentalism and the English Defence League, focusing on the town of Luton. The first, My Hometown Fanatics: Stacey Dooley Investigates, aired on BBC 3; Dooley, who is herself from Luton, went to school with EDL leader Stephen Lennon (“Tommy Robinson”), and the programme’s narrative structure was built around Dooley’s attempts to secure an interview with the apparently elusive Lennon. On the way, she comes across an Islamist protest against the September arrest of Mona Thwany, widow of Stockholm suicide-bomber Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly. The protest, which called for British police to “burn in Hell”, appeared to have attracted more than 50 supporters, with women in regulation burkhas; one of them told Dooley to “Go and put on some clothes”.
Dooley’s interviews contain few surprises: two minions Sayful Islam, whose 2009 protest against a march by soldiers prompted the creation of the EDL, expound on the evils of the British military and on Islam as the answer to all society’s problem; moderate Muslims disassociate themselves from the fanatics; and Lennon, when he eventually appears, gives a typically media-savvy performance, concentrating on reasonable concerns about extremism and distinguishing between Muslims:
I say it to the English Defence League all the time… there are some great Muslims… I say it in every interview I do, but they don’t play it.
Lennon instead focuses on shariah, which he identifies with mutilations and sex with children. Lennon also tells Dooley that his wife “disagrees” with “what the EDL stands for”, and that her family “certainly don’t” agree with the EDL.
The second programme, Proud and Prejudiced, aired on Channel 4 on Monday. This documentary focused on Lennon and Sayful Islam, and as interview subjects the two men again for the most part tended to say what one would expect them to say. However, there were some points of particular interest: a chance encounter between Lennon and Sayful Islam ends with Islam reaching through Lennon’s car window to give him a slap, suggesting that Sayful Islam, who is careful to just about keep on the right side of the law, is willing to engage in violence if he thinks he can get away with it. The footage, though, is not new, and has been available on YouTube since November.
The most revealing moment in the programme came after Lennon had had a few drinks. Fortified by a green plastic bottle of White Lightning or similar, Lennon got into some banter with a Muslim security guard in a shopping centre. The guard’s face was obscured, but he was perhaps an older, first-generation immigrant. They began by embracing and laughing, and Lennon maintained a jocular tone:
Guard: Yeah, yeah, I respect your views. [shaking hands with Lennon] You want us to be elsewhere.
Lennon: I don’t want you… are you Muslim?
Lennon: I don’t want you to do anything, bruv… other than just fuck the fuck off. No, I’m only joking.
Guard: That’s alright, man. Everybody’s not the same.
Lennon: Seriously, I don’t.
Guard: Not all Muslims are bad.
Lennon: I know they’re not, bruv. I know they’re not. Just most of them. Ha, I’m only joking.
Then to camera:
Lennon: Other than Breivik, cos he’ll shoot ’em all. I’m from Norway and I’ll shoot you. [Grins]
As a follow up, Lennon tries throwing stones from a distance at some police officers, as a prank; he then pulls his hood down over his face in comic fashion, and once again says “Breivik”. It’s clear that this was bad-taste humour rather than a threat of violence; as a moment of candid self-exposure, I was reminded more of David Brent than of Mark Collett. Nevertheless, the fact that the leader of the EDL finds Breivik’s massacre to be a source of amusement ought to be seriously damaging.
Proud and Prejudiced also contained some footage from protests; an Islamist protest in London on 11 September 2011 was met with an angry and aggressive counter-protest, and it was clear that the Islamists would not have been keen to see the police disappear into Hell at just that moment. There was also footage from an EDL protest at Tower Hamlets, where Lennon (as I blogged here) came disguised as a rabbi; Lennon’s message, which others noted at the time, was aimed at British Muslims in general:
The islamic community will feel the full force of the English Defence League if we see any of our British citizens killed maimed or hurt on British soil ever again.
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