BBC Airs Documentary on Tommy Robinson and Mo Ansar

Producer says show was harder to make “than a series on Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles, harder than three exposés on the Church of Scientology”

Broadcast magazine has an interesting article by the executive producer of When Tommy Met Mo, last night’s BBC documentary about Tommy Robinson’s meetings with Mo Ansar and other British Muslims ahead of Robinson’s surprise resignation from the English Defence League and new association with the Quilliam Foundation. The author, Jill Robinson, works for Mentorn Media, and the programme was commissioned following an appearance by T. Robinson and Ansar on Mentorn’s Sunday morning discussion programme, The Big Questions (which I blogged here). J. Robinson writes:

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, Mo invited Tommy and his family to dinner… I immediately felt that something very important had happened, something that could be a catalyst for change, and that we had to follow it up.

Our commissioning editor Aaqil Ahmed, the BBC’s head of religion & ethics, immediately saw the potential too, and asked us to develop the idea. Four weeks later we sent him a taster tape and the outline of a journey that Tommy and Mo could take together through British Islam.


But what seemed simple on paper proved extremely difficult in reality. In fact it was the hardest show to make of my 35 years in television, harder than a series on Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles, harder than three exposés on the Church of Scientology.

J. Robinson tells the story of various setbacks that occured: T. Robinson’s time in prison (blogged here); health problems that delayed filming; and difficulties in persuading Muslims to participate, including Quilliam’s Maajid Nawaz. However:

Then the story accelerated out of our control. Privately we knew Tommy wanted to leave the EDL but he insisted not yet. Then we introduced him to Maajid – and a week later he jumped ship.

The programme itself can be viewed here (and for those outside the UK there’s a bootleg on YouTube); to quote the blurb:

Following the pair as each shows the other his view of British Islam, the film reveals that Ansar was present at an EDL street protest in May and was also the first Muslim to address the EDL. It shows Robinson as he visits Walsall Mosque and meets with one of Britain’s leading Muslim scholars, Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra. The former leader of the EDL also debates the burqa and niqab with Muslim politician Salma Yaqoob, and discusses the Qur’an with noted Islamic commentators including Islamic scholar Dr Usama Hasan and historian Tom Holland.

Robinson and Ansar were presented as affable and courteous antagonists; in contrast to Robinson’s hateful rants at protests and the thuggish behaviour of his (now largely former) supporters, Robinson is able to present himself well in interviews and face-to-face encounters (at least, when he’s sober). For his part, Ansar conveyed a vision of a moderate British Islam, but towards the end was damaged by an exchange with Nawaz in which he appeared to prevaricate on the implementation of traditional hudud punishments in Islamic states. Ansar has written about his time with Robinson in the Guardian.

The climax was the press conference with Maajid and Hasan at the Montague on the Gardens Hotel in Bloomsbury, from which Ansar was excluded; according to Nicky Campbell’s voice-over, Robinson sent Ansar a text explaining that “he didn’t want Mo claiming any credit for this momentous decision”. However, according to Ansar on Twitter, “the exclusion was by the head of Quilliam, not Tommy”, although he also says that he hasn’t met Robinson since and that “My understanding is that he has refused to share a platform.” Robinson’s Twitter utterances on Ansar since the press conference have been bitter and verging on the abusive, describing him as a “racist“, a “blagger” and as someone who “lies“; there are also mocking references to his weight (Ansar is heavy-set, and in fact suffered a heart attack during the making of the documentary).

Meanwhile, Quilliam’s Ghaffar Hussain has Tweeted that Ansar simply “wasn’t on the guest list”, which is dodging the issue – given the association between Robinson and Ansar over so many months, it’s obvious that Ansar’s exclusion from the “guest list” must have been an active decision by someone. Shafting Ansar further, Hussain and Robinson have also just retweeted a 2012 Tweet by Ansar in debate with Tom Holland which appeared to condone slavery, although Holland has re-Tweeted a clarification by Ansar that “it was a three day conversation about slavery in ancient times.”

So what’s next? Inevitably, it’s media and politics; Robinson writes:

I am currently in the process of filming another bbc documentary “what tommy does next” looking to rep working class people.

5 Responses

  1. […] Robinson and Carroll appear to have remained on the SION (“Stop Islamization of Nations“, a vehicle for Geller’s international links) website all this time. It seems that Spencer and Geller decided to retract their excommunication after seeing a recent documentary about Robinson and Mo Ansar, which I discussed here. […]

  2. […] last week’s high-profile BBC documentary ”When Tommy met Mo”, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller have now publicly re-endorsed Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. Furthermore, […]

  3. […] EDL’s Tommy Robinson, Robert Spencer, Quilliam and the BBC | Spencer Watch on BBC Airs Documentary on Tommy Robinson and Mo Ansar […]

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  5. […] issue of Ansar’s moderation has come under particular scrutiny since a television exchange with Nawaz in which Ansar appeared to prevaricate on the implementation of […]

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