The title says it all: we challenge the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to debate with Tommy Robinson of the English Defence League.
But the reason this debate is important has to do with the political climate in Britain today. It is no longer possible to discuss radical Islam without being unfairly demonised as some kind of extremist. That is wrong. And it can be as true for Muslim as it well as for non-Muslim critics of Islam.
Not every Muslim is a terrorist, just as not every critic of Islam is an ‘Islamophobe’.
It’s time to abandon these lazy and offensive assumptions, time to give up the stereotypes, and time to have an even-handed public debate.
Quite simply, it’s time to talk.
We look forward to Mr Cameron’s response, but in the meantime we thought it would be worth explaining things from the EDL perspective:
EDL supporters are well-used to facing hostility when asked to explain their views. But when we explain why we demonstrate against radical Islam, we tend to find that any initial reservations people may have had are overcome remarkably quickly.
We do not demonstrate against radical Islam because we are intolerant or ignorant, but because we believe in values that the followers of radical Islam make no secret of rejecting, and will often openly admit to working to undermine. Important values such as:
- freedom of speech
- human rights
- democratic accountability
- respect for our armed forces (past and present)
- and many other fundamental elements of our liberal democracy
No wonder more and more people are coming to realise the way that large sections of the media portray the EDL is at best naive and at worst purposefully deceitful.
We have no secret political agenda, no desire to join the mindless rioters that have recently shamed our country, and we wholeheartedly reject any of the forms of extremism that some of our critics are so keen to ascribe to us.
In fact, we play a critical role in educating would-be supporters against all forms of extremism, and we are despised by the real far Right as much as by the far Left and Islamic extremists.
We aspire to do “exactly what it says on the tin” – defend England from those who would do endanger the rights and freedoms that our country’s institutions have protected for generations. And we’ll do that in accordance with the best traditions of this country: peaceful protest, a stiff upper lip, and a commitment to keep calm and carry on!
What an offensive assumption. As if protesting against radical Islam has anything to do with race. What a racist assumption that is!
What actually motivates us is the desire to see the Muslim Community of this country defeat the dangerous extremism that lurks within it; so that there are no more home-grown terrorists, no more hate preachers, no more ghettos, and no more religiously-sanctioned attacks on women, homosexuals, non-Muslims, and other Muslims.
What actually motivates us is the desire to see politicians working to safeguard this country from a threat that they do not, as yet, appear to understand: so that hate preachers are expelled, not given benefits, and so that ordinary Muslims are encouraged to expel the radicals, not fail to take any responsibility for growing calls for Sharia.
What actually motivates us is the desire to see freedom of speech protected; so that vital criticisms may be made about the way in which radical Islam is being allowed to grow, without those criticisms being censored by those who have a vested interest in supporting Islamic extremism, and without those who make the criticisms being demonised as extremists for daring to speak up.
What actually motivates us is the desire to see our government actually doing something about radical Islam; for the sake of everyone: black, white, Muslim and non-Muslim.
Protesting against radical Islam should be common sense. The fact that so many politicians and media types leap to attack the EDL just demonstrates how little they understand about what really motivates our supporters, and how little they understand about the true nature of radical Islam.
It’s simple – radical Islam is deeply engrained in the Muslim Community, and a great deal needs to change. That’s not prejudice, that’s a well-supported, accurate, and honest assessment of the current situation.
On the other hand, if leaping to unfair assumptions and spreading them as if they were fact isn’t prejudice, we don’t know what is. Misrepresenting the EDL to the extent that we are called, sick, racist, fascist or ‘Islamophobic’, is actually a far more dangerous threat to community cohesion than giving a fair appraisal of what we do actually stand for.
For example, if you should suggest that radical Muslims seem to have a stranglehold on many Mosques or Muslim organisations, then you may well be accused of being an ‘Islamophobe’. But is expressing a concern about the current state of Islam in this country really evidence that you afflicted with some kind of mental illness or disorder? Of course not. Demonising critical opinions to this extent just strengthens the radicals’ claims that there can be no criticism of Islam, and that those who are thought to have in some way “blasphemed” against Islam must be dealt with incredibly harshly.
Encouraging the followers of any ideology to reject criticism is not healthy. When the ideology in question is a religion in whose name a seemingly endless number of fanatics are willing to commit terrible acts of terrorism, it is highly irresponsible and dangerous. And when the religion in question is plagued with intolerant, authoritarian Islamist extremists, slowly using the freedoms we afford them to undermine our country’s ability to protect those freedoms, it is nothing less than a betrayal of all those for whom human rights actually mean something.
Criticism is important, and we believe that the government’s woeful record in combating radical Islam is worth criticising and worth protesting about.
But not only are we committed to peaceful protest; we also place a great deal of trust in this country’s democratic institutions.
That is why we call on the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to agree to this debate.
It is vital that our views are heard. Not only because we hope that politicians might then begin to change their attitude to the threat posed by radical Islam, but also so that resentment, born of misunderstanding, does not cause greater divisions in our communities.
British Muslims need to be exposed to fair and honest criticism of their religion and of the extremism that it continues to incubate. They need to be protected from prejudice and hatred, but not from the sort of criticism that is essential to peaceful integration and to efforts to counter extremism.
That is what the EDL represent. And if, after that is clearly established, we are still accused of trying to “inflame racial tension”, then that is a more a reflection of the character of our accusers than it is our supporters.
Extremists have been responsible for countless horrors throughout history. Extremists incite violence, encourage division, and demonise their opponents. They do not call for reform. They do not campaign in favour of freedom of speech. They are nothing like the English Defence League.
It is clear, then, that the reputation of the EDL is central to the discussion about the state of Islam in Britain. The fact that calling for Islam to be reformed is still regarded as ‘Islamophobia’ is a sad reflection on the quality of the debate, and on the government’s ability to grasp the nature of the threat posed by radical Islam.
Radical Islam is not completely disconnected from Islam, and nor should it be treated as such. There are growing numbers of Muslim voices saying exactly this – it would be nice to see David Cameron give them a vote of confidence.
So although cynics would see a debate between Tommy Robinson and the Prime Minister as nothing more than an opportunity for the EDL to build even more support, it should really be seen as an opportunity for David Cameron to show that he understands the challenges that are ahead of us, has a plan for addressing them and, despite the seriousness of these challenges, is committed to safeguarding the rights and freedoms of all.
It would take a great deal of integrity for David Cameron to admit that he was wrong about the EDL.
It would take a great deal of bravery for him to stand up against the enemies of freedom; to condemn the far Left, the far Right, radical Islam, and all who do not believe that the Prime Minster should listen to the views of this country’s largest protest movement, or consider the concerns of our tens of thousands of supporters.
It would take a great deal of conviction. But England would remember him for it. Perhaps the world would remember him for it.
Radical Islam would certainly remember him for it.
So come on Dave, if you want to give the ‘Big Society’ a chance, now’s the chance to talk to it.