English Defense League founder and leader Tommy Robinson, shown here heading to court, announced his resignation from the EDL today. (Image Source: Reuters)
In recent years, right-wing extremism and anti-Muslim violence, along with other street violence, had a name in England and throughout the United Kingdom: The English Defence League, or EDL. Many a riot and attack on mosques, among other events, have been attributed to the EDL in one way or another since their formation in 2009. While the EDL intended to reach out to a larger audience through other means than street protests, their aspirations have been cut down by more legitimate nationalist parties such as the UK Independence Party. But now, in a shocking move, Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon), the founder of the EDL, has not only quit the organization, but has renounced racism and violence against Muslims all together.
Tommy Robinson started the English Defence League as a response to the growing tide of Muslim immigrants in the United Kingdom, especially following the 7/7 London terrorist attacks in 2005. Robinson, along with co-founder Kevin Caroll (who also quit), had formed the EDL with the express purpose of combating the rise of Islamism, along with the use of Shari'ah law in the UK. Over time, the EDL's numbers grew in the tens of thousands, with Robinson at one point claiming more than 100,000 members.
However, over the course of the EDL's life, the movement repeatedly faced attacks on the street from anti-fascist groups. Furthermore, while Tommy Robinson intended to start the EDL to fight against Islamism, most of its members joined on the principle of attacking all Muslims, not just Muslim extremists. The unfortunate implications meant that EDL supporters would attack mosques that had nothing to do with Islamism, and write and display hateful and racist works to people. Furthermore, anger towards the EDL peaked following the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby by Muslim extremists, when Robinson and Carroll were arrested after the EDL attempted to march in the area where Rigby was murdered.
Consequently, such a separation between the leadership and the membership has led Robinson and Caroll to abandon the EDL and embrace "democratic ideas" in countering Islamism, rather than street protests and violence. In an interview with the BBC, Robinson claimed that he decided to leave after talking with anti-extremism think tank Quilliam, and after spending months being judged by other people as he picked up his kids in school for his members' actions.
Some members of the Muslim community question whether Tommy Robinson is being sincere, since he has yet to apologize for his previous actions as leader of the EDL. Furthermore, there are some who suspect Robinson's efforts are all a publicity stunt rather than a sincere effort to renounce his ways. As for the EDL itself, leaders are saying they are looking at how to move forward, though there is reason to suspect they will likely placate their membership far more, and possibly become more extreme as a result, if they survive Robinson's exit. Still, as Robinson himself said, this is a "step forward, not a step back."