Shazia Hobbs is the author of The Gori’s Daughter. The following guest-post concerns her trepidations — as a mixed-race young woman who grew up in Scotland — about Tommy Robinson and the English Defence League. Her decision to follow Tommy on Twitter evoked a negative reaction from people who felt that she was siding with “racists” and “right-wing extremists”. This essay is a response to her attackers.
by Shazia Hobbs
Shame on everyone who has smeared Tommy Robinson — and made us feel too ashamed to listen to his warnings about grooming gangs. Yes, I believe he should be applauded for taking a stand against the grooming gangs when everyone else was silent. In a society where political correctness has gone mental, and we are all scared of being labelled racist or Far Right, for daring to have an opinion on Islam or mass immigration nobody else was speaking up.
The name Tommy Robinson for me has always conjured up images of skinheads, swastikas and Dr Marten boots. The EDL — I was led to believe — were similar to the BNP, and the BNP put the fear of God into me.
I am the child of an interfaith relationship, the daughter of an immigrant. I grew up with racism from both my Pakistani side and my white Scottish side. The racism from the Pakistani side was less frightening than the white, because it was verbal. On the white side it got physical. I remember occasions when I was out with my white mother. I remember being spat on with screams of ‘f***ing paki lover’ at us. At school I fought the boys who dared call me and my siblings ‘smelly pakis.’ At home we had our windows smashed and graffiti painted on the garden walls, saying ‘Niggers Out’ and ‘BNP.’
So you can see why the BNP scared me and why the EDL would scare me, given that I assumed they were just a new incarnation of the BNP. The EDL undoubtedly attracted some unsavoury characters with roots in the BNP, the National Front, Combat 18 and skinhead football casuals, even though Robinson repeatedly made it clear that he didn’t want them in any way associated with the EDL (he even received death threats from neo-Nazis). These EDL “supporters” were scary and frightening people, for those of us with brown skin. Unless you have grown up with racism then you cannot understand the fear of being picked on purely for the colour of your skin. You get used to the looks and you get used to subtle (and not so subtle) racial prejudice. You never get used to the fear, though.
I have been told I am a whistle-blower for writing my debut novel, The Gori’s Daughter, because the book exposes the flaws in the Pakistani community. Many in the community are not happy with my book, but thankfully many more applaud me for having the courage to write about the community honestly.
Some in my community have also said that I am a BNP/EDL dream, which filled me with self-loathing. How could anyone suggest that the BNP would love me when I had grown up being hated by these very people? Such sentiments were strange and horrifying.
This is the reason I gave Tommy Robinson such a wide berth, and why I couldn’t even bring myself to follow him on Twitter — even though he was being retweeted onto my timeline on a daily basis, often by people I felt were my allies. I was too scared to even read his tweets or watch any of the videos that he featured in. I didn’t follow him because I didn’t want to be labelled a white supremacist, bigot, racist or even patronising racist terms such as coconut. This is Twitter peer-pressure at its strongest and its most pathetic.
I started researching him, though, and I started clicking on links to form my own opinion of him. But still I refrained from clicking on that dreaded “Follow” button on his profile. I viewed videos of him from as far back as 2007, in which he raised concerns about the Muslim street-grooming gangs preying on vulnerable British girls.
And it was when I started watching these videos that I began to change my view of Tommy Robinson. Here he was, talking about the rape of vulnerable young girls, and yet nobody was listening to him. On the contrary, all they were doing was calling him “racist” and trying to silence him.
Well, we now know there has been a huge cover-up by politicians, police and the agencies who were responsible for the safety of the young girls. Today many continue to call Tommy Robinson a racist instead of listening to his concerns — and his facts. He was talking about (or trying to, anyway) grooming gangs long before anybody else was. It feels more appropriate that we should be thanking him and acknowledging his bravery and honesty, rather than smearing him.
Maybe if Tommy Robinson was from a middle class background, went to University, wore tweed and voiced his concerns with a posh accent he would be listened to. Katie Hopkins is another who is hated as much as Robinson, if not more, for having similar views, but being middle class and educated insulates her to an extent. She is given her own newspaper column and regularly appears on TV.
It’s the working class, “chav” and hooligan labels that make it so easy to call Robinson a racist, shut down any debate with him and refuse to give him any mainstream airtime. I have watched some videos where he is constantly called a racist but when he challenges his accusers to produce evidence, they are unable to.
We are quick, perhaps even desperate, to forgive terrorists who have turned their back on terror and they are often rewarded with jobs advising the government. They are flown all over the world meeting political leaders and they quickly find a home on the prestigious speaking circuits. It seems you can be forgiven more quickly for being a terrorist than for being a football hooligan.
Anjem Choudary is allowed to vent his hatred for all things Western, on the streets of London, and there is less outrage at that than there is towards Tommy Robinson. I have watched videos of Choudary demanding the death of non-Muslims and British soldiers. I have watched as he has led marches calling for Sharia law. He did all this, for years, without any interruption from the police and without any fear of being arrested. Robinson, on the other hand, was arrested at Luton Airport on his way to give a talk on grooming gangs, long before the public was aware of the phenomenon. It is this double standard that seems unfair. This double standard — where you can say whatever you like against the British, but if you voice concerns about Sharia law or anything to do with Islam, you are shut down for being a racist — has to stop.
After much debate with myself, I finally decided to click the ‘Follow’ button on Twitter and joined the other 120,000+ followers of Tommy Robinson. He has more followers than UKIP, and about the same as the Liberal Democrats. There are a number of his followers who are racist; you only have to read some of the comments his followers leave with regards to Pakistani people. It seems as though some of his followers are united in their hatred towards the Pakistani community because of the actions of some Pakistani-Britons. The same can be said of many conservative Muslims, though, and the way they speak to, and about, non-Muslims online. Aside from their derogatory attitude to non-Muslims, they also speak to liberal Muslims in a sexist and vile manner and accuse them of not being ‘real’ Muslims. Yet there is an expectation that Robinson’s followers (whose behaviour he is not responsible for) have to be perfect and politically correct, and if they aren’t this is Robinson’s fault. The double standards at play over and over.
When Robinson formed the EDL at the age of 27, within six months it had become the biggest street movement Europe had ever seen. If those in power had listened to his concerns, then there would have been no need to form the EDL. Many of the people involved in the EDL were genuinely concerned about the issues affecting their towns and cities. Grooming gangs, forced marriages, FGM and Sharia law were issues concerning many of us, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, and as we now know there has been a huge cover-up and silence on these issues. So yes, it is understandable that they would join the EDL to make theses issues public knowledge. There were a number of people who joined the EDL who were racist; there is no doubt about that. Robinson was one young man, not a politician, trying to effect change and doing his best with nothing but his anger and frustration at what he was seeing happen in his hometown of Luton.
The reason Robinson gave for finally turning his back on the EDL was the racist following, which he was ultimately unable to control, but again nobody wants to listen to that because it does not fit with the preconceived ideas they have of him. Robinson’s life has been threatened and he has received five “Osman Warnings” — these are real and immediate threats to his life and his family which warrant the police making him aware of those threats — but sadly, still not serious enough to protect him. The Government should be doing more to protect him. Robinson himself has accepted that he will be killed, that it’s just a matter of time. The consequences if such a thing happens will be immense.
There are so many labels being hurled at him that they don’t really mean anything now. So I no longer care what I am called for following Tommy Robinson and for agreeing with some of what he has to say.
So go ahead: call me a white supremacist, racist, bigot or whatever else. At least try and be original. I’m beyond caring. I’ll just laugh at you and I’ll carry on following whoever the hell I want on Twitter, and I’ll carry on agreeing with whoever the hell I want based on the arguments and the facts they present to me. And I’ll always care more about the rape of young girls (regardless of their skin colour), FGM, forced marriage and Sharia law than any stupid name you will ever call me.