How to Talk to a Leftist Friend about Tommy Robinson
Free speech and feminism are liberal values, aren't they?
A cozy wood fire burns in an open-face brick oven. Soft piano music floats through a smooth jazz repertoire of American standards. Porsches and Maseratis cruise past the window. Two women approach, embrace, and kiss each other’s cheeks.
RACHEL: Wanda, it’s been too long. Great to see you. You have to tell me all about your new book.
WANDA: Great to see you, too! I love your new glasses. And I want to hear all about your youngest. She just bought a condo with her fiancée, no? It seems like just yesterday they were playing with dolls.
WAITRESS: Have a look at our menu.
WANDA: Thank you. Listen, Rachel, you know me. Always obsessed with current events. I want to ask you to sign a petition requesting that British Prime Minister Theresa May free Tommy Robinson from prison.
RACHEL: So, what looks good? I think I’m going to try the arugula and pistachio pesto pie. You?
WANDA: Oh, I’ll just get the usual. I see you have your laptop with you. I can find the Tommy Robinson petition and you can sign right now.
RACHEL: Aren’t you going to tell me about your book? And don’t you want to hear about the condo?
WANDA: Of course, of course. But I thought we’d get this signature out of the way so we could relax and talk about fun things.
RACHEL: Sigh. So, who is Tommy Robinson? (Rachel opens her laptop and Googles “Tommy Robinson.”)
WANDA: Tommy Robinson is a human rights activist and a citizen journalist. He’s now a political prisoner, imprisoned for exercising his free speech. He’s a champion of victimized women. You care about women’s rights. You care about free speech. I know you do. I know you’d want to sign this petition.
RACHEL: Wanda, are you serious? Look at this. Is this the Tommy Robinson you are talking about? Nazi? White supremacist? Far-right extremist? Wanda, what gives? Why are you supporting this man? This is not like you.
WANDA: Rachel, look –
RACHEL: Look at what? Look at this! (Rachel turns her laptop screen to Wanda.) Look, this is The Guardian. The Guardian is a publication I respect. I donate to The Guardian. Wanda, look here. This is the BBC! There’s no more respected news source in the world than the BBC!
Whoa. Wanda, his name isn’t even “Tommy Robinson.” It’s Stephen Lennon. This is from the New York Times. Robinson “has previous convictions for assault, fraud and other offenses.” Wanda?
WAITRESS: May I take your order, ladies?
WANDA: I’ll have the prosciutto and artichoke. My friend here will be having the arugula. And water, too, please. Thanks. Rachel, can you listen to me for a minute? I don’t want to act like a door-to-door proselytizer, but I do want you to hear me out on this. Rachel, Google is wrong on this one. The Guardian is wrong. The BBC and The New York Times. Rachel, I see how you are looking at me. As if I’ve told you that space aliens have landed in Central Park and are performing random anal probes, and everyone who says otherwise is involved in a cover-up.
RACHEL: That’s exactly what you sound like. Wanda, have you become a conspiracy theorist? I know you’ve been under a lot of stress lately …
WANDA: Look, Rachel, the Tommy Robinson story really is about free speech, and free speech really is the foundation of Western Civilization. Without free speech, we might as well be living in Orwell’s 1984. If all-powerful others can control what we are allowed to say, we surrender the whole shebang. We surrender the Constitution, Michelangelo’s David, and Copernicus’ “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres,” that overturned the earth’s place in the universe, and every other thought or artwork or scientific advance that was controversial in its own time because it was ahead of the pack.
The Tommy Robinson story is also a story about women’s rights. Look, Rachel, you know I’ve lived around the world. I’ve lived in countries where a woman alone can’t do something as simple as walk down a public street without risking bodily harm –
RACHEL: I came here to eat pizza and to catch up with an old friend on a beautiful summer day. Not to be lectured.
WANDA: I know. I want to eat pizza, too. I want to enjoy the beautiful summer day, too. But look, Rachel. You and I both have roots in Poland. I can look at photos. I see happy people strolling through parks in fashionable clothing. Not a care in the world. Six months after these photos were taken, the Nazis march in, and then the Soviets. All the rights my relatives and yours could take for granted disappeared over night, and they never got them back, not in their lifetimes. This can happen. The world can change overnight. It’s up to us to do what we can to defend what we believe in.
We are so lucky here in America. We have lived under such fortunate circumstances, circumstances my father and yours fought to protect in World Wars, that we don’t realize that in a eyeblink we could lose this moment of happily eating pizza on a warm summer afternoon.
RACHEL: I know that. I know history. So how do we protect our freedoms by signing a petition for an extremist Nazi with a fake name and a criminal past?
WANDA: Give me five minutes on this, Rachel. Just five minutes.
RACHEL: Okay. Go ahead. Take the five minutes, and tell me why you, an educated woman who has lived and worked in Africa and Asia is peddling a petition for a Nazi.
WANDA: Witold Pilecki is one of my heroes. During World War II in Poland, he volunteered to be smuggled into the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. His goal was to organize a resistance and to gather evidence of Nazi crimes. After that, when the Soviets invaded, he fought them, too. He was captured and put on trial. The Soviets accused him and other underground fighters of being “spit-flecked dwarves,” of being reactionary scum. The Communists subjected him and others like him to show trials. They executed them and buried them in unmarked graves.
RACHEL: So, you’re saying that an oppressive power used propaganda and the legal system to ruin the reputation of a truly heroic man in order to crush any support his movement, and his truth, might claim.
RACHEL: But this Tommy Robinson lives in the United Kingdom. Our Mother Country. The home of the Magna Carta. They abolished slavery before we did. They have the National Health Service! They’ve had two female prime ministers! The U.K. is hardly the Soviet Union! There are no Gulags in the U.K.! You’re exaggerating.
WANDA: I didn’t say that the U.K. is the Soviet Union. Look, people try the same tactic in the U.S. If you try to talk about Martin Luther King to someone who doesn’t like Civil Rights, they’ll tell you that he was a plagiarist and an adulterer. MLK was a plagiarist and he was an adulterer. But he was also a great man who advanced Civil Rights.
RACHEL: Are you telling me that this Tommy Robinson person is the same as MLK?
WANDA: I’m telling you that those who want to silence him are practicing the same ad hominem smear tactics that the Soviets did against heroes like Witold Pilecki, and that white supremacists did against MLK.
RACHEL: It wasn’t just one or two websites that condemn Tommy Robinson. When I googled his name, the first ten pages said really negative things about him.
WANDA: Tommy Robinson is a working class guy with working class followers and they don’t control the media.
RACHEL: So this is a class thing?
WANDA: That’s part of it. The U.K. is not the Soviet Union, but it is a class conscious society. I encounter it when I talk about Tommy Robinson online with English people. They have absolutely zero self-consciousness about flinging the most cringe-inducing, class-contempt insults. They call Tommy Robinson and his supporters “white trash” “knuckle-draggers.” They also call them “gammon,” a really nasty British slur for white men. “Gammon” means, more or less, pork. It’s an allusion to pinkish-white skin. They call them “chav.” Here’s how the Urban Dictionary defines “chav.” “Chavs are retards who think that their local McDonalds is a 5-star restaurant. Male chavs wear clothes and jewelry which come from a market, they have an attitude problem and smoke since the age of 11. Female chavs wear tight trousers and when they sit down they’re thongs show, have fake blonde hair as straight as an ironing board or they have the ‘Croydon face-lift’, they lost their virginity at the age of 14 … they have really bad teeth. Chavs also use stupid words … my favorite ‘innit.’ It’s like trying to communicate with a dog.”
“The middle and upper classes in the U.K. won’t be lectured to by a chav,” says one online poster. Mark Steyn says that those who hate Tommy Robinson hate him at least partly because he has a working class accent, and because the women he is attempting to protect are working class women, dismissed as “Paki-shaggers” and “slags.” “In Britain you run up against the snob factor because he’s a street guy. The respectable classes dislike that about him,” Steyn says.
There’s something deeper going on. Steyn says that if you live in certain posh neighborhoods in the U.K., your life is utterly insulated from the problems that Tommy Robinson addresses. “For many people life in Britain is still very agreeable. If you have a country home somewhere in the Cotswolds and you go down to your country cottage every weekend and you look out the back of your cottage at the garden and the fields beyond, you can come out and have Pims on your terrace, look at your lawn stretching to the great, ancient, hedgerows, you think that England, undying England, is a terribly agreeable and civilized place. Why does Tommy Robinson have to spoil it? If you live in the East End of London, if you live in Luton, if you live in Birmingham, you understand that what is happening is transformative, because your part of England has already been transformed. Maybe one day that guy sitting on the terrace gazing at the ancient fields might be able to discern a fire-breathing imam on the far horizon, but right now he can’t. So he thinks Tommy Robinson is nutty.”
But, look. I get it that you Googled his name and found link after link accusing Tommy Robinson of being an extremist Nazi. What if I told you that women, gays, lesbians, blacks, Sikhs, bestselling public intellectuals, and at least one Polish male-to-female transgendered reporter, Zuzanna W. Mroz, and even Muslims have supported Tommy Robinson?
Check out these videos. Here is Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim, speaking up for Tommy. And Anne Marie Waters, a lesbian. Milo Yiannopoulos, a gay man. In this video, you can see Shazia Hobbs, a former Muslim, Pakistani-descent Glaswegian, (honestly, I can’t understand a word Glaswegians say, but she seems to be supporting Tommy), a black man, and Tommy English, a gay man. Here’s a tweet from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an Africa-born, Muslim-raised, black woman backing Tommy Robinson. Here’s Gad Saad, a Lebanon-born, culturally Jewish, atheist, prominent university professor, expressing admiration for Tommy Robinson. Here’s Avi Yemini, an observant Australian Jew, speaking up for Tommy Robinson. And Douglas Murray, Oxford-educated, bestselling author and gay man. Real white supremacists, real neo-Nazis, would not associate with these people. Would not be supported by these people.
And then there’s Stormfront. The self-identified neo-Nazis and white supremacists at Stormfront say that Tommy Robinson is a Zionist stooge and a race traitor. They say that Tommy Robinson is not one of them.
RACHEL: All right! All right already! You don’t have to inundate me! I get it. I get it. You’ve given me lots to look at. So your argument is that Tommy Robinson is not a Nazi.
WANDA: No, that’s not my argument at all. It’s as if I mentioned George Washington to you and I had to work through a mountain of propaganda about him before I could tell you why George Washington is someone worth paying attention to.
RACHEL: So tell me why Tommy Robinson is someone worth paying attention to. But your pizza is getting cold.
WANDA: Believe me, this is more important than my pizza. Listen, this is going to get really dark. Bear with me, okay?
RACHEL: Okay. I can see that this matters a lot to you.
WANDA: It matters a lot to me because I, too, was once a little girl. Okay. Please imagine this.
I’m an 11 year old girl. My dad has left the family. We never see him anymore. I miss him like crazy. My mom has taken to drink or, worse, drugs. I’m coping as best as I can but I’m shy and sad and socially awkward. At school they tell me I’m bad because my ancestors were “imperialists.” I feel somehow ashamed of who I am. I wish I were someone else.
I’m walking home from school with that awkward gait that lost little girls have. A car pulls up. The driver is a handsome man, a grown-up. He flatters me. He offers me presents. He pays attention to me. I have sex with him … and before you know it, he is injecting me with heroin and fifty of his relatives show up and rape me.
I try to fight back. He hurts me. He douses me with kerosene and waves a lighter at me. He dangles me off a balcony. He nails my tongue to a table. He threatens to kill my parents.
I escape. I go to the authorities. And the authorities arrest me, and let him go free.
Sound crazy? It happened, in the UK, to thousands of girls, going back decades. They call it “grooming gangs” or “rape gangs.” The girls and their parents, if they complained, were harassed by police officers, social workers, judges, and elected officials. In one case, a naked, drunk, 14 year old girl was arrested, while the group of men raping her were set free. Why? Because the rape gangs consist largely of Pakistani Muslim men. Because the victims are working class girls. Because the elite in Britain values Islam, and denigrates the working class. Tommy Robinson is a working class guy from Luton who took it upon himself to fight back. At the time of his arrest, he was standing alone in a street, talking quietly into his cell phone, covering one of the trials. The government and the elite came down on Tommy like a box of rocks. He now rots in prison. For telling the truth.
RACHEL: Wanda, I care about you. But you’ve lost me. This is some crazy conspiracy theory. I cannot believe this. I cannot believe that for decades gangs of men raped girls and no one would help. Wanda – stop. Stop with the laptop. Eat your pizza.
WANDA: Rachel, give me just a few more minutes. Because you and I were both girls once. There but for the grace of God we go. Here. It’s the Wikipedia page on the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal. Do me a favor. It’s over thirty pages long. Just read the first paragraph. Just the first paragraph.
RACHEL: Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh … my … but I have never heard a word about this! I read the news every day! I’ve never seen this on the news, or read about it in the paper …
WANDA: Cover-up. The powers that be have decided that working class white girls are lower on the totem pole than their rapists.
RACHEL: But since it was covered up so well, how did …
WANDA: A few brave people who had to work really hard and live with threats. One of them is Times reporter Andrew Norfolk. Watch this video. Not now. Please. Really. It’s intensely disturbing.
Tommy defied the cover-up of the rape gangs. So they turned on Tommy to defame and destroy him. They raided his home, with machine guns, once at six a.m. Arrested his wife when she was six months pregnant. Threatened his parents. Audited all is relatives going back ten years. Put him under a microscope. If you or I were under that Stasi-degree of state surveillance, they’d find dirt on us, too. His criminal record? He lent a relative money so the relative could get a mortgage. He head-butted a neo-Nazi who turned up at one of his rallies.
But those who covered up the rape gangs? They walk free, and in many cases are promoted and receive raises. Douglas Murray writes about one such failure, Joanna Simons, the Chief Executive of the Oxfordshire County Council. Under her watch, one girl was branded with the letter “M” to indicate that she belonged to her “owner,” Mohammed. Simons betrayed British girls and her career is doing fine. Her salary was six times the national average. No one is raiding her house at six a.m.
RACHEL: Listen, Wanda, I think I’m beginning to understand. Tommy Robinson called these guys “Muslim rapists.” He didn’t just call them “rapists.” That is racist, Wanda. Rape isn’t just a Muslim problem. It’s a human problem. Look, the U.K. has a problem with race relations. Probably they didn’t want to refer to the rapists as “Muslim” because they didn’t want real racists and bigots to attack Muslim men.
WANDA: Well, two things.
RACHEL: Are you ever going to eat your pizza?
WANDA: Yes, but … bear with me for just these two things.
The first thing is that yes, of course, we want to prosecute all rapists, not just Muslim rapists. But these were religiously-informed crimes. Koran verses 5:54 and 48:29 advise Muslims to be kind to each other, but harsh to non-Muslims. Infidels are the worst of beings, says Koran 98:6. Muslims are the best, according to Koran 3:110. The Koran advises men to beat women 4:34. Mohammed had sex slaves and the Koran repeatedly tells men that sex slaves are permitted. Multiple hadith condone sex slavery. Mohammed himself orders his men to ejaculate inside of their war captives while the captives’ living husbands are watching. Al-Azhar Professor Suad Saleh, a woman, in 2014, lectured in support of sex slavery. Remember – the Koran is “uncreated.” It is eternal. It is perfect. It cannot be questioned. Caliph Al-Mutawakkil declared the death penalty for anyone who said that the Koran was created by human hands.
At least one rape gang survivor said, “As a teenager, I was taken to various houses and flats above takeaways in the north of England, to be beaten, tortured and raped over 100 times. I was called a ‘white slag’ and ‘white c—’ as they beat me. They made it clear that because I was a non-Muslim, and not a virgin, and because I didn’t dress ‘modestly’, that they believed I deserved to be ‘punished’. They said I had to ‘obey’ or be beaten … My main perpetrator quoted scriptures from the Koran to me as he beat me.”
Here’s the second thing. If I were a Muslim living in the U.K., I would want this story to come out, in full, and I would want the powers that be, the press, the police, the social workers, to learn about and address the religious aspects of these crimes. Why would I want that? Because what is resisted persists. What is suppressed fights back. As long as the police, and the courts, and the politicians, and the press adopt a hear- no- evil, see- no- evil, speak- no- evil worldview, the outrage and the agony that these crimes have engendered is going to become explosive. Some are talking civil war.
RACHEL: I’m afraid of racist backlash.
WANDA: Islam is a religion. It’s not a race. The Tsarneav brothers, who murdered eight-year-old Catholic schoolboy Martin Richard at the Boston Marathon, were literally Caucasians. They came from the Caucasus, in Russia.
RACHEL: I know that.
WANDA: Then why fling the word “racist” at a critic of Islam?
RACHEL: Same difference! If you start quoting these ugly verses from the Koran, who’s going to listen? White supremacists. The KKK. We have to protect minorities. I’m Jewish. We say “never again.” You can’t let a minority be attacked. Bad things happen.
WANDA: The circumstances are so different that your analogy doesn’t work. Muslims are about a third of the world population, not less than one percent, as Jews were and are. There are fifty Muslim-majority countries. Pakistan has nukes. Four of the richest countries in the world are Muslim-majority. There’s just no comparison to the lack of geopolitical power that Jews had in 1939. And criticizing Koran verses is not the equivalent of calling for violence against Muslims. People criticize Christianity, especially Catholicism, all the time, and I am not afraid. I get it that criticizing my religion is not the same as calling for someone to commit violence against me.
RACHEL: I still don’t see how you can justify saying such mean things about someone else’s religion. That’s hate.
WANDA: Rachel, you’ve heard me talk about my Uncle John. You know how much I loved him and how much he loved me. Check out this photo of him. He’s wearing a party uniform and toasting a mural of Vladimir Lenin. My Uncle John was an atheist who hated the Catholic Church. He was a card-carrying communist. I’m Catholic and I believe in capitalism. I rejected Uncle John’s ideas. I loved Uncle John.
We, as a nation, managed to do that for the entirety of the Cold War. We didn’t hate Poles or Czechs or even average, everyday Russians. We rejected their ideas. We had classroom curricula and traveling exhibitions and presidential speeches dedicated to saying, “Freedom and capitalism are right, and communism is wrong, and this is why.” Why have we suddenly lost the ability to say this about Islam? Muslims are people just like us, and those of us who are Christians are commanded to love Muslims. When we see Islamic teachings applied in a way that damages underage girls, isn’t it our duty to speak up?
RACHEL: Wanda, I have to tell you something.
RACHEL: I think you are right.
WANDA: Great. Then you’ll sign the petition?
RACHEL: I can’t.
RACHEL: My name will be on it. Look, you’re making sense. I’ve begun to do some reading and I’m starting to suspect the same things. Islam must be reformed. But meanwhile, well, you know. All my friends are liberal and if they see my name on there, they’ll do to me what they are doing to this Tommy Robinson guy. They’ll accuse me of racism and I’ll lose friends. I could even lose my job. Why do liberals refuse to allow criticism of Islam’s harsher teachings, anyway? They certainly have no problem with trashing Christianity and attacking Israel.
WANDA: Well, you know, I used to be more much left-wing than you. I attended party meetings! This is my best guess. Leftists see the West as irredeemably flawed. They want to overturn the West and usher in a brave, new world. They see Islam as the lever they can use to overturn the West. Then, once their enemy has been defeated, they will get rid of Islam, too. No God has any place in the workers’ paradise, not even Allah. Look at how Stalin treated Muslims. Mass deportations. China has about 120,000 Muslim Uighurs in re-education camps. The left’s approach to Muslims is cold, calculating, and exploitative. They are the real haters. If you love someone, you don’t allow that person to behave badly on the basis of wrong beliefs. Did those British authorities who allowed the rape gangs to operate love Muslims? Of course not. If you love someone, if you are invested in his welfare, you speak the truth to that person. You correct their destructive path. So, can I get you to sign?
RACHEL: I still need to think about it.
WAITRESS: Was there a problem with the pizza? You haven’t touched it.
WANDA: No, that’s cool. I need a doggie bag.