Part V of a series: Who is Tommy Robinson?
by Michael Isenberg.
Dear Left-of-Center Friends: Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your discussions with me about this series on anti-Islam crusader Tommy Robinson, who was jailed last month for livestreaming outside a grooming trial, in violation of British reporting laws. Despite my disagreements with you, some of our exchanges were quite civilized, which was a wonderful change of pace in this not-so-civil political climate in which we find ourselves. I always work hard to make sure I’m not reporting fake news, but your constant insistence on knowing my sources pushed me to dig even deeper than usual for corroborating evidence on the claims Robinson made in his autobiography and Oxford Union speech. And the many links you sent me that captured his less-than-stellar moments definitely had an impact on Part 3 of the series, where I took on the question of whether he’s racist. I love you all. But nevertheless, I feel compelled to call you out on your—how shall I put this nicely?—your inconsistencies.
As I wrote at the conclusion of my previous installment, “Most Shameful Hour,” “I recognize that many on the Left do not share my admiration for Tommy Robinson’s courage in speaking out against crime in his community inspired by the ideology of Islam. They think he’s a vile individual, both in character and ideas. Fine. Reasonable people can disagree. I had hoped, however, that regardless of what they think about Mr. Robinson himself, they would share my alarm at the prospect of a state that can beat down anyone who thinks they can mess with it. Sadly, my left-of-center friends do not see it that way.”
The following tweet from Owen Jones is typical of how they do see it. In his Twitter profile, Mr. Jones describes himself as a socialist and a writer for The Guardian, but I won’t hold those things against him on account of there’s a cat in his cover photo.
When did Leftists such as Mr. Jones suddenly become the champions of law and order? (And please don’t answer, “About the same time the Right stopped.” Tu quoque, besides being a fallacy, is so boring). When did the Left join the “The law’s the law” crowd? Certainly not when rioters were setting fire to the town of Ferguson, MO.
Or when punching Nazis was all the rage. I infer from this tweet that Mr. Jones was more or less in approval of the assault on the vile Richard Spencer:
Even after his “’Tommy Robinson’” is not a martyr” tweet, Mr. Jones attacked President Trump for enforcing immigration law in the United States:
Hey, I’m with you, Owen, on some of these at least. When the law is unjust, it’s right to speak out. Sometimes it’s even right to defy it. “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God,” said Benjamin Franklin, a man who knew a thing or two about rebellion. What’s not right is to turn your back on that sort of principled opposition and suddenly transform into Judge Jeffreys when the victim of an unjust law is wearing the jersey of the opposing team.
The Left’s inconsistency is particularly jarring since this is a freedom of the press case. If some other reporter were jailed for what Mr. Robinson did, but he was a standard bearer for the Left, we would hear howls of outrage from that side of the aisle—inevitably invoking the word “chilling”—and read learned treatises on how unjust reporting laws are.
And I agree. They are unjust.
There’s a key distinction here. Many of my left-of-center friends have lectured me in great detail about exactly what the law says, and how Tommy Robinson ran afoul of it. I get all that. I concede that this is the law of the land. My point is that it shouldn’t be.
Such laws violate freedom of speech and freedom of the press. These aren't just high-sounding words. They're essential ingredients to maintaining a free society. They're embraced by the British Constitution. And yes, I understand that the British Constitution is a patchwork of laws and court decisions, not a single written document like in the United States. That’s not relevant in this context. What is relevant is that it’s nevertheless a thing and that it protects certain freedoms.
Press freedom is especially crucial in the context of trials. Justice needs to take place in full view of the public to prevent the bench from becoming an instrument of tyranny. It is no coincidence that the vilest dictatorships on earth—Iran, for example—regularly conduct trials in secret. Great Britain, where our freedoms originated, does not belong in their company.
Nor do I buy the argument that without strict reporting laws, “trials of alleged rapists would collapse and alleged rapists would walk free.” Other countries routinely hold trials in full view of the public and manage to get convictions. For example, we just convicted a prominent rapist in the United States—Bill Cosby—despite daily play-by-play coverage on CNN.
There’s something else at play here, and there’s an exchange from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged that illustrates it beautifully. In this scene, Dr. Floyd Ferris of the State Science Institute confronts steel executive Hank Rearden for selling a greater quantity of his “Rearden Metal” to a customer than the law allows. Rearden observes,
“You seem to be pleased about it.”
“Don’t I have good reason to be?”
“But, after all, I did break one of your laws.”
“Well, what do you think they're for?”
Dr. Ferris did not notice the sudden look on Rearden's face, the look of a man hit by the first vision of that which he had sought to see. Dr. Ferris was past the stage of seeing; he was intent upon delivering the last blows to an animal caught in a trap.
“Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against—then you'll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We're after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you'd better get wise to it. There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted—and you create a nation of law-breakers—and then you cash in on guilt. Now, that's the system, Mr. Rearden, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with.”
This is exactly what happened to Tommy Robinson, not just in his present incarceration, but throughout his long persecution at the hands of Her Majesty’s Government. The grooming crisis, the evil practice of creating an emotional connection with young girls—often by addicting them to drugs—in order to turn them into sex slaves, was out of control. Tommy Robinson—who had a victim in his own family—had the temerity to shine the disinfectant of sunlight on it. Because he claimed the perpetrators were disproportionately Muslim, he was called racist and fascist and every other name under the sun. But this was not some feverish anti-Muslim propaganda. Events vindicated Mr. Robinson completely as reports came out that thousands of girls were victimized; public officials conceded that they had been slow to prosecute, in part because the girls were poor and white, in part because they were afraid of being accused of racism; eventually prosecutions were conducted and convictions obtained. Tommy Robinson had done the state some service and they knew’t. And that couldn’t stand. He had embarrassed them; he had to be destroyed. But what do you think laws are for? It's a tribute to Mr. Robinson's honesty, that in an age of proliferating laws, the prosecutors had to work as hard as they did to come up with the mortgage fraud charge against him.
I implore my left-of-center friends, who pride themselves on standing up to authority, and speaking truth to power, to look beyond Mr. Robinson’s team jersey and take heed. A State powerful enough to destroy your opponents today is powerful enough to destroy you tomorrow.
|Michael Isenberg drinks bourbon and writes novels. His latest book, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092, and tells the story of the conflict between science and shari’ah in medieval Islam. It is available on Amazon.com|