For this reason, although I agree with Melanie Phillips about the character of the EDL and its leaders, and although I wouldn’t personally choose to do things as the EDL does them, I must endorse what Robinson and Carroll wanted to do on 29 June as a civil right, which should have been protected. Yes, it was a stunt. But so were many of the protest actions mounted by blacks and their supporters in the American South in the mid-20th century. There will always be stunts we agree with, and stunts we don’t (such as the proposed Nazi march through Skokie, Illinois in the late 1970s). The relevant question is not whether a proposed action is a stunt, but whether it involves an essential right or not.
For all their yobbery, Robinson and Carroll have it spot on the nose: the ability to walk, unmolested, down the city streets of London – while being a member of the EDL, as much as while being an unveiled woman or a gay or a Jew – is essential to preserving the tenets of Western liberalism in our daily lives. It is essential that Muslims in Tower Hamlets be restrained if they riot over someone walking down the street. On the streets of our civilization, they must learn to do things our way, not we theirs.
And most of them do. But the radicals among them will certainly never learn, if they are supported by the police in their riot-based extortion racket. In an important way, this isn’t even about radical Islamists. It’s about our own moral confidence as a civilized people. The onus here is on the British authorities and Britain’s political leaders – and ultimately on British voters – to enforce the tenets of British, and Western, civilization.
There is no splitting this hair, without selling out the principle entirely. Standing up to riot-based extortion means standing up to it, period. Not standing up to it means there is no equal, disinterested, principle-based protection for anyone. It is no accident that the anti-Semitic expulsion from Britain of a blameless American student occurred within weeks of the arrest of Robinson and Carroll, and the banning of Spencer and Geller. These actions are of a piece. Britain – once Tennyson’s “strong mother of a lion line” – has jumped the shark.