Last night the BBC screened a documentary called ‘When Tommy met Mo’. It was good television, challenging and thought-provoking in a way that public broadcasting ought to be, is often said to be, but too rarely is. I would urge you to watch it.
The programme followed Tommy Robinson during the period in which he was stepping away from the organisation – the English Defence League (EDL) – which he founded. It showed Robinson travelling around the country with a Muslim ‘spokesman’ called Mohammed Ansar.
A number of people had criticised the programme, and its premise, in advance and there has already been some tussle over the credit, not least Ansar’s attempt to get ahead of events which had in fact overtaken him by suggesting that his meetings with Robinson were the cause of Robinson leaving the EDL. In fact the cause appears to have been Robinsons’s spell in prison, an increasing loss of control in the organisation and his serendipitous meeting, while making the programme, with Maajid Nawaz and Usama Hasan of the Quilliam Foundation.
As it happens, Ansar’s involvement was one of the reasons I was sceptical of the programme from the start and one of the reasons I declined to take part when asked earlier this year. If the former leader of the EDL is going to travel around with a moderate Muslim in order to introduce him to a more enlightened version of Islam then it is important to choose such a moderate carefully. Ansar is not a person who would be at the top of my list. So far as anyone can tell he is a self-appointed figure who dresses, and otherwise acts, as though he is a great Muslim leader. Yet until Twitter and Sunday morning television he had no particular identity and it is hard to find any actual work that he has done (he said last night that he has been ‘working for gay rights for the last 15 years’.