The harassment and abuse of Muslim spectators at a West Ham United football match last Saturday, during which they were subjected to shouts of “fucking Pakis, go home” and “E, E, EDL”, has been widely reported.
Fuel was subsequently thrown on the fire of anti-Muslim bigotry by claims that the men were at the ground because the club had offered tickets at a specially reduced price for Muslims. As Steve Rose has written in an article posted on the Tell Mama website:
Social media soon became a hotbed of conspiracy theories about West Ham trying to ‘Islamify’ their support by offering heavily discounted tickets to Muslims. There was genuine anger from many over this ‘two-tier’ ticketing.
However, this is untrue. West Ham sells discounted tickets for British soldiers and periodically offers ‘kids for a quid’ specials. There was no special ‘Muslim’ discount. Such anger might be indicative of an underlying Islamophobia in some supporters.
These tickets are routinely offered to local community groups and are available to all. Not everyone who purchased these £5 tickets was Muslim. It was merely a reflection of that community (for example, some were Eastern European and non-Muslim Asian). There was no conspiracy. West Ham was simply making football more affordable.
Rose has rightly condemned those who pushed the inflammatory story about “Muslim-only” tickets:
Predictably, one of the people who played an active part in spreading this rumour was former English Defence League leader (and supposed ex-extremist) Stephen Lennon, aka “Tommy Robinson”, who took to Twitter to try and stir things up:
To back up this story, Lennon tweeted a photo of one of the reduced-price tickets supposedly sold exclusively to Muslims. The photo was then used by the popular (unofficial) West Ham News Twitter account as evidence that “People from the local mosque get tickets for £5, whereas we have to pay up to £52”.
Such behaviour is par for the course with Lennon. When he led the EDL he regularly used social media to spread baseless rumours about Muslims. In May he claimed that a 7-year-old girl had been gang-raped in a Luton school toilet by Muslims. In June he accused Muslims of having launched a “violent attack on innocent English boys and girls” in Ashton-Under-Lyne. In July Lennon was at it again, accusing the Barnsley Chronicle of covering up the fact that an assault on a serving soldier was carried out by Muslims. Needless to say, all of these rumours turned out to be false.
So how did Lennon’s NBF, Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam, respond to his protégé’s irresponsible tweeting? Did he perhaps pull “Tommy” up on it and warn him against falling back into his old ways? Not a bit of it. As Steve Rose has pointed out, Nawaz immediately jumped in to support Lennon, accusing West Ham of “discrimination” against non-Muslims:
All this just reinforces the argument that Lennon hasn’t changed his opinions and methods at all. He remains the same anti-Muslim provocateur that he was when he led the EDL. As for Quilliam, they have justified their alliance with Lennon on the basis that under their influence he will gradually be won away from his former extremist views. What really seems to be happening is the reverse – far from Quilliam influencing Lennon, it’s Lennon who’s now influencing Quilliam.