The Tommy Robinson affair

The Tommy Robinson affair, by Bruce Bawer.

On Friday, British free-speech activist and Islam critic Tommy Robinson was acting as a responsible citizen journalist — reporting live on camera from outside a Leeds courtroom where several Muslims were being tried for child rape — when he was set upon by several police officers. In the space of the next few hours, a judge tried, convicted, and sentenced him to 13 months in jail — and also issued a gag order, demanding a total news blackout on the case in the British news media. Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was immediately taken to Hull Prison, in Kingston upon Hull, England, where [he] was taken to serve a 13-month prison sentence just hours after his arrest on Friday, May 25. …

Were all the articles in the British media pulled down “voluntarily”? There is no way to know for sure.

Carl Benjamin, who produces video commentary under the name “Sargon of Akkad,” is a popular British YouTuber who has somewhere around a million subscribers, and who routinely criticizes Islam, identity politics, and political correctness with wit and panache. He is generally a lively, free-wheeling, sardonic fellow, but in the two-hour-plus video he posted on Saturday about the Robinson case, he was uncharacteristically sober, exceedingly cautious, and at times even sounded mournful.

“I did tell you that Britain isn’t a free country, didn’t I?” he said a minute or so into his video. “I’ve been saying it for ages… and nobody listens.” He made it clear he was not about to violate the gag order — not, as he put it, about to “blunder into the jaws of the beast, in much the same way as I guess Tommy has,” and thus “deliberately put myself in the line of fire with the UK government, giving them just cause to arrest me.”

Benjamin is a gutsy guy, so it was unsettling to hear him speak this way. The look on his face somehow brought home the dark reality underlying Robinson’s fast-track arrest, trial, conviction and incarceration. Benjamin emphasized that the most “sensible” thing for someone like himself [Benjamin] to do right now — he used that word, “sensible,” repeatedly — is to do his best to stay out of jail so that he can continue to speak up. “I am in a country that is not free,” he repeated gravely. “My options are limited… I feel jealous as hell of you guys in America. You don’t know how lucky you are.”