Tommy Robinson inspired my EDL tattoo...but my new body art means so much more
He was once a regional organiser for the English Defence League (EDL) and a close friend of Tommy Robinson. But IVAN HUMBLE, from Lowestoft, has since rejected hate and now campaigns for greater understanding between different faiths.
Here, he writes movingly about how he is now organising a get-together with Sikhs and Muslims - and has even had the words of murdered MP Jo Cox tattooed on his body, next to his EDL tattoo.
Tommy Robinson, a man I once called a close friend, is now in jail.
When I heard the news of his arrest, two thoughts occurred to me. Firstly, It could have been me. But secondly, although my life has gone in a very different direction and I totally reject the narrative of hate, I don’t blame people for it. Not even Tommy. I try to understand it.
We live in a society where labels are put on people. All that does is create barriers and stop debate.
I think what we really need is to be open and honest with each other. Only by having the difficult conversations can we hope to find solutions.
When I was contacted by the EDL after posting something on Facebook, I felt accepted and listened to.
I was a loner, on benefits, trying to bring up two kids by myself, and trapped in a social media echo chamber where at least I felt wanted.
No single person radicalised me, I did most of it myself.
I became an EDL administrator and it gave me a sense of purpose and importance.
Before long I met Tommy Robinson and he made me the organiser in East Anglia. I was harnessing my anger and frustration and got involved quickly and heavily. It became my life, everything I lived for.
We staged a demonstration in Peterborough and afterwards one of the mosques in the area put an open letter in the paper asking to meet the EDL.
We didn’t take up the offer but a seed was planted in my head. Why had they reached out? Why would they still want to talk to us after what we had done?
Later a chance encounter led to me meeting a white Scottish man, a former Christian who had converted to Islam. His name was Khalil Mitchell and we met regularly over the next six months.
It was easy to talk to him about my views on Islam because he looked like me, white with a beard.
During this time I also met Manwar Ali, a former jihadist, who had bought a church in Ipswich. I went to meet him before calling an EDL demo to try to stop him converting it into a mosque. It turned out he was actually opening a community centre.
He invited me to bring a group of EDL guys to a charity day in Ipswich with 400 other Muslims. We sat as a group and took part in a quiz on Islam.
When to their surprise we scored higher than many of the others they started talking to us, knowing we weren’t ignorant.
We challenged each other on everything but Manwar helped me develop a better understanding of Islam and overcome many of my misconceptions. He became like a father figure to me. When my own father died, it was Manwar I turned to for support.
I left the EDL but I missed the camaraderie, until I was asked to help with a radicalisation workshop.
When I turned up, the police were there to warn them that I was a risk. I was labelled as a far-right extremist. But the organisers sent them away and invited me in.
I have found my belonging now with these groups of people. I have no hate anymore.
When I heard about the murder of Jo Cox MP, her words – “we have far more in common than that which divides us” - felt as if they told my story.
I have since had them tattooed on my arm alongside my old EDL tattoo.
Like Tommy Robinson, I’m just a regular guy from a council estate. Some people still call me a traitor to my race, but I understand that they are conflicted the way I was. People just need to feel a part of something, a community.
Last year for The Great Get Together in Jo’s memory, I held an Iftar for Syrian refugees.
This year me and my Muslim friends are holding another Get Together and inviting people of all faiths, backgrounds and ages to come along to share games and food.
Hearing their personal stories helped more people change their perceptions. When you meet and talk, it’s not “them” and “us” any more
■ The event, hosted by Masjid Khadijah and Islamic Centre as part of The Great Get Together initiative, takes place at the Mosque on 311 Cromwell Road, Peterborough on June 23 from 3 to 6pm.
Everyone is welcome to the celebratory day which includes games, arts and crafts, and food.
To find a Great Get Together near you or to organise one yourself, visit www.greatgettogether.org
About Ivan Humble
It only took a seemingly innocuous comment on a Facebook video about a decade ago to lead Ivan Humble down a rabbit hole which ended with him signing up to a far right street protest movement.
“I was sitting at home on Facebook when I came across a post about Muslims attacking our troops during a homecoming parade in 2009,” said Mr Humble, from Lowestoft.
“I commented on this video post. Within a couple of minutes people replied to my comment and shortly afterwards I was inboxed about joining the EDL - I was hooked, although I am not trying to glorify it.”
He even became a friend of Tommy Robinson, who made Mr Humble a regional organiser.
However, after growing disillusioned with the direction the group was heading and through speaking to individuals from other cultures - in particular Manwar Ali, from Ipswich - Mr Humble’s views altered which led to him leaving the EDL in 2013.
As a result Mr Humble now gives talks across the country offering advice to those looking to leave far right groups.