In 2009, single father Ivan Humble joined the English Defence League (EDL), a far-right and Islamophobic organisation. Today he is an anti-hate campaigner working with groups all over the UK to tackle radicalisation and extremism.
It all started for me when the radical Islamic preacher Anjem Choudary, and eight other Muslims known as ‘Butchers of Basra’, interrupted a homecoming parade of troops in Luton. While the Police were protecting Choudary, I watched as two people protesting against him were arrested. It incensed me, along with many others. The EDL was formed that day.
Angry and frustrated, I went online and got chatting with this bloke who told me that a new organisation to target radical Muslims was being formed and he offered me the post of admin on the EDL web page.
I was totally obsessed, working my way up the ranks of admin to regional organiser for East Anglia. I had finally found a sense of belonging, but my children suffered.
In 2010, we organised a demo in Peterborough. At that time the Muslim Defence League (MDL) were opposing us. I realise now they were just protecting their community, but with Choudary’s influence I started stereotyping them too. Then, through the Peterborough Telegraph, the local mosque invited the EDL to a meeting to have a conversation. At the last minute we decided to attend. There we were saying terrible things and terrorising the Muslim community – but they had reached out to us! That was when a seed planted in my head.
A few months later I took my children Christmas shopping and had another revelation. My daughter needed the toilet and the nearest place was a library. As I was waiting I saw two Muslim women with headscarves. I’d never been so close to Muslim women before and so out of curiosity I followed them into an upstairs room. When a Muslim man came out to greet me I blurted out, “I’m from the EDL.” I was expecting (perhaps even wanting!) conflict but instead of that he gave me a hug and said, “Fantastic, I’ve been wanting to meet someone from the EDL.”
He was a white Muslim convert called Khalil. So the next day I went back alone and in the end we met 20 times. It was a real dialogue. He was able to challenge me all day long but I couldn’t challenge him back because his Islam was so different from that of Choudary’s.
Then I met Manwar Ali – a former Jihadist from Ipswich – who had bought a church. It was rumoured that it was going to be a mosque so a demo was organised, but I decided to meet Manwar instead to tell him we didn’t want his super mosque. When he reassured me it was going to be a community centre for everyone, we started a dialogue which continues to this day.
When in 2012 my sister died and six months later my dad died, it wasn’t the EDL family who were there for me in my grief, it was Manwar. I began to think that my hate might be misguided.
Then in 2013 Lee Rigby was killed on the streets of London. The next day both Manwar and Khalil rang me to apologise saying the killers weren’t true Islam. This cemented my trust in them. After Lee Rigby’s death there was a big surge in support for the EDL, and hate crimes against Muslims increased. I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the perpetrators were members who I’d recruited and radicalised.
Walks were being organised across the country in support of Lee Rigby and so I asked Manwar if he’d take the risk to walk with me. He agreed. As I went to meet him that day I saw his daughter, and then his wife, followed by 16 other Muslims. His daughter held a big box of roses and was handing them out to people. It was very emotional. I got a lot of praise that day for reaching out, but Manwar got attacked by some groups within his community who saw him as a traitor.
By now I was very disaffected by the EDL and one day I just posted up on their website: ‘I’m done. I’m out’.
That’s when I changed from being the hater to the hated. I understand why people hate me. I’ve stirred up something and given them conflict in their mind. I was accused of being a Muslim convert and a Muslim lover. It drove me inwards and I became very lonely again. But luckily, since my kids were now older, I was able to get a job in a shop. My supervisor was a black immigrant from Portugal and we became friends. I learnt about his story and he learnt about my story. Once again I understood about finding common ground.
I soon moved to a better job and had more money to spend on my kids but I still had very few friends and started to miss the EDL. Afraid of being drawn back in, I reached out to a woman from the Suffolk Hate Crime team called Debbie. I told her I was at a crossroads in my life, that I’d hated for five years and I understood radicalisation. As a result she offered me a job running a workshop on radicalisation for autistic people. It was Debbie who gave me my second chance in life.
Since then I’ve worked with many groups and reached a lot of people. I’m a lad from a council estate and to be able to empower someone to understand themselves better feels amazing.
My story is about hope – the hope that people can change – but it’s also about forgiveness.
Also, being able to tell my story to prevent others becoming radicalised is my way of forgiving myself for all the wrong choices I made.