How to express accurately the tragedy of an event that transformed a photograph of a young woman beaming in the sunshine from one of happiness to one of gut-wrenching loss?
The news on 16 June that Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered on the streets of her constituency united the country in grief. The flood of tributes from across her constituency, civil society and parliament are testament to the sort of woman she was. Her death leaves our country, our parliament but, most of all, her family and friends poorer as a result.
The alleged assailant, named as Tommy Mair, will stand trial this week. It has emerged that Mair has established links with white supremacist groups and Nazi regalia and literature were found at his house. It was a targeted attack on Cox, an internationally-minded MP who had a special interest in Syria and who was campaigning for Britain to remain inside the EU.
While most offered their condolences and expressed horror at the situation, a small contingent took to social media to further their own political agenda. In an egregious act of collective solipsism, Jo’s tragic death was hijacked to politicise theories from racism to the referendum. The numerous petty tweets stood in stark contrast to the dignity shown by Brendan Cox, Jo’s husband. In a statement of more clarity and eloquence than most of us could manage at a time of such grief, he called for us “to unite to fight against the hatred that killed her”.
Most vocal were calls for the media to label Mair a terrorist, consistent with the perpetrator of the Orlando shooting, the inference being that whilst people of colour are readily designated terrorists, other motives are sought for white people.
There is no doubt that the media’s response is lacking when it comes to this ‘neoclassical’ type of terrorism, where the terror is home-grown, but was it of the utmost urgency that it be labeled as such in the hours following Cox’s murder? The fact that Mair shouted ‘Britain First’ or something similar during the attack and gave his name in court as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain” indicate that the murder was politically motivated and therefore accusations of terrorism are accurate.
When events like this occur, the question of responsibility is quickly raised. Without doubt, those who commit terror are responsible for their own actions, but it would be unjust to let the communities that forge and legitimise individual hatred receive no blame. For Orlando, the Muslims who denigrate the humanity of LGBT people and, in this case, the microcosm of racism that is Britain First should bear some guilt. Not every Muslim is an extremist and not everyone who likes Britain First’s page on Facebook is genuinely racist, but each like or share of their content builds their influence, allowing their poisonous views to flourish.
The opinions of these groups are now reaching the mainstream. On the day Jo Cox died, Nigel Farage unveiled a poster with the image of a queue of migrants with the words ‘BREAKING POINT’ emblazoned across it. The picture has an irrefutable similarity to a Nazi propaganda video which referred to migrants as ‘parasites’. The implicit aim is to frighten and create resentment, the kind that can easily breed violence.
It is rarely acknowledged now, but sentiments expressed about immigration in the UK today were also rife during World War II, especially regarding Jewish children fleeing the horror of the Holocaust. It is important to remember that the people who called for those in need to be shut out, for Britain to be for the British only, have been forgotten by history, their aims rejected.
Jo Cox, who stood for human rights and dignity across the world, will not be forgotten. Her legacy should help bring about a political climate that we can all be proud of, a more charitable, more consensual and less isolationist outlook. As Jo said herself in her maiden speech to parliament, “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”.
Words: Harrison Worrell