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On the death of Jo Cox: Racist rhetoric contributes to the rise in violence

The hype around the Brexit campaign, hyper-patriotism, and “Britain first, immigrants out” discourses have led to this tragedy writes Julien Mercile

Image: Yui Mok/PA Wire/Press Association Images

BRITISH LABOUR MP Jo Cox was killed on Thursday outside her constituency office of Batley and Spen in a horrific fashion.

It has been reported that the man who killed her shouted ‘Britain First’ during the attack.

One eyewitness related to the media:

I looked round and there was a guy standing over a woman on the floor. He seemed to have what looked like an old gun, like a musket, in his hand and he shot her again in the middle. He then seemed to shoot a third time, towards her head or face.

He was also stabbing her with what looked like a hunting knife, about a foot long. He was stabbing her and waving the knife around. A man who I know as Bernard tried to get near but the man swung his knife around and caught him in the stomach. Blood started coming out.

Before being first elected in 2015, Cox had worked with the international charity Oxfam, which released the following statement: “Jo was a diminutive pocket rocket from the north. She was as a ball of energy, always smiling, full of new ideas, of idealism, of passion.”

Cox was also involved with Labour Friends of Palestine and contributed to a report calling to lift Israel’s blockade on Gaza.

Jo Cox shooting Source: Yui Mok

She carried a message of cultural tolerance and pro-immigration views. In her maiden speech last year, she insisted that:

Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir. While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.

The investigation is still at a very early stage, but if the suspect indeed did shout ‘Britain First’, this could point towards a political motive.

Anti-immigrant group

Britain First is a far-right group known for its islamophobic demonstrations and marches. It was formed in 2011 by former members of the British National Party and has grown quickly to become the UK’s most prominent far-right group.

Its website states: “Britain First is opposed to all mass immigration, regardless of where it comes from — the colour of your skin doesn’t come into it — Britain is full up.”

It campaigns on an anti-immigrant platform and calls for the return of ‘traditional British values’ and the end of ‘Islamisation’.

It has an extensive presence on social media, including over 1.4 million ‘likes’ on Facebook. It has organised ‘Christian patrols’ and mosque invasions in order to attract media coverage.

In January, 120 of its members marched in Dewsbury, near Cox’s constituency, carrying crucifixes and Union Jacks across the town. Cox had then tweeted:

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Dangerous rhetoric

Whether the attacker was or was not a member of Britain First, the fact remains that British politics recently has seen a spike of anti-immigrant rhetoric that makes this type of violence more likely.

For example, only an hour before Cox was attacked, Nigel Farage unveiled a large poster showing Syrian migrants and refugees fleeing to Slovenia. The Leave the EU poster, as part of the Brexit campaign, read:

Breaking Point. We must break free from the EU and take control of our border.

Twitter users quickly compared it to Nazi propaganda footage of migrants.

Whatever the exact motivations for Cox’s murder, such racist political campaigns are bound to provoke acts of hatred. They provide tacit support to extreme elements and individuals to cross a psychological threshold that turns them into violent persons.

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee noted that at a ward meeting this week her local Labour councillor in north London showed her a sign left on a member’s car windscreen. The vehicle had a ‘Remain’ poster on it. The message left on the car (together with racist symbols) said:

‘This is a lave [Leave] area. We hate the foriner. Nex time do not park your car with Remain sign on. Hi Hitler. White Power’ [sic]

This act did not lead to overt violence but is yet another symptom of the mainstreaming of racist and anti-immigrant feelings in Britain. But the UK is not alone, as many other European countries have seen the emergence of far-right groups and political parties. And elements of mainstream parties and the media have also contributed to whipping up fear.

They all contribute to normalising an ideology of exclusion and spread it across the continent. This is why need to oppose such rhetoric anywhere we live prevent its rise everywhere.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. 

 Read: 'We are devastated': Flowers laid at tearful vigil for murdered MP Jo Cox

Read: Suspect in British MP killing 'quiet loner with ties to extremists'

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