We may never have been able to predict the murder of Jo Cox, and yet close observers of the long struggle with nationalist extremism will find the formula of this kind of statement-violence familiar. A man shouts in the name of his allegiance, “Britain First!” before maiming and killing, publicly, those whose ideals and way of life has become an offence to the barbarous.
In all likeliness this was not symbolic brutality against the system — not an act of a random nature against any old representative of the political class — but a fundamentalist attack on a woman whose ideals, both in her charity work and as MP, placed human rights for disenfranchised Syrians, oppressed Palestinians and immigration at the core of her narrative. What an appallingly upsetting shame then that she should die, not because of her stance on human rights but instead killed within a British climate that has confused social sociopathy for economic debate and scaremongering immigration laws.
It will not do to say the heinous crime against Jo Cox, who leaves behind two small children and a husband, is not illustrative of Britain today. This has not been a country that has felt safe for some of us — immigrants, refugees, Muslims, or our allies — for some time. Those of us whose worth has been frequently debated by politicians, press, and citizens alike. Imagine it. For when we have lifted someone’s story away from what makes us flesh — a job as bus driver, teacher, waiter, when we have been removed from the spaces within which men have girlfriends and women are mothers, each bored and excited by life’s universals — and instead turned flesh into topic, dimensionless and without soul, of course there will be simply nothing human left.
Long before Britain raised the matter of Stay or Leave, immigrants and their children knew the confines of a political spectrum. To sit and read the words of a detached manifesto — and then to consider ones needs within better schools, a nearby developing arts centre, the new proposed train-line that will reduce your travel time from an hour to forty minutes — and weigh it against the other party is for many a luxury.
Survival upholds the act of state affairs and, more often than not, safety transforms itself as a voting clincher.
Many people of colour will tell you that they are hazy on the details around the EU referendum, yet are certain of their place in the Remain camp. So strong is the power of fear for your welfare that statistics and well balanced economic arguments can stay unknown, so long as the other option is to exist as the demonised group targeted as the problem. Bluntly put, when someone shouts p**i after you, you’d be a fool to stop running, simply to hear what else they have to say.
However it has happened, a referendum regarding the integration of communities is being led by UKIP, a small-minded protest group with openly racist views. The most recent poster campaign was both inaccurate and nasty.
This comes a month after the outrageously Islamophobic campaign by the opposition Tory candidate against now elected London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and the far-right candidate for Britain First (of who Jo Cox’s killer is believed to have referenced moments before he shot her) who turned his back to the Muslim man during Khan’s victory speech.
The ultra-loyalist group are no strangers to thuggish hostility when it comes to unity. They would, they said, target Muslim elected officials at “official functions, including where they live, work, and pray.” This is the chillingly familiar rhetoric that has left many at the mercy of ISIL and Al-Qaeda, the very real targeting of those who are perceived to be unlike you by assaulting the centres of activity within a community. How is this truly any different to the mentality that harmed Paris? Littered amongst their ‘statement’ was the notion that Muslims were seen — again, familiarly — as “occupiers”. There is no defensible reason for why a supposed political party should refer to themselves as “foot-soldiers”, or why they should be in “training camps” in the Welsh hills learning self-defence and how to use knives.
Humanity is ultimately what is at stake here. As Britain has favoured convenience over innate urgency to support foreigners who are disenfranchised, it has abandoned with it the instinct of empathy and the value of human life. Bigotry has masqueraded as politics. It is this that legitimises the actions of British football fans who taunt refugee children in Lille by throwing money on the floor. It is this that spurs the growing number of physical attacks on Muslim men and women, of mosques and shops that are desecrated or burnt to the ground. Each works as an advertisement for the next. When you light a match, you can start a forest fire.
We would do well to remember her words.
Chimene Suleyman is a writer from London of Turkish / Middle Eastern heritage. She writes opinion pieces, contributing to The Independent as well as regularly featured writing for online blog and events organiser Poejazzi. She has represented the UK at the International Biennale, Rome 2011 with spoken word. Her poetry collection “Outside Looking On” published by Influx Press is out now. She collects photos of Canary Wharf. Find her on Twitter: @chimenesuleyman
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