Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, partner of Brendan Cox and mother of two young children, was murdered in the street by a fascist terrorist. We have sleepwalked into a nightmare. Jo Cox’s murder was the inevitable, tragic consequence of a steady flow of fascistic bile that has permeated the mainstream political discourse. Our Prime Minister described human beings fleeing death and destruction as a ‘swarm’. A columnist for a national newspaper with a daily average readership of 5.5 million people called for the use of gunships to halt the arrival of ‘human cockroaches’. Posters for the official Brexit campaign depict human suffering as a dangerous threat, and demand WE take back control of OUR borders.
We are drowning in hatred.
These examples of fascistic propaganda embolden the thuggish advocates of groups like Britain First, to whom witnesses say Tommy Mair, Jo Cox’s murderer, referenced while he shot and attacked her with a knife. The far-right group offers members countryside paramilitary training camps, amidst pledges of ‘direct action’. Their twisted ideals are given a veneer of legitimacy when echoed by those in positions of influence and power. The fork-tongued suit bemoaning the ‘erosion of British sovereignty’, and the alcohol-laden football supporters hurling coins at refugee children, are two sides of the same coin.
Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, told BBC news last month that ‘if people feel we have lost control of our borders completely, and by the way we have lost control of our borders completely as members of the European Union, and voting doesn’t change anything, then violence is the next step’. This is not the prophesising of an astute, deep-thinking politician. This is the irresponsible ranting of a hateful bigot. Farage, like many others basking in the eye of this storm, has blood on his hands.
So what now? How do we respond to the fact that an elected politician, building her reputation on a genuine commitment to challenging the poisonous rhetoric that threatens to overwhelm us, has been cut down and killed in her own constituency by the living embodiment of that poison?
Warning upon warning has been ignored. People of colour consistently struggle to have the presence of fascism acknowledged and challenged. And let’s be clear fascistic discourse begets fascistic violence. A man armed with a hammer and machete shouted ‘white power’ as he attempted to behead a Sikh man in a supermarket, in Mold, North Wales. Where was the condemnation and outrage? Mushin Ahmed, 81 years old, was on his way to the mosque when he was attacked, kicked and stamped to death by racists in Rotherham. Where was the condemnation and outrage?
Now it is brutally clear to everyone that we are at the tipping point. Now is not the time to sit on the fence. Collectively, we have long been in the process of choosing where we truly stand, and for far too many, indecisiveness has led to silence, and silence in the face of such hatred is complicity. The great Martin Luther King Jr. said ‘In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends’.
We must hold the media and politicians to full account. It is sheer delusion to believe that the words of columnists and parliamentarians, circulated on a mass scale, do not play a role in inciting the kind of hatred that has stolen a mother from her children. It is sheer delusion to believe that the persistent utilisation of mental health stigmas as a means of explaining away of fascistic acts of terror, does not contribute to the staggering complacency regarding far-right extremism.
We must challenge fascism locally, because while those in positions of power spin their webs of deceit from above, it is the readiness of thugs at the grassroots level to carry out violent acts of terror that pose an immediate threat to us. Together, in true solidarity with one and other, we define the standards of our communities and we must resist the degradation of them.
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Robert Kazandjian is an educator and writer. He works with vulnerable children in North London. His writing seeks to challenge inequality, in all its guises. He has previously written for Ceasefire Magazine on racism in Israel, gender politics and hip hop music, and the necessity of Armenian Genocide recognition. He blogs poetry at makemymark.tumblr.com. He cites Douglas Dunn, Pablo Neruda, James Baldwin and Nas as major influences. He tweets from @RKazandjian