The British police are yet to conclusively pronounce on the motivation for MP Jo Cox’s murder. But if, as has been reported, her assailant yelled “Britain First” while he shot and stabbed the woman who worked for human rights and her West Yorkshire constituents, this is a moment to pause.
If Thomas Mair, who is under arrest for assaulting Jo Cox, really used those words, this is the moment to think about what they symbolize?
Can words become weapons?
Can political hate-mongering become tools to take out those who’s actions we disagree with?
Or, as the late African-American poet June Jordan wrote in ‘A Song for Soweto’ (albeit in a different context):
At the throat of Soweto
a devil language falls
claw syllables to shred and leave
the tongue of the young
learning to sing
her own name
For, if Mair used the words “Britain First”, they are the name of a far-right political party. That party has condemned Ms Cox’s death but it is the sort of sectarian outfit who’s candidate for mayor of London turned his back on victor Sadiq Khan during the vote count. Ms Cox, of course, was an advocate of an inclusive and multicultural Britain.
As The Guardian editorialized in the hours after Ms Cox’s murder “their (Britain First’s) brand of angry blame-mongering could very well serve to convince particular individuals – especially those who are already close to the edge – that some people are less than human, and thus fair game for attack.”
Speech, as the poem above said, would have become “a devil language”. It would be “slashing”.
The Guardian editorial’s reference was to the racism, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric that is in full flow on both sides of the Atlantic. There is such anxiety about these issues that politicians – insurgents, outsiders, far-righters – are using powerful metaphors to stoke people’s fears and win support.
As British Labour MPs Yvette Cooper and Holly Lynch said on the morning after Ms Cox’s death, the vitriolic nature of the Brexit debate has been unsettling.
Unsettling enough to tip people over into acts of violence?
As that Guardian editorial pointed out, the Brexit referendum campaign is “becoming a plebiscite on immigration and immigrants. The tone is divisive and nasty.”
Of special note is the advertising campaign newly put out by Nigel Farage of the far-right UK Independence Party. It showed a long line of displaced people shuffling to somewhere (the UK?) with the following headline: “Breaking point.”
Might that inflame those who are already unsettled? Might it be the tipping point for anxious people hearing the drumbeat of decline and decay and of the threats posed by Muslims, immigrants, the European Union, the world?
Yes, especially when they’re not being told the truth by the hate-mongering politicians, which is as follows: Britain is not at breaking point because of refugees; Britain is taking in hardly any Syrian refugees and that its membership of the European Union is not forcing it to take in Syrians.