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Jo Cox’s murder: Have we been looking at the wrong 'extremists'?

Whilst the government's focus has ostensibly been on radicalisation amongst Muslims, it has failed in applying the same to far-right views

The brutal murder of West Yorkshire MP Jo Cox has opened fault lines very few in the establishment have been prepared to recognise until now.

Racism in Britain is, mercifully, less blatant and far less brutal than in the USA. Far-right organisations generally have a tougher time in this country than in the America – where they’re authorised to carry arms – or in Europe where their beliefs and candidates have entered mainstream politics. It’s a far more sophisticated affair here.


The appeal of anti-migrant and anti–Muslim organisations like the British National Party (BNP) and the English Defence League (EDL) has been muted over the years. This is partly because of the general national opposition and disdain for openly racist groups but also, because these views have disturbingly entered the mainstream. Political parties like UKIP exist almost exclusively to seize back perceived lost sovereignty from the European Union (EU) and, as it were, put Britain first.

Leading the charge for Brexit, UKIP and its supporters have, for example, raised the spectre of Britain being flooded by millions of Turks if Britain remains in the EU. It is little wonder that all campaigning for “leave” or “remain” was suspended following Jo Cox’s murder.

Jo Cox was greatly admired and loved by her constituents and those who knew her but, it may well be that she was killed precisely because she cared for everyone, not just those who solely identified themselves as British. Cox fought to get “no bombing” zones in Syria and was an ardent defender of migrants’ rights and human rights. After the attack she lay dying in the arms of her assistant, a Muslim woman.

It has been foolish not to expect that the atmosphere created by ultra-nationalist and exclusivist rhetoric would not, at some point, result in the kind of tragedy that happened in West Yorkshire last week.

While the government's focus has ostensibly been on negative radicalisation amongst Muslims it has completely failed in applying the same to rising white supremacist views.

Most people who have gone through the government’s highly discredited Prevent programme - which makes it a legal duty on the public sector to report potential “radicals” to the authorities - will tell you they have little training, or inclination, to define or identify Muslim extremism and even less to recognise far-right extremism. Predictably, calls to scrap Prevent are now mainstream since most people do not see spying as the answer.

Now that Jo Cox has become the first MP to be murdered in 26 years things must change. It is time to limit the cycle of populist language employed by media and politicians that has fuelled such hatred.

Not terrorism

In 2007, former British National Party (BNP) candidate Robert Cottage was accused of preparing for a race war in the UK. He was found in possession of the largest cache of chemical explosives of its type ever in the country and pleaded guilty in a Manchester court under the Explosives Substances Act (1883). Cottage was not charged with terrorism.

In 2015, British soldier Ryan McGee from Manchester, a supporter of the Ku Klux Klan and the EDL, was found in possession of home-made nail bombs filled with 187 pieces of shrapnel to maximize damage. McGee was further found in possession of knives, axes and imitation guns and had watched videos of victims being beheaded and shot in the head under a Nazi swastika flag. He also had an EDL “No Surrender” flag in his bedroom. He was prosecuted and convicted under the Explosive Substances Act (1883) and handed a two-year sentence. The court decided McGee was just an immature teenager, not a terrorist.

Although there is a blatant double standard in comparison to how Muslims accused of similar crimes are treated, it is evident that, when it suits, Britain has sufficient powers to deal such matters and terrorism laws are not even required.

When Anders Breivik carried out his mass slaughter in Oslo there was relatively little talk of the ideology that caused him to act in this way. Breivik hated immigrants in general and Muslims in particular but he opted to kill neither, which though surprising, was ominous.

Breivik chose to unleash his war against “his own” because he saw their views as traitorous to his own. These people had “sold out” to multiculturalism and had helped to dilute his nation and race and infect it with foreign cultures, beliefs and blood. In his worldview they failed to “put Norway first”. Breivik and Mair had ample motives and opportunities to kill migrants and Muslims but both chose to target perceived defenders of both.

Britain First

The Southern Poverty Law Centre has reported that Jo Cox’s killer, Thomas Mair, had been a supporter of the American neo-Nazi National Alliance. A manual he purchased from the organisation details how to construct improvised explosive and pistols. He is reported to have used a homemade gun to shoot her with.

The report adds that Mair was “one of the earliest subscribers and supporters of SA Patriot,” a pro-apartheid South African magazine published by the racist White Rhino Club. Its stated aims include opposition to “multicultural societies” and “expansionist Islam”.

Witnesses have said that Mair shouted the words “Britain first” before he began shooting Jo Cox. Police are investigating any links between him and the ultra-nationalist, anti-Muslim organisation, Britain First, who deny any association. The group has a wing called Britain First Defence Force, which conducts “Christian patrols” and “mosque invasions” in majority Muslim areas. They also carry out militant “activist training camps” in preparation for confrontation. Set-up by ex-BNP members Britain First’s motto is “taking our country back”.

During the London mayoral election Britain First’s leader, Paul Golding, infamously turned his back to Sadiq Khan when the winner was announced. In the build up to the election Golding’s deputy, Jayden Fransen, wrote:

“...they will face the wrath of the Britain First movement, make no mistake about it! We will not rest until every traitor is punished for their crimes against our country. And by punished, I mean good old fashioned British justice at the end of a rope!”

At his first appearance in court, when asked to confirm his name, Mair replied: “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”

Double standard

It has become something of a joke on social media that whenever a white man carries out an act of ideologically motivated violence he is exempt from being called a terrorist and is described by mainstream media as a “loner” who suffered “psychological problems”.

On cue, it's already been said that Mair was a loner who had a “history of mental illness”. Further, his family and friends have said he was a “gentle” and “kind” soul who “wouldn’t hurt a fly”. As an aside, when CAGE research director, Asim Qureshi, described the Islamic State group executioner Mohammed Emwazi as a once “beautiful young man” who was “kind” and “wouldn’t hurt a fly” there was national outrage. The hypocrisy could not be starker.

Whether the murder of Jo Cox MP was politically motivated or an act of mindless savagery will be known in days to come. But the government can no longer ignore what the rest of us can clearly see.

Moazzam Begg is a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and currently the director of outreach for UK-based campaigning organisation CAGE.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: British forensic police examine the scene where Labour Party MP Jo Cox was killed in Birstall, United Kingdom on 16 June, 2016 (AA).

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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