As the public begins to come to terms with the heinous murder of Jo Cox by a far-right extremist proclaiming ‘Britain First’ or ‘Put Britain First’, there seem to be a number of pertinent points to reflect upon. David Cameron described it as an ‘attack on our democracy.’ In that regard he is absolutely right; our parliamentary representatives are freely accessible to us. We are able to visit weekly surgeries to raise concerns and hold MPs to account; a privilege that few around the world enjoy. To have this free access diminished as a result of this attack would be an extremely unfortunate consequence.
The response of the media has been predictable: marking this crime as the act of a pitiable unstable man rather than a politically motivated and callous attack on a public servant faithfully carrying out her duties marks the disparity with which such crimes are treated, dependent on the colour or faith of the perpetrator. For all the talk of racism and xenophobia marking the referendum battle, the media once again offers us a performance in racial inequality; colour of skin is a distinctive marker in how we view criminality. It reflects the perpetuated notion in movies with a political theme. The white villain is often portrayed with a warped sense of patriotism that is highly dangerous yet instigates sympathy, yet all other baddies are wholly nefarious and irrationally intent on destruction.
As for the terming of this coldhearted crime as terrorism, it is argued by many that there is no need. It is simply a form of criminality that deserves the full weight of the law. However the same application must be afforded to all others who commit similar barbarities. Failing to acknowledge Mair’s undertaking for what it truly is, a politically motivated crime, does little in helping the nation move past the culture of hate and hostility that many media outlets have been eager in fostering. In light of this, it would be a useful exercise to compare and contrast this act of far-right radicalism with acts of violence undertaken in the name of religion. First the obvious points: Tommy Mair was a loner and mentally unstable, just like a number of Muslims who commit acts of political violence or demonstrate a proclivity for violent ideologies.
Mair had a long history of being aligned to far right groups (he was recently pictured at a Britain First rally) and acquired material on making explosives and weaponry. In light of this, we must ask: why he was not on the radar of the security services and how is it that Britain First remain uninhibited to target peaceful communities, politicians, and conduct militant training camps in Wales? Borrowing from the way in which the securitisation approach adopted by the current government has dealt with extremism, we should initiate the conversation very simply by exploring how this individual was radicalised. To apply the ‘conveyor belt theory’ celebrated by so-called extremism authorities such as the Quilliam Foundation and indeed members of the Cabinet itself, would it not consist to simply conclude that those on the right have similar potential to undertake such a crime?
How about the link between non-violent and violent extremists? If we appropriately label Mair as a violent extremist, who might we identify as falling into the category of non-violent extremism? Might we identify the likes of Nigel Farage and his band of ‘Kippers’ who share many of the sentiments of Mair and Britain First? Or how about media personalities such as Katie Hopkins, Douglas Murray or Melanie Phillips who are afforded free reign to whip up fear and sow the seeds of hatred and division? What of members of the cabinet who have made sweeping statements demonising immigrants or portraying the entire British Muslim populace as an insidious group of citizens acting as a fifth column seeking to destroy the country, and with it ‘our way of life’?
Taking the current counter-extremism policy into account, once we’ve identified who these right-wing non-violent extremists are, might we issue banning orders and label them advocates of hate and entryists, those who stand against ‘British values’? The surprise with which many in British society will counter such propositions should equally induce an aversion to the same policies that only target Muslims.
For the ‘Muslim’ discourse, there are simply points for reflection that might offer some insight into considerations when framing lines of argument to express political grievances. In the context of religious extremism there has (previously) been the assertion that foreign policy grievances lead to radicalisation and thus the (illegitimate) actions of such violent extremists might be overcome by a drastic change in British foreign policy. Granted, our foreign policy has indeed been problematic and at times highly immoral (take the case of the Libyan dissident AbdelHakim Belhadj, not to mention the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq). But if we are to suggest that the government needs to re-examine its foreign policy in order to prevent radicalisation, then such logic necessitates that the government must also re-examine immigration policy and racial equality in order to prevent those on the right being radicalised.
We might also reflect on the way we respond to the intimidation and fear –mongering that current counter-extremism approaches engender. Fuelling that fear with an approach that unrelentingly focuses on negative exchanges experienced by Muslims can create the same type of hostility and despair we see in the likes of Tommy Mair. Far from helping to ease anxieties and creating opportunities to change the status quo it could well function to catalyse a self-fulfilling prophecy that provokes unwarranted or irrational responses. If we are to be the ‘best of people’ who enjoin in good, prevent what is bad and believe in the Most High (Quran 3:10) then we must meet the conditions of being a sensible, tempered and highly civil band of believers. Our way forward is divinely articulated,
“Be tolerant and command what is right: pay no attention to foolish people. If satan should prompt you to do something, seek refuge with God – He is all hearing, all knowing. Those who are aware of God think of Him when satan prompts them to do something and immediately they can see straight. The followers of devils are led relentlessly into error by them and cannot stop.” (Quran 7:199-201)
What has become abundantly clear is that current strategies are failing in the fight against radicalisation. In fact, much of the discourse around the subject has advertently reinforced stereotypes and bolstered antagonism against minorities. Most discussions have centered around rhetoric and sloganeering, with very little substance. Experts in the field are largely ignored, and those voices that acquiesce to right-wing inspired populist sentiment are championed or given credence. When we begin to apply some of the concepts coined to explain violent religious extremism and the erroneous strategies to deal with it to the far right, it becomes apparent how ludicrous many are. We must therefore study extremism holistically and without bias towards any section of society, in a much more nuanced manner and with a fresh approach, since continuing with the status quo will not only result in further tragedies but prove to be the catalyst for what might become an overwhelming state of affairs provoked by hate and fear.