The murderer of Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen, has been jailed for life for “planned and pre-meditated murder” in the run-up to the EU referendum. This vile murder epitomizes the toxic ultra-nationalist far right sentiments that have been on the rise in recent years. Muslims and immigrant communities have been the target of this hatred for quite some time now but we as a society do not seem to be taking the threat of the far right seriously.
I knew Jo Cox to be a wonderful, dynamic, caring and fearless campaigner. She had travelled the world for her dedicated aid work and seen the suffering of vulnerable communities in numerous countries. She championed the cause of those who were vulnerable and disenfranchised; she stood for compassion, dignity and human rights. My last meeting with Jo was at Carlton Junior and Infant School in Dewsbury, where we took a school assembly. I can still vividly remember how passionately Jo spoke to the children about love, respect, and tolerance. At a very young age, she wanted to instil in the hearts of those primary school children and their parents that ‘We Are Far More United Than The Things That Divide Us’. Little did I know that that would be my last meeting with her and that politics of hatred and division would take away her life.
Her murderer, Thomas Mair, had covered his council house in Nazi regalia. Police found a stash of far right books, including “March of the Titans: The Complete History of the White Race” and a book on the “Politics of the Holocaust“. He had watched videos about shooting and had material in his house on how to make a pistol. He had attended far right rallies. Whilst committing terror on our streets – shooting, stabbing and kicking an individual who represented the people of this country, Mair was heard shouting “This is for Britain”, “keep Britain independent”, and “Britain first”.
Despite ample evidence of him being “radicalised” by a hardcore, violent ideology, parts of the media have shown their bias when reporting about this guilty verdict, or better still have tried to justify his brutal actions. They have called Mair a lone wolf, mentally ill etc. but shied away from using the ‘T- ” word. We must call the cold-blooded murderer what he is – a “home-grown” terrorist, a white fascist who was radicalised by the neo-Nazi far right-wing ideology. Imagine if a vile lunatic had called “Allah-u-Akbar” at the time of committing terror and brutally murdering a sitting MP on the streets of Britain, if Isis flags had been found in Mair’s flat instead of Nazi paraphernalia, if “Islam for Dummies” had been found on his book-shelf; how would parts of the media and some politicians have reacted? Would the whole of the Muslim community have been treated, and suspected, of knowing the murderer but not stopping him?
On the other hand, why have we allowed violent far right movements to become emboldened and to strengthen? Why have we allowed their hate to grow? Whatever the benchmark, there is a need for level playing-field. Britain has been home to fascist groups for decades, and we need to recognise the threat that they pose to our values and our society, and challenge them robustly and indiscriminately under the law. There have been at least 48 other far-right activists/supporters who have been convicted of terrorism/terror-related/murder/extreme-violent acts in England and Wales during the last 16 years, according to Hope not Hate.
Far-right extremism is much more than a political irritant. Jo Cox’s murder was followed by 50,000 tweets celebrating her death. Thomas Mair was lauded as a “hero” or “patriot” in the month following her death. There is a need to fully recognise far right extremist ideology, and challenge it socially and legally. This is not the first time that an individual who has far right extremist tendencies has murdered an innocent person in our country. A neo-Nazi terrorist murdered Mohammed Saleem in 2013 in Birmingham, and in 2015 Mohsin Khan was attacked in Rotherham, which resulted in his death. These neo-Nazi extremists have attacked mosques around the country and have even planted bombs in mosques. Thomas Mair belongs to a horrific tradition of the murderous far-Right that includes Timothy McVeigh and Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people in twin attacks in Norway in July 2011. From policy-makers to media, we as a country have focused too heavily on only one form of extremism. Extremism does not have a faith or colour, it is simply toxic and causes violence indiscriminately.
ISIS and Nazi ideology may be completely different, but their method of radicalisation is the same: recruiting vulnerable individuals, with personal grievances online and radicalising them to such a degree that they will commit acts of terror at home and abroad. Unless we treat all acts of terrorism and extremism, hatred and bigotry – on both sides – in the same way and strive for a culture of respect for all, we will not be making our streets any safer. Far-right extremists are able to make threats of violence and incite hatred without any repercussions for them, which would not be tolerated if made by any other group or community. For example, Britain First’s policies openly declare that there should be a complete ban on Islam, and that people “of foreign descent” should be paid to leave the country permanently. Ideas such as these, which run totally contrary to British values, are left unchallenged to strengthen and flourish. They fuel anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments. A cherry-pick approach will not eliminate extremism and intolerance from our society; it will continue to reinforce the “them-v-us” narrative, breed hatred, and radicalise extremists on both sides.
Post Brexit and in the Trump era, it is more important than ever that the authorities take steps to tackle the growing threat of Britain’s far-right movement and dismantle their networks. There are already reports that the Far-right extremists in Germany are joining forces with like-minded groups across Europe and even the United States as they prepare to carry out more attacks on our streets.
Imam Qari Muhammad Asim
Senior Imam – Makkah Mosque, Leeds