The moment it was first reported that the killer of the British MP Jo Cox had allegedly shouted ‘Britain first!’ or ‘Put Britain first!’ the die was cast. This tragic incident was immediately politicized and used to make wider points. There was an unseemly rush to judgement by people on social media who seemed to care more about pushing their agenda than in the fate of the victim. Point scoring about Brexit, Islam, and the extreme right were almost instantaneous. The grubby side of some users of social media, particularly Twitter, were on display in a seminal example of the increasing lack of respect in the digital world.
If it is proven the words were said, and if it is proven that the attacker has links with the extreme right wing, then the situation is political, and the wider points are germane.
If they are not, but the other suggestion, that mental illness played a role is proven, then they are not.
If mental illness is found to have played a role but also that the perpetrator was influenced by extreme right wing propaganda, then we are back to the scenario of this indeed being connected to wider issues of politics. However, the point will remain – there was a rush to use a murder to support a political view.
The ‘mainstream media’ or ‘MSM’ as armchair warriors call it, was rightly cautious about sprinting down the inflammatory road of calling it a political assassination before the facts were in. Because the ‘MSM’ is damned either way, some on social media believe this to be a conspiracy, or cowardice.
In fact, the broadcasters, and most ‘print’ media handled a sensitive story about the brutal death of a magnificently admirable women with maturity.
They reported the testimony of eye witnesses, but, as experience has long taught that this is not always reliable, and sometimes contradictory, they did not draw hard conclusions. They were quick to spot the potential arguments some people might make, such as linking the attack to the EU debate. However, as no-one with any authority, who knew anything concrete about the event, had said that this was the case, or not, wisely did not pronounce on the veracity of the opinions. However, many on social media, were already pronouncing, and with a disturbing degree of conviction.
More than 24 hours on, with more evidence emerging, it is now looking more reasonable to examine the possibility that this was an act of terrorism linked to far right extremism.
And so to the religious elephant in the room; Some of the numerous ‘lone wolf’ terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islamism are perpetrated by mentally ill people. This does not divorce the attack from the ideology but does put it into context. That the mentally ill person was influenced by the views of Islamists requires looking at those views, how they were propagated, and by whom.
So it is in this case. If the murderer is found to be mentally ill, and, for example, a white supremacist, how he came to those views, who he associated with, and how the views are spread needs to be looked at.
The authorities, media, and public all need to be aware of where the extremist ideology and narratives come from, and help expose the degree to which they help create the atmosphere in which the mentally ill, and others, are susceptible to them. That applies across the board.
The husband of Mrs Cox, Brendan, appeared to hint at this shortly after his wife died when he said “Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.”
He was, and always will be closer to the event than any of us. He may well have by then been told certain information by the police which led to those words. We however, had not, and the cheap, immediate, politicizing of the tragedy on social media was also – poisonous.
Remainers point to the Leave campaign’s dog whistle politics. Leavers now argue that Remainers are politicising the issue to score cheap points. Some people argued that there was a reluctance to call the attack terrorism. All sides have valid arguments but minutes after the confirmation of the death of Jo Cox was not the time to make them.