By Mahmoud Zidan
Perhaps the assassination of Jo Cox, the British MP, outside a library is symbolic after all. The purpose of Cox’s racist murderer, Thomas Mair, killing her after a session with her constituents cannot be missed: he aimed to silence her voice and what it represents.
Nevertheless, her voice is now heard all over the world, and her death ironically speaks volumes and acts as an open book that contains two major lessons that we, as human beings, should learn or be inspired by: how to remember and be sensitive to the “Other”, and how to write better journalism in times of crisis.
The first lesson manifests itself in her constant care and tireless work for humanity at large. She was a member of Oxfam, during which experience her colleagues noticed her humane disposition. After leaving Oxfam, she engaged in politics and eventually became a member of the British Parliament, continuing her support for marginalized and oppressed groups such as migrants and refugees, without thinking of them as merely vulnerable individuals. Indeed, she highlighted the advantageous impact of their presence in their “adopted homelands,” not least among which is much-needed diversity.
However, her stance did not stem from pragmatism but rather from a moral point of view, as she strongly believed that no human being should be exposed to homelessness and indignity. As a result, she persevered in the face of a toxic atmosphere opposed to refugees and migrants, especially those from the Middle East. This was evident in, for instance, the English fans who made fun of Syrian refugee children in France or the “Breaking Point” poster launched by the leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, based on a similar Nazi propaganda poster against Jews during WWII.
Populist antagonism to Cox’s position, even in the form of threats, did not intimidate her. She stood up for Syrian refugees. The lawmaker, an apt epithet, rightly stated that “Syria is our generation’s test,” “our moral compass.” For she believed that, to use the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Cox used that same compass when it came to the injustices inflicted on Palestinians. In particular, she was active in the Labor Friends of Palestine, protesting against the blockade of Gaza and the arrest of Palestinian children. She further opposed the British government’s intention to render illegal the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel. Addressing her constituents and asking for their input, she asserted, “It is our right to boycott unethical companies.”
Supporting “the wretched of the earth” was key to her sense of justice, and she did not hesitate to take the initiative. She was driven by deeply-held principles such as: “[S]ometimes all it takes for evil to triumph is for good [wo/]men to do nothing.” She did something, or rather everything that she could, and the price was her life. But that sacrifice has not been in vain, as her humanitarian outlook set a stellar example for all of us in standing up for one another. In addition, her assassination has made us all think more clearly and carefully.
That clearer and more careful thinking led to better journalism, which is the second inspirational lesson learned from Cox’s death. Unlike the media coverage of the Orlando massacre, the response of the media was far more circumspect and calculated. Most newspapers, news channels, and news websites refrained from calling the assassination “an act of hate and terror.” In the immediate aftermath of the murder, journalists kept using, in reference to the killer, such phrases or words as “lone gunman” and “suspect.” Meanwhile, they avoided using the phrase “white supremacy” and making any link between Mair’s crime and the KKK or neo-Nazi groups.
A minority focused on the perpetrator’s alleged connection with a far-right Islamophobic group, Britain First, which provided its members with “knife defense” training, according to Richard Seymour. It was suggested that his attack was inspired by the vitriolic atmosphere unleashed by Brexit campaigners such as Farage with his well-known anti-immigrant and racist positions, but very little was mentioned about any anti-Other sentiments prevalent in the West nowadays. When Mair identified himself by the slogan, “death to traitors, freedom for Britain” in court, very few raised their eyebrows.
Most news sources claimed that the investigation was at an early stage, probably echoing the words of the Acting Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, who stated, “[W]e are not in a position to discuss a motive at this time.” Everybody, including The Sun, was careful not to rush to judgment. Nobody called Mair a terrorist, and very few called him a racist.
On one hand, what I just mentioned could be a veiled criticism of biased Western media, and it is. On the other hand, a more generous reading would suggest that media representation was inspired by the legacy of Jo Cox: We should all be careful when it comes to judging others.
In no way am I trying to romanticize Jo Cox, of whom two weeks ago I was unaware. She was only human, but an inspirational one at that, leading me to write this piece. Her death has made me feel compelled to bear witness to and try to learn from her legacy, and to invite readers and myself not to pass up that opportunity.
– Professor Mahmoud Zidan lives in Jordan. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.