Tag Archives: extremism

Death in Birstall

I was going to post something about the pros and cons about the EU, examining the issues and explaining why we’re better off staying. However, after the murder of Jo Cox MP, I want to address the festering undercurrent of xenophobia and right wing nationalism that has had tragic consequences. Whether or not the attacker shouted “Britain First” or has mental health issues is beside the point. Let’s wait until it comes to trial and we find out the full facts before jumping to conclusions in this case.

However, I know the EDL and Britain First have been having demonstrations around Birstall, Batley and Dewsbury for some time but they have largely been either pitied or ignored. I think we’ve got to a stage where their odious beliefs need to be challenged and the mainstream politicians who encouraged them need to think more carefully about what they’re doing. If you play with fire, don’t be surprised if it gets out of control.

Two wrongs do not make a right. One murder does not make another acceptable. Extremist views from one minority group do not need to be matched with extremist views from another. This is not about “them and us”. Regardless of race, religion or other background everyone has the same needs, to be fed, housed, to love and to be loved by others.

Yes, there are valid concerns about things like immigration, the globalization of labour, unfamiliar cultures, and the loss of national status as other countries become more successful. However these will not be addressed by turning the EU into a proxy for these fears, or by persecuting innocent people. Immigrants don’t “take” jobs: employers choose to employ them. Illegal immigration is already illegal. Making it more illegal is a nonsense. Intercepting illegal immigrants at the border shows that we do have border control. Just because millions can work in the UK, through EU or Commonwealth membership for example, doesn’t mean that they will.

The UK has always been a melting pot of different cultures: even the name United Kingdom reflects this. My own ancestry includes German, Irish, Scottish, Roman Catholic and Protestant. A consequence of wanting to be a world player is that people will want to come from all over the world to live and work here. Immigration to take up skilled jobs in public services was encouraged by people like Enoch Powell in the early 60s when he was Health Secretary. One thing that centuries of immigration into the UK shows is that people will integrate into society if given a chance. Let’s not forget the biggest cultural influence around: the mass media. What you buy, what you think, what you believe, or how you use language are all influenced by watch you watch on TV, read in the papers, or online. This has a far greater effect than a family down the road worshipping at a mosque or a synagogue instead of a C of E church. The media tends to concentrate on the more outrageous stories but it doesn’t mean that what’s being reported happens all the time.

It matters not that there are some who dislike “our” way of life. Always have been, always will be, but hating them back is not the answer. They want you to hate them. If you can’t ignore them you can isolate them. Make it clear that their hatred is not welcome. Talk to people with different cultures. Find out why they have those beliefs. Aim for mutual understanding even if you disagree. If you want them to integrate into British society, help them into it. Share a joke, ask how their family is doing, have a moan about the weather. It’s sometimes said that it’s best to talk to your neighbours before you need to talk to your neighbours. Even more so if they’re newly arrived and don’t know anyone. A friendly hello can help to avoid a lot of problems down the line.

The Brexit debate was supposed to be about whether or not to remain in the EU. Traditionally this is a very dry and boring subject. With all that’s been going on I think we need to take a few steps back and think about what sort of country we’re becoming. This isn’t just about the tragic events in Birstall. A society where everyone is suspicious of each other is dangerous. It takes time to unwind years of wariness so for now let’s ignore the extremists, whether from the EDL, Britain First, or whatever outfit Anjem Choudary is running these days, and try for just a bit of understanding and a bit of tolerance. That’s the type of country I want to live in.

10 Years On…

7th July 2005. I was at work when I heard the news. A “power surge” on a Tube train is not implausible, but my heart sank when I heard about the explosion on the bus because you don’t get power surges on those. One of the people on it was Giles Hart. I didn’t know him personally but he also worked for BT. He was also a Humanist, and chairman and treasurer of the Polish Solidarity Campaign during the 80s. A couple of weeks later I was travelling in to work when I noticed a whole block of Hyde Park (Leeds version) had been cordoned off and a police helicopter was overhead. This turned out to be part of the investigation and they were searching the flat where the bombs were made. It was only a couple of miles from where I lived at the time so there’s a real possibility I could have gone past the place or even seen the bombers on the street.

There’s always been an undercurrent of people wanting to spread fear and hatred of other cultures. I noticed it with posters around campus for one of Anjem Choudary’s groups when I went to university in 1997, as well as with whatever AQI, ISIL, ISIS or IS are calling themselves these days. However I’ve also noticed it with groups like the BNP, EDL, Britain First and some of the fringes of UKIP. What all these groups have in common is wanting to make people suspicious of each other. Some do it through a constant stream of lies and untruths posted to social media, some are more murderous, like the 7/7 bombers or David Copeland (the Soho nail bomber). I don’t agree with the argument that a particular religion is inherently violent because its holy book says that unbelievers should be put to death. Even though the book says it should be done, billions ignore it, and rightly so. Holy books also say that the murder of innocents is forbidden, that only God can judge, and people should respect each other. I’m not religious but that’s more the sort of thing that I can agree with.

What the hate groups would like is either ghettos where people stay with their own kind, or a homogenized monoculture that never actually existed and where diversity is anathema. I don’t want to live in either of these twisted versions of society. As well as Giles Hart, other people killed in the Tavistock Square bus bombing came from all walks of life. A lot of them were on that bus because the Tube was closed and the sheer range of backgrounds reflects the type of country we actually have. As far as I’m concerned the best way to deal with the extremists (on the extreme Right as well as Islamists) is to challenge their poisonous vitriol, reject the dystopia that they want to create, and to understand and respect the views of people that you might not necessarily agree with.

(also posted to Facebook)