After the death of Jo Cox: racist rhetoric has deadly consequences

Jo cox tribute

A tribute to murdered MP Jo Cox

​Robina Qureshi from Positive Action In Housing says that both politicians and the media have created a toxic environment - and most be held responsible for the hatred they incite

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20th June 2016 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

In the run up to the EU referendum I have never seen, read or heard so much unbridled prejudice, anti Muslim hatred, and xenophobia expressed by mainstream politicians and the media.

Of course, the dehumanising of "them" has been going on for years, drip fed to us 24/7 courtesy of online news and debate. 

But the volume of the hatred and bile has multiplied in the last few weeks. There has been no restraint or sense of fear that their words could be a criminal offence or incite hatred, violence or even a murder. 

The new received wisdom is that people should be able to express anti immigrant views freely without being accused of racism.

Politicians and the media need to be held responsible for the hatred they incite

Remember the Labour MP Pat Glass who last month caved in to media pressure and apologised (she shouldn't have) for calling one of her constituents "a horrible racist" (he arguably was) when he referred to his Polish immigrant neighbours as "spongers".

The Breaking Point billboard unveiled by Nigel Farage - with images of refugees queuing up to enter Europe - marked a new low, even for him, and is unadulterated incitement to hate anyone who is not considered white British.

Forget the fact that 5.5 million British people are effectively immigrants in other people's countries in Europe. These messages legitimise racism to ignorant, prejudiced minds and those who have never met a refugee/immigrant/Muslim yet think they know about "us" (we just merge into one faceless, brown, foreign, non-white, non-British “other").

In this charity, we see almost daily the consequences of mainstream politicians' dehumanising rhetoric about "them". Racially aggravated crime is the most prevalent of all hate crime reported in Scotland. Racist incidents have increased (again). Anti Muslim hate crime has doubled. When you have the prime minister of this country talking about "swarms" of refugees and "a bunch of migrants" it is to be expected.

The dog whistle politics filters down to street level, and shows up in increased racist and anti Muslim hate crime. At local government level, it shows up in vocalised prejudice by those with some degree of power over refugee or immigrants' lives when they try to access jobs, education, or housing. 

Jo Cox MP was an ardent campaigner for Syria's refugees, calling for Britain to do more for unaccompanied child refugees. She believed in diverse, multiracial communities and showed it.

The man suspected of her murder is said to have repeatedly shouted "Britain First" (a far right group connected to the BNP). He also had a history of mental illness and was arguably susceptible to the 24/7 hate rhetoric engulfing this country. Rhetoric does have consequences. 

As Alex Massie wrote in The Spectator: "Politicians are responsible for the manner in which they have pressed their argument. When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. "

In the toxic hate filled atmosphere of the EU referendum campaign, I don't believe the murder of a pro refugee MP was a mere coincidence.

I hope the tide begins to turn and society shows its revulsion to racist hate crime whether it's racist thugs targeting the only ethnic minority family in their community until they end up leaving; or a prejudiced caseworker in a Glasgow social work department treating a homeless refugee family in a derogatory way; or a suited and booted politician spouting blatant lies about immigration to drum up votes for his or her own political agenda.

Our politicians and the media need to address the manner in which they "press their argument". They need to be held legally responsible for the hatred they incite. There needs to be prosecutions of those who foment hatred and division in our communities.

Robina Qureshi is director of Positive Action in Housing.