Monday 26 September 2016

The media's nasty little blind spot when it comes to far-right terrorists

Published 21/06/2016 | 02:30

'After all, Jo Cox stood for everything fascists hate. A former charity and anti-slavery worker, she used her maiden speech in the House of Commons to praise the diversity of her constituency and railed against the 'shameful refusal' of the UK to admit 3,000 unaccompanied Syrian refugee children' Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire
'After all, Jo Cox stood for everything fascists hate. A former charity and anti-slavery worker, she used her maiden speech in the House of Commons to praise the diversity of her constituency and railed against the 'shameful refusal' of the UK to admit 3,000 unaccompanied Syrian refugee children' Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Judging from the media coverage of Labour MP Jo Cox's murder, terrorism is now a word that is confined to describing violence committed by brown-skinned Muslims.

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The true motivation driving the alleged killer of Jo Cox will not become apparent for some time, but early reports indicate that a twisted far-right political ideology may be significant.

Thomas Mair, who has been charged in connection with her death, allegedly screamed "Britain First", the name of a right-wing anti-immigrant political party, as he carried out his frenzied attack.

Currently on the Britain First website, the main story is a video clip of deputy leader Jayda Fransen harassing homeless migrants living in a tent in the Midlands, demanding to know where they come from.

If migrants were really coming to the UK to cynically take advantage of its benefits system, as Britain First claims, one would have thought those destitute Latvian people would have better accommodation.

Elsewhere on its website, in a section aimed at countering allegations that the party is racist, it states that "we do not recognise the validity of this made-up word" because it was coined by "communist mass murderer Leon Trotsky to silence European opposition to multi-culturalism".

Actually, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of the term was by American Richard Henry Pratt in 1902 when he criticised racial segregation - but the error is hardly the most egregious lie that Britain First peddles.

While Britain First has categorically denied any connection with Mair, police reportedly found Nazi memorabilia when they searched his home and links to a fascist group in the US have also been unearthed.

Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Centre published receipts that appeared to show that Mair had bought fascist literature from the National Alliance, a white nationalist and anti-Semitic group. Included among the purchases was 'Ich Kämpfe', a booklet issued to new members of the Nazi party in 1943 extolling the success of their movement.

Despite mounting evidence that Mair is a supporter of an extremist political ideology, press coverage instead focused on his mental health, describing him variously as a "loner with mental health issues" who was "quiet, polite and reserved".

Contrast this with coverage of the Orlando massacre, which disproportionately focused on Omar Mateen's self-confessed allegiance to Isil, a connection the CIA has stated it has been unable to find any evidence for, and downplayed the fact that his ex-wife stated he had mental health issues and was "obviously deeply disturbed".

Strangely, given Irish politicians' eagerness to describe anti-water charge protesters as "fascist", that word has been entirely absent from the discussion of Jo Cox's murder in this country, which has instead focused on the abusive comments politicians are subjected to on social media.

While abusive trolls are certainly a problem for anyone with a public profile, suggestions that this was the predominant issue in Jo Cox's murder appear to entirely discount the fact that this could have been a textbook terrorist incident - a violent attack carried out for a political purpose.

After all, Jo Cox stood for everything fascists hate. A former charity and anti-slavery worker, she used her maiden speech in the House of Commons to praise the diversity of her constituency and railed against the "shameful refusal" of the UK to admit 3,000 unaccompanied Syrian refugee children.

"These children have been exposed to things no child should ever witness and I know I personally would risk life and limb to get my two precious babies out of that hell hole," she said during a parliamentary debate in April.

While politicians from all backgrounds are praising Jo Cox's humanitarianism now, her attempt to help those child refugees was ultimately unsuccessful after a majority of MPs voted against a measure that would have seen the UK offer them assistance.

Perhaps the problem is that people have become so inured to inflammatory hate speech from right-wing politicians that they no longer recognise racist and fascist rhetoric for what it is.

For years, politicians such as Ukip leader Nigel Farage have stoked fear and resentment against migrants, depicting them as vermin swarming to the UK, stealing jobs and benefits. This kind of dehumanising language has reached a crescendo in the Brexit campaign, in which dog-whistle racism has been replaced by loudhailer bigotry.

This toxic debate reached a nadir hours before Jo Cox was cut down, when Farage unveiled his disgusting 'breaking point' poster - which attempted to suggest an army of brown-skinned refugees would invade the UK if it remained in the EU.

Unlikeable as he is, politicians like Farage don't exist in a vacuum and his xenophobia has been aided and abetted by a right-wing press that refuses to call out his lies and is more concerned with demonising migrants than publishing accurate stories.

Last week, the 'Daily Mail' had to print a correction after it published a front-page story claiming a group of migrants who had stowed away in the back of a van had stated, "We are from Europe - let us in."

"As politicians squabble over border controls, yet another lorry load of migrants arriving in the UK declaring ... We're from Europe - let us in!" screamed the front-page banner headline.

In fact, video footage of the incident definitively revealed the people in the van said they were from Iraq and Kuwait.

The 'Daily Express', was yesterday forced to concede one of its more outlandish claims - that 12 million Turkish people were preparing to move to the UK - was without foundation.

The murder of Jo Cox may be a terrorist attack or it may be the violent act of a mentally unwell individual. The only thing we can know for certain is that the whipping up of hatred against minorities by politicians and the media rationalises racism and normalises bigotry.

Irish Independent

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