The reaction to the murder of Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen has produced a set of reactions in this country – the vast majority of them the shock and sadness anyone would feel at the murder of a young mother who was doing her day job as an MP, and who left home that morning and would never return; hearts – and prayers – go out to her children and her husband. By all accounts, the murder was a brutal one, with this tiny woman being shot, stabbed and kicked. She had been the subject of abusive emails and mails for months, to such an extent that the police were looking into her safety. This seems not to have been from the man who murdered her.
It is a mark of the toxic political climate we live in that on both sides of politics, people tried to make capital out of it. That the murderer is said to have shouted ‘Britain first’ or ‘put Britain first’, has prompted some on the Left to call for action to be taken against Right-wing groups which, in turn, has prompted some of the Right to point out that the Left do not say this when the murderer is a Muslim. The teacher in me wants to step in and tell the children to stop quarrelling, acknowledge a personal tragedy, and have the decency to shut up and let those who knew her grieve. However, Alex Massie in the Spectator has a piece which, whilst it has been edited since being published on line, makes a broader point:
Look. When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’
And he adds, tellingly:
Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. 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. And then something terrible is going to happen
I would go further. Rhetoric is meant to have consequences – that is its purpose, that is why it is used at all. We see this same toxic rhetoric of betrayal used in the sphere of religion too – anyone who reads certain blogs where the Pope is called ‘Bergoglio’ will have some idea of the form this rhetoric takes, excusing itself by saying that what its exponents believe is true and urgent and justifies the language and tone; so say all rabble-rousers. Contemptuous rhetoric can easily lead to contempt in action.
Pope St John Paul II described ‘solidarity’ with others as not a ‘feel of vague compassion or shallow distress’, but rather a ‘firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to see to the good of each and every individual, because we are all really responsible for all’. Jo Cox showed that sort of solidarity, first at Oxfam, and then, as an MP, as a prominent campaigner for more help to be given to Syrian refugees. I have no idea whether she was a Christian, but she lived by St John Paul’s definition of solidarity. She was, by all account, an excellent constituency MP, engaging closely with the community into which she was born. As the picture above shows, it is a multi-cultural one, enriched by immigration.
Yet immigration has become one of the most toxic issues in a poisonous referendum campaign, with the UKIP side of the argument majoring on it as a danger. Public opinion polls show that people believe that there are about 10.5 million immigrants in this country, when the true figure is nearer 3.5 million. Almost everything the public believes about the EU is actually incorrect, but we appear to live in an age where facts are negotiable and experts irrelevant – it is my opinion which counts, and therefore if you contest it, you are insulting me. We are in danger of losing the art of political discourse – indeed looking at the USA, we may actually already have lost it.
When the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Ruth Davidson tweeted:
I’ll be holding my partner a little bit closer tonight. Hug your loved ones hard. Call your family. Be kind to one another. Xx
The reaction of one person was to tweet ‘dike’. Rather than point out he couldn’t even spell his insult (if you must, ‘dyke’ is the spelling he was after) Ruth wrote:
not tonight, mate. I don’t have it in me to deal with your hate. Just walk on by.
That, I think, is how most of us feel about this toxic political and religious rhetoric. Enough is enough. If you are convinced, despite the evidence, that the country is being ‘swamped’ by immigrants, or if you ‘know’ the Pope is a freemason determined to destroy the Catholic Church, then I suppose you are beyond listening to the evidence – you probably think it is all tainted. I can only pray for you.
We can agree, I hope, with the brave message issued by her husband:
She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.
For Christians, God is love, and so yes, in the end, we know ‘love wins’.