In the space of a single week, the biggest mass murder in American history was perpetrated, and we witnessed the first murder of a serving British MP since Ian Gow was killed by an IRA bomb in Eastbourne in 1990.
I was incensed by the attack on the innocent people having a night out at Impulse gay club in Florida. My first reaction was to put some of those thoughts and feelings on paper. The problem is, I’ve done that before, and my feeling of powerlessness only increases with every mass shooting that happens in the USA… And, on average there’s one a day.
As John Oliver so eloquently put it:
A Latin night at a gay club in the theme park capital of the World… the ultimate symbol of what is truly wonderful about America.
I was about ready to blog on Impulse when Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spen was murdered in her constituency. She was shot and stabbed outside the local library where she had held her constituency surgery. She was murdered in broad daylight, and 77 year old Bernard Carter-Kenny, the man who came to her aid remains critically ill in hospital. He was dropping his wife off at the library when he tried to intervene in the attack.
I held fire on writing a blog, partly because I was shocked and upset by the event, and partly because I heard the news during the evening of the day that it happened, and I generally write my blog in the mornings.
The first thing I do every day is check social media. I look at Twitter and Facebook, and track stories from there. The volume of tweets, status posts and media speculation came down on me like an avalanche, and much of it was conflicting.
The same things were being said about Jo Cox’s killer as are often said about the mass shooters we’re used to seeing in America.
Mental illness was widely talked about. Many claimed that Jo Cox’s murder was not politically motivated, and that the murder of an MP should not be used as political capital.
In the USA at the same time, Omar Mateen’s attack on Impulse was widely being reported as Terrorism (and yes, I did intend to use a capital ’T’).
I’m going to digress for a moment to talk terms.
We are used to words like ‘murder’ and ‘mass shooting’, but these are also technical terms, and I think it’s a good idea to make distinctions.
‘Mass shooting’ is generally defined as
the shooting of four or more victims at one location.
When the shooter is white, he is the shooter, when he has a name or a face like Omar Mateen’s he is a terrorist. The distinction is one of fear.
In UK law, ‘murder’ is defined as follows:
The actus reus of murder consists of the unlawful killing of a human being in the Queen's peace. The mens rea of murder is malice aforethought, which has been interpreted by the courts as meaning intention to kill or intention to cause GBH.
So far, so good. I’m going to add another definition:
Assassination is defined as:
Murder (of an important person) for religious or political reasons.
Tommy Mair was arrested for the murder of Jo Cox. Witnesses claim that he shouted racist slogans at the scene, and, in court he refused to give his name, age or address, saying,
My name is death to traitors freedom for Britain.
Tommy Mair has a history of mental health issues. He might also have a history of grotesque political influences. Racist and neo-Nazi material has been found among his possessions. He was an unemployed man who was willing to pay $150 for a book of what is thought to be art by Adolf Hitler. That’s an expensive book for anyone living on benefits. Tommy Mair also owned a gun in the country with the most rigorous gun control laws in the World. It is not clear whether he owned the gun legally; there is speculation that it may be an antique. Either way, Mair has been charged with ‘carrying a blade and having with him a firearm with the intent to commit an indictable offence’, alongside the murder and GBH charges.
We have recently witnessed a huge increase in hate- and fear-mongering in the British Press. It is widely associated with British immigration policies and with the referendum on membership of the EU. If Mair was already fearful, if he was already suffering with mental health issues, if he was already politically inclined to the far right, the Brexit campaign might have created the impetus to push this man over the edge, to turn him into a killer.
Is Tommy Mair an assassin?
In terms of the law, assassination is ill-defined and almost never used in charging killers. Assassination is synonymous with treason, and the British have a long and colourful history when it comes to that particular crime. Killers of religious and political figures are universally charged with murder.
Tommy Mair, regardless of semantics, might be all kinds of victim; he might be a victim of his own mental health problems, of unfortunate influences, of fear and anger and hatred. However, Mair claimed, in court, that his motivation for killing Jo Cox was political. He stated it clearly in response to the court asking his name.
There is political disaffection everywhere. We’ve seen it in the States with the rise of Donald Trump, and in the UK with the rise of UKIP.
We’ve also seen the polarisation of politics with Bernie Sanders’s impressive run for President, and, in the UK with the rise of Jeremy Corbin to leader of the Labour Party.
Omar Mateen may have been a terrorist; he may have killed fifty people and injured fifty more for religious reasons. Perhaps he was a closeted gay man, perhaps he was mentally ill, or perhaps he was aligning himself with fundamentalist Muslims.
Tommy Mair has told us why he killed Jo Cox.
I, for one, am infinitely less afraid of immigrants and of muslims than I am fearful of men like Tommy Mair, by which I don’t mean the mentally unstable.
I am afraid of disempowered white men who espouse extreme right wing politics; they are fundamentalists too, and there appear to be a great many of them. I am afraid of their ignorance and their anger and of the impact that could have on all of our lives.
Political unrest is not necessarily entirely negative, grass roots activism can be a great force for progress. Right now, I doubt that anything is coming from the grass roots. With people like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage, Neil Hamilton and Ian Duncan-Smith in the Brexit camp, it’s easy to see that this political manoeuvre is being orchestrated by the rich and powerful. These are people who want the poor to have less, not more. They want them to have fewer benefits, a privatised NHS and less funding for schools. The disempowered white man is falling for the rhetoric, because he is fearful.
If there is a revolt, and I can’t help thinking there needs to be one, and preferably before the referendum on Thursday, it won’t come from the disempowered working classes, it will come from the Liberal salaried classes, who want more and better for everyone.
Yes, I made this political, and not because I don’t have sympathy for the disillusioned and the disempowered. It is difficult to feel sympathy for Tommy Mair right now, but we must remember that he is among the least of us.
We remain, for what it’s worth, a Judaeo-Christian society, so I’m going to go ahead and quote the bible. I am not among the faithful, this is simply my way of trying to achieve universal understanding. This comes from Matthew 25.
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
Heaven is denied to those who do not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, quench the thirsty, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned.
For those who don’t believe in heaven, this kind of morality, taught in all the major religions, still holds good.
Those same people who are pro-Brexit have not, so far as I can ascertain, espoused this kind of morality. Ian Duncan-Smith cut benefits to the poor, needy and disabled; Michael Gove crippled our schools, and Boris Johnson is on the record as being in favour of privatising the NHS, saying that if people had to pay for it they’d value it more.
I can't help wondering whether Tommy Mair's life might have been very different if he'd had the help he so clearly needed, the help that society could have given him. Education, healthcare and relief from poverty might have influenced Mair as much or more than right wing politicians of the Brexit stripe appear to have done.
Gove, Johnson, Farage and all the others are not the kinds of people I want influencing my decision making process, and they’re absolutely not the kind of people I want running the country.
Let us decide to do for the least of our brothers and sisters that which we might one day need to have done for us.
It might not be biblical, but Do as you would be done by isn’t such a bad approach to life.
|Muslims for Peace in a London rally|
For all those of you who still fear Muslims, there was a rally in London at the weekend run by the Husaini Islamic Trust UK. Thousands of Muslims took to the streets to promote peace and unity, and to denounce terrorism, but their efforts made very little impact on the news media.