We need to look again at identity politics
Horror, despair, rage, confusion: they and other emotions are all understandable reactions to Jo’s killing last week. Brendan Cox’s call for us to unite in challenging hate is one I take extremely seriously. Knowing him, I take these as concrete calls to action. But what action, beyond calling out the more obvious elements of hate in our society?
We have never really escaped the nationalist passions that were manipulated for power and greed through so many wars across the centuries, culminating in the horrors of the Second World War. Many showed courageous leadership in cooperating with former adversaries to overcome the deep-seated divisions, and the vision of a united Europe and the growth of EU institutions were a direct consequence.
It has recently become fashionable to think the European Union has outlived this need. I myself have in the recent past been sceptical of the bureaucracy centred in Brussels, and that peace today in Europe depends upon the union. Surely war in Europe is behind us? But recent events, Jo’s killing being simply the latest, should give us very, very serious pause for reflection on this complacency.
Our European societies are once again descending into bigotry and fear. This referendum campaign has been filled with ad hominem attacks, the issues lost in the fight between personalities. In the name of honest plain-speaking public figures have engaged in dog-whistle politics, speaking to and re-enforcing prejudice and a patchwork of grievances.
But this goes beyond simple xenophobia. Hate reaches across the political spectrum. Its seeds are there within each one of us, rooted in fear and our sense of injustice. In answering Brendan’s call we have to root out that hatred in ourselves as well as calling it out in others. ‘Fighting’ hate with hate will blow back in our faces. We have to look again with clear-eyed honesty at the institutions within our society asking whether the seeds of hate are nurtured unwittingly within. They may be most obvious on social media or within the rags of the irresponsible press, but hate is often concealed behind an intellectual veil. It is most difficult to counter when it is used to combat injustice.
This is a big challenge because the call to confront injustice is both honourable and essential; like Jo herself, we must nurture the passion for change that reduces suffering and achieves greater equity. Members of groups that are persecuted need support and encouragement. The attack in Orlando, a hate crime against the LGBT community, calls us all to unite to protect against that hate and to celebrate love. But when injustice is used as a means to demonise, to entrench grudges, to build a sense of righteousness and superior tribalism or to emphasise and deepen divisions within our society it can become poisonous. This may appear obvious on the surface, but is really challenging to many political movements today. It’s something that we all could reflect upon.
One of the many things that made Jo such a remarkable person was her commitment to champion the marginalised without falling into these traps. She found ways to collaborate cross-party, challenge deeply held convictions in others with strategic sensitivity, and resist the temptation to attack the person rather than the issue. Her politics were of inclusion. She is the embodiment of Brendan’s call to action.
This article represents the views of the author.
Paul Ingram was Chair of Crisis Action (2004-07), appointing Brendan Cox (Jo’s husband) as Director in early 2006 following the untimely death of Guy Hughes who had established the network just two years previously. Brendan brought an extraordinary energy to the post, expanding its operations rapidly, so that now it has a staff of over 30 with a turnover of m and operating in nine countries.
This article was originally published on Huffington Post Politics UK, 21 June 2016: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/paul-ingram/brendans-call-to-challeng_b_10566022.html