Tag Archives: terrorism

Yes, right-wing extremism killed Jo Cox

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Image: Flickr.com/ Garry Knight

This has been our septimana horribilis. On Sunday, we paused to mourn 49 victims of homophobic, Islamist terrorism in Orlando. As I attempted to work through my grief and put the hate in context, never did I imagine I would end the week doing the exact same thing for another brutal attack on freedom and democracy.

Yet here we are. “Oh God, no,” were my exact words when news broke that Jo Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, died following an attack by a far-right terrorist whom eyewitnesses claim shouted “Britain First!” Since then, people from across the political spectrum have eulogised Jo for the stalwart humanitarian and outstanding parliamentarian she was, and could have been.

It was hate that took 49 lives in Orlando, and it was hate that killed Jo. In the immediacy after her attack, many on the British right cautioned us not to jump to conclusions. “We don’t know why he did it,” they said, “nothing has been determined.” A man shooting a left-wing politician while shouting a far-right slogan could be purely coincidental and not at all political, they insisted, instead focusing on the alleged gunman’s mental health.

They can’t do that anymore. Yesterday in court, the suspect himself made that painfully clear. He gave his name as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain.” Whelp.

After the murder of fusilier Lee Rigby, the right-wing press, and indeed many on the British right, were quick to condemn it for what it was: an Islamist terrorist attack. The murderers made no secret of their motives, even on the witness stand. Rigby was killed by two men, at least one of whom had a long, documented history of mental illness. Coverage rarely, if ever, focused on that. Instead, “moderate Muslims” were called on to condemn the attack and to do more to root out the scourge of radicalism from their communities.

Now, in circumstances that eerily mirror Rigby’s murder, the British right finds itself in an incredible act of political contortion, trying to avoid the same treatment it gave Muslims three years ago. The fact is, the British right, particularly the Brexiters, do have something to answer for here. And it needs to be said.

No one who observes British politics, whether from within the Westminster bubble or from across the Atlantic, can sincerely say that the EU referendum hasn’t brought out the worst in people and politicians. The Brexit campaign has, from the start, been framed as a fight for the very survival of the British nation and people. “Take our country back!” they exclaim, lamenting the “swarms of migrants” coming over from Europe and beyond. To be pro-Brexit has been equated to being pro-British, and to be pro-Europe is unpatriotic.

As someone who has remained neutral in this campaign (though did argue an American and socialist case for Brexit on Radio 5), I have been appalled at the dog-whistle politics and even overt racism that has come from the Leave camp. From Farage’s “BREAKING POINT!” poster to Boris Johnson’s racist comments about Barack Obama, the Leave campaign has used white nationalist imagery and coded language throughout. Indeed, Boris’ comments about America’s “part-Kenyan” president echo those used by racists such as Donald Trump to insist Obama’s ancestry makes him un-American. Unsurprising, really, given that so many of the Brexiters feel that people with ties to foreign lands aren’t proper Brits. Not really.

This talk of losing control of the nation, of losing sovereignty, of losing national identity and security and border control, has been as jingoistic as it has been fascistic. It is a climate in which to be anything but a strident Leaver has been to be a traitor to Queen and Country. None of us exist in a bubble. You can only scare people for so long before some rogue agent takes matters into his own hands.  The tone and tenor of this campaign has led to a vitriol previously unimaginable. I’ve written about British politics since 2009. I’ve seen more racism, more xenophobia, and more bigotry in the past seven weeks than in the past seven years combined.  The hatefulness of the far right has hit a boiling point, and it was inevitable that someone would boil over the pot and into gunfire.

The right needs to own this. The Leave campaign needs to own it. No, not everyone on who is for Brexit is a bigot. Just as there is a difference between Islamism and Islam, or Judaism and Zionism, there is a difference between Brexit and bigotry. I have many people I love dearly who sincerely believe Britain will be better off outside the EU. But the Leave campaign has not only tolerated, but embraced, this nationalistic fervour in both the cynical hope that the public will be scared enough to vote Out, and in some more nefarious instances in the sincere belief that actually, immigrants are the devil.

Some of my right-wing friends have claimed Jo Cox’s assassination is being tastelessly exploited for political gain. This is simply not true. Pointing out the political nature of the attack is not political point scoring. Correctly stating facts is not propaganda. Jo Cox was killed because she is—was—a left-wing, pro-Europe internationalist. She was killed by a far-right, anti-immigrant nationalist. These two things are not mutually exclusive. They are intrinsically and inextricably connected.

This isn’t to let my fellow leftists off the hook, either. For years we have sneered at white working class concerns, particularly over immigration. From Gordon Brown’s “bigoted woman” to true-but-tired memes castigating rural communities and small towns with few immigrants for being anti-immigrant, we’ve ceded the discourse to Nigel Farage and the far-right. If the traditional home of the working class is no longer hospitable, of course they’re going to look somewhere else.

If we dismiss their concerns as pure ignorance instead of acknowledging them and explaining an alternative view—that it’s not immigrants what done it, but years of austerity and globalisation bolstered by unmitigated free trade and lack of economic redevelopment—then it only makes sense that they would look elsewhere. It is not necessarily bigoted to be concerned over immigration, but if we don’t say that, it’s no wonder that those concerned over immigration turn to bigots.

We have poisoned this well too. From calling Tories and Tony Blair fascists to claiming Iain Duncan Smith is a murderer to the hateful misogyny directed at everyone from Stella Creasy to Liz Kendall to Priti Patel, we need to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with ourselves as well. I’m including myself in this. I have not always lived up to my own standards, something I’m quietly reflecting on. We’re not perfect. We’ve reached fever pitch, too, and it’s time for all of us to simmer down.

There’s a reason the second largest party is called the Opposition and not the enemy. As Jo herself said in her maiden speech, “we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.” This week has been a tragic reminder of how fragile that unity is, and how British democracy only functions if we all approach political discourse with civility, respect, and the humanity of our opponents squarely in mind. Somehow, we’ve lost sight of that, and a brilliant young MP is dead because of it. We can’t get Jo back, but I hope to God we can get our decency back.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is journalist and cultural critic who writes about British politics and LGBT rights. His work has appeared at Salon, The Daily Dot, The Advocate, Pink News, and elsewhere. He founded The Curious American in 2013. He lives in Chicago.

 

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Orlando was a homophobic terrorist attack. Let’s own it.

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Image: heavy.com

 

I am heartbroken, and I am weeping.

This has been one of the hardest days of my life, on par with the day my friend Garic (a proud gay Marine) died, and 9/11. As a gay American, this assault on our freedoms and very right to exist is in many ways too much to bear. The only things that have gotten me through today are the outpouring of support from friends and family, my bae, and my neighbour’s five-year-old son whose innocence and precociousness was a welcome respite from the nonstop coverage of how someone wanted to kill people like me just for being people like me.

That’s what sets this massacre apart from Columbine, or from Virginia Tech, or from even Newtown. Those were indiscriminate killings. This was not. It was targeted, like Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, not randomly, but specifically. Emmanuel was targeted because its congregants were Black. Pulse was targeted because its patrons were queer.

So imagine my horror when, watching Sky Papers, I saw Julia Hartley-Brewer and presenter Mark Longhurst berate out-gay columnist Owen Jones for calling the attack what it is – a homophobic terrorist attack. They talked over him and spoke down to him whenever he tried to raise the homophobic nature of the massacre, insisting it was on par with what happened at Paris’ Bataclan. To Hartley-Brewer and Longhurst, this was just an attack on a Western club. To Jones and the rest of the LGBT community, it’s much, much more.

Straight people, I get it. You’re feeling this loss deeply. You’re appalled by what happened in Orlando. And you should be. Only a truly evil human being wouldn’t be mortified and distraught by this carnage. But, if I may, let me explain to you why LGBT people are feeling this much move viscerally than you ever could.

Gay clubs are our safe spaces. No, not safe spaces in the way they’re employed at universities, but literal safe spaces. They’re places we can go and be unabashedly ourselves without fear of reprisal or straight gazes judging or gawking at us. It was an LGBT bar—the Stonewall—that birthed the modern LGBT rights movement. It has long been a place for us to congregate, find and build community, and mobilise for our civil rights. There’s a reason Boystown was my first stop when I moved to Chicago. I’ve met some of my best friends in the world, my London family, in Soho. Gay clubs aren’t just safe spaces, they’re sacred spaces.

Yes, we know Daesh (aka ISIS) has targeted other venues before. We know they hate our nightlife, our freedoms, and our culture. But this wasn’t a random choice. Even Republican Senator Marco Rubio, no friend to the gay community, has acknowledged that we were singled out and specifically attacked because of who we are. This was an attack not just on liberty, not just on democracy, but specifically on LGBT people. Our hard-won rights, our cherished spaces, and our very identities were targeted. And 50 people lost their lives not because they were Americans, but because they were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or an ally.

This was an attack on who we are. It was calculated. Specific. Intentional. Someone wanted us dead because we’re LGBT. Straight people, I’m sorry, but you can’t understand the immense sadness and vulnerability we are now feeling. No one has ever targeted you because you love the opposite sex. Maybe they’ve targeted you for other reasons, so you can sympathise, but they’ve not targeted you for this. While this is your tragedy because it’s all our tragedy, it is specifically my tragedy. It is specifically LGBT America’s tragedy. And you need to recognise that nuance.

Calling this a homophobic and transphobic terrorist attack does not detract from the tragedy. It enhances it, because it shows just how vile and truly bigoted the shooter was, targeting some of the most vulnerable people in society. It doesn’t detract from the tragedy of the Bataclan, it simply acknowledges a difference in target and a possible shift in Daesh strategy. The Pulse represented what’s best about America, so it brought out the worst in Daesh. It’s okay to say that.

Make no mistake, this is about LGBT people. We might not have a monopoly on this grief, but it most certainly belongs to us. This was our community targeted. These were our lives taken. And they weren’t taken because of the red, white, and blue. They were taken because of the rainbow. And I need you to understand that. We’re not saying you can’t be sad, or angry, or feeling this deeply. We’re saying that you can’t possibly feel the innate violation and vulnerability that we feel.

Gay clubs are where we go to escape the judgments and hatred of the broader society. We retreat into the darkness of a club, behind closed doors, to be unabashedly ourselves because we so often can’t in the light of day. For so many of us, the gay club is the one place we felt intrinsically safe. That has been taken from us, and it raises bigger questions. If we’re not safe in Boystown or Soho, where the fuck are we safe?

This was an assault on the most fundamental part of me. These people weren’t just targeted for being Americans. They were targeted because of who they loved. They were targeted because they were viewed as subhuman, worse than animals. They were targeted because of a hateful ideology and straight supremacy. And it’s really, really easy to say “well yeah, Daesh throws gay people off roofs.” Because they do.

Yet on the same day as the massacre at Pulse, a white American was on his way to do harm to LGBT people at the Los Angeles Pride Parade. So don’t you dare use this, as Donald Trump has, to justify persecution of our Muslim brethren. There are LGBT Muslims too, and they are targeted as violently as we were. And let’s not forget that it was a white Christian who targeted lesbian bars in Atlanta in 1996. It was a straight Christian who killed three people at the Admiral Duncan. It wasn’t Daesh who lynched Matthew Shepherd. This is about Daesh, and I won’t pretend it isn’t. There’s got to be time and space to talk about radical Islamic terrorism and homophobia.

But this is also about us.  The outpouring of grief from the likes of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who spent so much time and energy fighting gay marriage in Florida, is frustrating. I respect the fact that Bondi, Governor Rick Scott, and Marco Rubio were probably sincere. But they’re also deeply hypocritical. These people have spent their careers denying LGBT Americans equality. When Pam Bondi said she stood with the LGBT community, all I could wonder is why we have to die to have your solidarity? It would be nice to have it in life, too.

So as LGBT America mourns the loss of our siblings at Pulse, please give us the space to lead the national grieving. Take your cues from us. This is more than just a terrorist attack. It’s a hate crime. It was meant to terrify the LGBT community. And it has, it really has.

But we are strong. We fought for our rights on the streets outside Stonewall, in the Castro, in the prairies of Wyoming. We will keep fighting. LGBT Americans are, after all, Americans. And we never back down when someone threatens our hard-won freedoms. We’ve come too far to be cowed by one attack. LGBT Americans, and America as a country, will rise from these ashes and continue to fight for equality, freedom, and liberty.

I am a proud gay American.