Europe’s liberals must get better at ‘owning patriotism’ and not leave it to the far-right, the widower of murdered British MP Jo Cox has said.
Brendan Cox, speaking at Euronews’ debate on multiculturalism at the World Economic Forum in Davos, claimed extremists had defined the word in exclusive terms.
His wife Jo was shot and stabbed in West Yorkshire by a white supremacist, just a week before the UK’s referendum on whether to stay in the EU.
“I think we [liberals and progressives] need to get better at talking about and owning patriotism,” he said. “I think we’ve felt uncomfortable about it and what’s that meant is that we’ve left that to the extremes, to the far-right to dominate and they define patriotism in an exclusive way but it’s very easy and very powerful to define patriotism in an inclusive way.”
Cox said there was a quarter of people receptive to immigration in western Europe, another 25 percent hostile to it and a half somewhere in the middle.
“The 25 percent who are liberal and progressive have been much more poorly organised and much less vocal than the other extreme,” he said. “And so the populist right have dominated the space and they’ve also been much better at connecting emotionally with that 50 percent.
“So there’s two challenges. One is to activate those existing liberal groups. But secondly to do that in a way that connects with the 50 percent because at the moment nobody is speaking to those people other than the far-right and if that continues their space in society will grow and the liberal space will continue to shrink.”
The panel, which included US historian Lonnie Bunch, Turkish author Elif Shafak and Belgian deputy prime minister Alexander De Croo, also looked at what was stopping societies becoming successfully multicultural.
The guests said the rise of populism and identity politics was having an impact on whether newly-arrived immigrants could integrate.
“We grow and we’re told we have to reduce ourselves to one single identity,” said Shafak. “And there have been many people throughout history who have resisted this, like the African-American women’s movement who said ‘yes I’m black, I’m a woman, I’m a lesbian, I’m a poet, I’m this, I’m that and many things you don’t see when you look at me.
“They [populists] want to reduce us to a single tribe and this is what we’re seeing – the revival of tribalism. Why can’t we have multiple belongings, why can’t I be a Istanbulite and a Londoner at the same time?”
“I think this is the thing we need to resist. If I can have multiple belongings, if someone else can have multiple belongings, there’s a bigger chance they can overlap and we can talk about common ground.
“If everything is defined on mutually exclusive identities there will be clashes, it’s inevitable.”
“What you see today is politics of identity,” said De Croo. “And using identity combined with politics and fear is actually a very toxic combination and it’s a combination that always leads to labelling people.
“You see it being used all the time. It’s a very easy way of getting public traction but with never a positive outcome.”
Cox added: “There is definitely a human instinct to be wary of difference. But there is also in the human condition the ability to empathise with others. I think what’s happened in the recent period is people’s feelings of insecurity – around migration, terrorism and the economy – activated that fear and concern about difference. We need to spend more time getting into stories of individuals, that’s how people empathise.
“The mistake we too often make is reacting to people’s fears and concerns with facts and what we need to do is to connect to people with their feelings.”