Britain is looking increasingly divided socially, racially and politically. The national mood is introspective following a series of recent terrorist attacks, unease and uncertainty because of Brexit as well as concern over inequality highlighted by a deadly fire in a high rise block of flats in London.
Brendan Cox has had a personal and painful encounter with extremism. His wife, politician Jo Cox, was murdered as she campaigned against Brexit. Since then he has created a nationwide movement for unity inspired by his wife’s words that ‘we have more in common than that which divides us’.
Isabelle Kumar, Euronews: Brendan joins me from London, many thanks for being with us
Brendan Cox: Thank you
Isabelle Kumar: Let’s look at some of the issues I have just raised and in particular those terrorist attacks in London, in particular the Muslim community that was targeted. I grew up in London and it seemed a tolerant city, is that no longer the case?
Brendan Cox: No, it is increasingly tolerant, London and the country as a whole if you look at all the trends, they are towards tolerance. People are more tolerant of difference, be that racial, religious, or sexuality or gender. I think what has happened in the last period is not actually that the number of people who hold extreme views has increased, in fact I think it has decreased. What has happened is because of the legitimisation of the narrative… because of people like Trump, like Le Pen, Wilders, Farage and others who have legitimised a narrative of hate speech. Of course they are not directly responsible for these atrocities when they happen. The attacks on Muslims today, the hate crimes in the referendum, what they (Trump etc.) are responsible for is a climate in which people who have those particularly extreme views are more likely to act upon them.
Isabelle Kumar: So what you are saying is that these far right politicians have enabled in some respects this hatred. But where is this hatred actually coming from then?
Brendan Cox: I think that hatred has always been there. You have always had a tiny minority of people who are driven by hatred, who for reasons of their own, insecurities and lack of prospects, lack of love – or brainwashing in some cases – have ended up pinning themselves to an extreme ideology in order to find meaning. That is true of the Islamist-inspired extremism, it is true of far-right extremism.
The thing that I find really interesting is that the politics of hatred that drives these groups is essentially the same if you look at what they have in common. They both believe that people should live in pure states, whether that is religiously pure or ethnically pure, they both believe that it is legitimate to attack civilians to achieve that and they both believe that people of difference should not live together and should not create diverse, tolerant countries.
Isabelle Kumar: You have taken on the mantle of campaigner in this, trying to bring people together, to inspire togetherness. But this goes beyond a campaigner, beyond an individual. Are you satisfied with the political response you have been seeing in response to this spate of attacks?
Brendan Cox: I think the government does take this seriously. I think it takes both Islamist-inspired terrorism and far-right inspired terrorism seriously. At a much more community-based level though, the question is how do we drive out the hatred? We spend a lot of our time in response to an attack like 7/7 et 9/11 or the Bataclan or any of those other examples, looking to try and understand where that hatred is coming from. And often it is hate preachers and often it is the same case in these examples. There are people, often quite mainstream media outlets, who are promoting a narrative that is deeply Islamaphobic that is bordering on incitement to violence against Muslims. I think in the same way we have to crack down on hate speech coming from Islamists we have to crack down on hate speech directed at the entire Muslim community.
Isabelle Kumar: Well lets also look at the issue of wealth disparity and that terrible fire that happened in West London, because many of the inhabitants of those high rise towers were newcomers to London, among them the disenfranchised of the city living in one of the wealthiest parts of London. If we are going to look at questions of social integration, the problems there are going to be exacerbated, are they not, by wealth inequality?
Brendan Cox: I do think we need to worry about the social stratification that has happened. What the tower-block fire is doing is just bringing rise and giving story to a much wider story not just in the capital but which is particularly acute in the capital. I think there is understandably anger that we are increasingly living in a divided society and that is where government needs to be actively seeking to play a role and lots of the economic forces are currently pulling our communities apart from each other. I think there is, as I said, a governmental response but there is also a community response.
Isabelle Kumar: And also we need to take on how to deal with Brexit. You mentioned those European politicians who were engaged in fractious European politics, they have obviously not been elected and Europe is coming together and it seems that Britain is being left increasingly on the outside. Do you get a sense of that?
Brendan Cox: I think what happened over the last couple of years, was there was a huge amount of complacency and it took the elections, in Austria, in France, and it took the election of Donald Trump in the US to shake our collective consciousness as to the seriousness of the threat to our values. I think it is a big mistake if it is Europe as an entity or any individual country that thinks we have somehow weathered that storm. I think that storm is going to continue, it is going to grow and get more intense and therefore we need to be thinking about what we can do to build our communities, to build that narrative about closer communities and also physically bring our communities together in a way that we have failed to do so in the last few years.
Isabelle Kumar: I would like to finish on a more personal note. You are obviously driving for more togetherness, when it comes to your own personal story, where does forgiveness fit into that?
Brendan Cox: I think for me forgiveness would be something I would think about if there was remorse, and as long as there is no remorse I have no interest in forgiveness. I have said this a few times, I fixate on Jo and how she lived her life, the values she fought for, the beliefs she espoused, the causes she advanced, and the way she lived her life, with energy and enthusiasm. I am not going to let my memories of Jo be clouded by the actions of a horrific and evil extremist. I am going to keep focusing on how she lived, not on how she died.
Isabelle Kumar: Many thanks