Violent extremism of a wholly political nature is something that many of us thought had left Britain’s shores long ago. For most young people like myself, who have for most in their lives lived in a post-9/11 political landscape, the real threat has always been religious extremism. It was the motivating power of religion that flew those planes into the towers, just as it was for ISIS. Political extremism, for most of us, had faded out and lost its relevancy. Today, that belief has been proven wrong.
Today, Jo Cox, Labor MP for the constituency of Batley and Spen, was murdered by being shot and then stabbed in a horrifically act of extreme brutality. The perpetrator, it is understood, was a native British man in his early 50s, who shouted ‘Britain First!’ as he committed the heinous act. While the perpetrator was thankfully quickly arrested, it remains a sobering reminder of the destructive power of political extremism, and a warning to the current generation of its very real threat to our society.
The Cold War only ended around a quarter of a century ago, but to our parents, the threat of political extremism was very real. Communist terrorism – terrorist attacks carried out in order to force political change towards communism or otherwise threaten the capitalist political establishment – was something that they spent much of their own lives in fear of. During the Cold War, very few Western countries did not see the blight of communist terrorism or other forms of extreme leftist terrorism affect their societies. And who could forget the inhuman crimes of far-right ideologies like fascism and Nazism in the first half of the 20th century.
Jo Cox was a prominent member of the Remain campaign, which campaigns to keep Britain in Europe and is in favor of a ‘no’ vote in the upcoming EU referendum. In doing so, she was expressing her political opinions in an utterly legitimate and acceptable fashion, as designed by our democratic system. This system is one that by its very nature tolerates this behavior; it permits and even promotes dissent within a framework of peaceful political action such as debate and discussion. It is very likely that Jo’s killer took the actions he did due to his political opposition to her pro-EU and left-wing stance. But the decision he made in choosing to resort to murder rather than employing his democratic right to peacefully dissent is antithetical to the very fundamentals of our democracy.
The recent increase in polarization is one that I and many other centrists have been watching with increasing concern. It appears that this tense political climate has claimed its first victim in Jo Cox. This is something that we must oppose with all of our strength. Religious extremism is difficult to fight as long as the religion or tenets supporting it remain unchanged; the cost of reforming a religion can be measured in blood, as in the case of the brutal years of war Europe saw after the Protestant Reformation. Therefore, it requires a long-term approach, and immediate action is unlikely to see immediate benefit.
Political extremism is different. We can, and we must condemn and fight political extremism the like of which took the life of Jo Cox today. We must do it with all our strength. We do so not only out of concerns for our own lives, but for our very democracy itself.
In politics, as in everything else, moderation is key. Extremism, on the other hand, exacts a price too heavy to bear.