By Daniel Margrain
It is my contention that it is wrong that Thomas Mair, who allegedly killed MP Jo Cox, be charged under terrorism legislation on the basis that such a determination is bound up with all kinds of ideological connotations. The argument of many of those commentators on the political left of the spectrum who take the contrary position and believe that it is appropriate to describe the violent actions committed against the Labour MP, as well as other far right-wing inspired attacks such as the Orlando massacre, as acts of terrorism, seem to have arrived at that conclusion based solely on the question of media’s lack of consistency when describing other similarly planned attacks – albeit motivated by the other end of the political or ideological spectrum.
While on the surface, the ‘lack of consistency’ observation is arguably an accurate one – as evidenced, for example, by the media’s hypocritical response to the case of Ryan McGee who built a nail bomb to attack Muslims – I will attempt to show, however, that it is not a necessarily commendable position to take. Over the last 15 years, the killing of individuals or groups in Western societies have to a greater extent involved a political subtext as a result of the media’s response to them, particularly within a context in which Western-instigated wars waged against Muslim countries have resulted in their ruination and destabilization.
Given that there is no universally accepted definition of terrorism, it follows that the political-inspired violence of individuals or groups, either in support of wars of aggression enacted by the state against its official adversaries, or in what is often perceived to be in opposition to them, illustrates the limitations of this narrow conceptual framework. Specifically, this can be seen, firstly, in terms of the difficulties involved in ascertaining what constitutes a terrorist act and, secondly, relates to the question as to who determines the conceptual framework by which those who are accused of terrorism are legally bound?
The widely used definition of terrorism which pertains to “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes”, does not preclude the violence undertaken by states to similarly achieve political ends. Based on this understanding, it’s clear that all politically-motivated violence – whether undertaken by individuals, groups of state actors that include illegally constituted wars – amount to acts of ‘terrorism.’ Ostensibly, therefore, politician’s like Tony Blair and G.W. Bush who illegally led the rush to war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003, are as equally culpable of committing terrorist acts as somebody like Osama bin Laden or Timothy McVeigh.
However, whilst on the surface such a determination sounds positive and is seen to serve a need for those who desire justice to be achieved, this consensus level playing field approach is paradoxically one that the state is keen to resist. Moreover, given the absence of any universally- defined legal framework for terrorism, the term is subjective. As Bruce Hoffman has noted:
“Terrorism is a pejorative term. It is a word with intrinsically negative connotations that is generally applied to one’s enemies and opponents, or to those with whom one disagrees and would otherwise prefer to ignore. Hence the decision to call someone or label some organization ‘terrorist’ becomes almost unavoidably subjective, depending largely on whether one sympathizes with or opposes the person/group/cause concerned. If one identifies with the victim of the violence, for example, then the act is terrorism. If, however, one identifies with the perpetrator, the violent act is regarded in a more sympathetic, if not positive (or, at the worst, an ambivalent) light; and it is not terrorism.”
As Hoffman also notes, for this and for political reasons, many news sources avoid using this term, opting instead for less accusatory words like “bombers” and “militants”.
It’s my argument that from an activists point of view, it’s important that the media make a distinction between illegal wars undertaken by state actors and the non-state politically-inspired violence of individuals and groups irrespective of whether the latter emanate from the left or right of the political spectrum. By charging some individuals or groups with terrorism offences predicated on politically-inspired violent actions but not others, potentially lends itself to accusations of double-standards and propaganda by the state. Those who doubt the veracity regarding the intention of the state to selectively invoke terrorism legislation need to look no further than the case of Pavlo Lapshyn – who murdered a Muslim and bombed mosques. This case represents the tip of a very large ice berg. As Craig Murray put it:
“Mair, McGee and Lapshyn would all, beyond any possible shadow of a doubt, have been charged with terrorism if they were Muslims. The decision is made by the Crown Prosecution Service, which has also recently decided that Tony Blair, Jack Straw, John Scarlett, Mark Allen et all will not stand trial for extraordinary rendition and complicity in torture, despite overwhelming evidence presented by the Metropolitan Police, including my own. There is a dark cloud of Islamophobia hanging over the Crown Prosecution Service. Given the totality of these decisions, there has to be.”
UK terrorism legislation which built up following the events on 9/11 and 7/7, is clearly intended as an ideological weapon whose purpose is to perpetuate this propaganda offensive in a highly selective and discriminatory way. This explains why the media resisted all attempts to describe the likes of the alleged far-right fascist killer of Jo Cox and the ultra-Zionist who hospitalized MP George Galloway as terrorists, but nevertheless regularly use the terrorist epithet to describe Islamist-inspired violence. The reality of the situation is that all charges of terrorism are legally unnecessary.
Instead, the appropriate course of action for the state to take is to invoke perfectly adequate murder and conspiracy to murder charges. Rather than running with the notion that Mair was a murderer who was almost certainly inspired by far-right politics, the line of the right-wing Daily Mail preferred the suggestion that the killer of Jo Cox allegedly targeted the MP due to a history of mental health problems. The implication is that these alleged mental health issues – in isolation – led to the attack on the Labour MP as though being mentally ill somehow makes one immune, as opposed to being sensitive, to the world which is the reality. The reality is that the mentally ill have no more propensity to violence than anybody else. As one commentator put it:
“The mentally ill are not other. They live in this world. They see the same media. And when the media tries to whip people into a frenzy, it is no surprise that some are whipped into a literal frenzy.”
The truth is that the right-wing media are using the issue of mental illness as a scapegoat for the crimes committed by a far-right politically-motivated murderer. As somebody who is currently diagnosed with anxiety and depression, the notion that some of the media are attempting to attribute the cause of the murder of Jo Cox to similar symptoms, is deeply offensive. This is not an attempt to absolve the murderer of any mental illness he may be suffering with, but merely to highlight that on its own it would have been highly unlikely to have been the cause.
It’s about time the media became unequivocal in emphasizing that, for the most part, wars are illegal state-sanctioned forms of collective violence, on the one hand, while on the other hand, they need to attribute lone killings – whatever their ideological motivations – as murders. In turn, the state needs to stop charging these murderers under terrorist legislation.
2 thoughts on “Why it’s inappropriate to charge the killer of Jo Cox under terrorism legislation”
fair article again but lets be realistic : it does’nt and has’nt required the right wing media to ‘ whip people into a frenzy ‘ over the issues of mass immigration and the erosion of place and identity. When the ‘left ‘ has rather obviously ( forgetting the pros and cons of large scale Migration economically and dynamically for a moment ) forgotten that issues of identity matter to majorities as well as minorities one could cynically ask why there have not been Thomas Mair’s before now ? A programme to disperse the Somalian diaspora into Scotland was met with anger , verbal abuse toward the incomers , molotov cocktails being chucked through their windows and was fully reversed when one of their number was murdered .Generally speaking though as has often been said it’s remarkable how few are the outward displays of anger that have been shown toward Migrants . Perhaps that’s down to British self restraint ? In Germany and now in Denmark too literally hundreds of refugee shelters have been torched prior to occupation . No doubt Trevor Phillips will see Mair’s action as harbinger of things to come but I doubt it myself . Far more likeley will be the eventual balkanisation of British politics which we will need to think new ways to work around .
Reblogged this on Kate McClelland.