What drives some individuals to scarify everything, even the life of other people, in the name of an idea?
This is the question to which we try to find an answer when, once again, we know about episodes of extreme violence like the murder of the labor MP Jo Cox that occurred during the campaign for the Brexit/ Remain referendum. According to some witnesses, Thomas Mair, the man arrested for Jo’s murder, would have shouted “Britain First” before he stabbed and shot Jo Cox who actively supported oppressed people and stood up against the gender violence for her entire life. Driven by indignation and sense of powerlessness, we try to give an answer to horror, but by doing this we often tend to simplify it.
We like to think that the extremism is the consequence of the psychological weakness of some individuals, imputable to personal sorrows, social inadequacies, low education, inhumanity or psychopathy. It is easier for us to accept that this kind of people are insane rather than to think that they might have some reasons to make such terrible acts like taking someone’s life.
Somehow, this makes us feel sheltered from any form of “intellectual complicity” of which we would feel guilty if we would just try to understand them. We are attracted by the idea that the extreme thought takes root only in a disturbed mind because this allows us to construct a wall between these horrible acts and ourselves. However, understanding doesn’t mean justification. In this case, it means getting to the roots of a phenomenon in order to rebuild the mental universe of an individual in order to look at the determinants of his beliefs and actions so that we can consciously distant ourselves.
Coming back to the case of the English MP much has been said about her murderer, especially with regards to his affiliation with extreme right-wing groups, even if it was simply concluded that he is a mentally ill man, almost ignoring that such trends came up long before. Moreover, we should not forget the gender issue, since a woman was murdered by a man. It is something that gives more consistency to his profile considering that misogyny is often associated with the far-right.
At this point, there is one more question to be asked: why is it easier to call “terrorist” a person that shouts “Allahu Akbar” and define all the others as “crazy”? Of course, I am not excluding that in the ranks of these extremists there are not mentally unstable people, but how likely is it that everyone is insane?
If the so-called ‘Muslim terrorism’ is the lead of the current public debate for at least 15 years, we talk rarely of the so-called ‘fascist terrorism’, although the right-wing extremism has a long tradition, in Britain too. Actually, the fascist heritage is much more widespread than any of us is prepared to admit. This is the reason why we should think more critically about that fine line between the dangerous incitement and the acceptable expressions of rage and alienation. It is easy to think, for example, to Donald Trump, one of the most controversial personalities of the moment, or to Nigel Farage forth English case and to all their iron-fisted speeches. About that, the words of the Scottish journalist Alex Massie on the Spectator should make us think:
“When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say: ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’
When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.”
Of course, it doesn’t mean that all the activists who want to reduce immigration or vote in favor of the Brexit have to be considered responsible for an attack like that committed against the British MP, as well as not all Muslims are necessarily implicated in the so-called ‘jihadist terrorism’, a popular and a widespread belief and politically used in dangerous ways.
Regarding Jo Cox’s murder, the Quilliam Foundation, one of Britain’s foremost anti-extremism think tanks, clearly reaffirmed:
“We call on the media to treat this act as it would an act of suspected jihadist terrorism. We call on society to expose, isolate and challenge all extremist ideologies and narratives for what they are. And we call on States to continue tackling extremism of ALL kinds, with consistency and urgency.”
In a so delicate historic juncture like the current one, right-wing extremism-related violence is dangerously growing. There is a structural problem in our societies that needs to be countered by appropriate means and a serious commitment. However, to do that we must first recognize and accept the existence of this phenomenon and define it for what it really is: violent extremism. By Imma Lenti