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Hate took Jo Cox's life - let's fight against it like she did

Reflections on conversations with a murdered MP. 

Thomas Mair, a white supremacist, has been found guilty of murdering the Labour MP Jo Cox in her constituency. As the co-founder of a think-tank, I had corresponded with her extensively on email on the issues of Islamophobia, Syria, and extremism. Jo fought against hate and human suffering, yet it was hate that took her life. 

She was best known for her work on the Syria conflict. She led the Friends of Syria parliamentary group with Andrew Mitchell, a Conservative MP, and penned thoughtful opinion pieces on the conflict. Whether it was on the forced starvation of the people of Madaya, increasing delivery of humanitarian aid or passionate support for child refugees, there was no one more outspoken than her on Syria. It was for these reasons she took the principled and difficult decision to abstain on the vote for extension of airstrikes against Isis in Syria. As she put it to me, this was because only targeting Isis was too limited, with not enough focus on protecting civilians. 

At Averroes, we were astonished to come across a politician of such rational and humanitarian policy ideas, who could also cut through partisan politics. In our discussions, we had suggested to Jo that UK policy in Syria, Islamophobia, Government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy (and Prevent) were all interrelated and interdependent. She in turn noted how acts of terror were driving up Islamophobic sentiments and that in turn was feeding back into radicalisation. She sought our advice on engaging social media giants to do more to clamp down on hate speech. It is important Jo is not only remembered for what she achieved in such a short period in public office, but what she would have achieved, should her life not been so prematurely cut short. 

Jo was especially keen on doing whatever possible to address the growth of religious hatred. Our view was that the law on incitement to religious hatred is inadequate, since it only intervenes when the speech is deemed to intentionally threaten imminent violence. Jo asked for examples, and showed us a picture she had uncovered of an advert for a car on sale in her constituency accompanied by the disclaimer that “Muslims need not call”. A lesser known fact about Jo is that she had applied for a debate on "legal protection for faith communities from hatred and prejudice". 

Now that her murderer has been found guilty, it is time for the nation to take a long and deep look at itself. We must find something positive in this tragic event. In the words of her husband: “She would have wanted...that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn't have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.” There is an ongoing debate about whether this should be deemed a terrorist attack or not, whether this the act of a single, deranged individual or one with an extremist ideology. British Muslims are very aware of the media bias when reporting these events, but I would suggest that they suspend any feeling of victimhood and focus on Jo's work and commitment to those who have suffered. 

The final judgement on Mair's motivations can be a wake up call. Let us support the causes she pursued, and do so in the same manner she conducted herself. Jo was murdered while doing constituency work, but politicians can follow Jo's example in considering their constituency as one extending to those who need the help most, whether they be based locally, nationally or internationally. 

Let us redouble our efforts to resolve the Syria crisis, and increase our willingness and readiness to provide refuge to those fleeing unimaginable conditions, especially unaccompanied children. Let us not continue to stir up hatred against made-up bogeymen for our own personal gain. Let us say no to any kind of divisive and hate-filled politics towards any groups of people, for it will only be a matter of time before that hatred turns into murderous intent in the mind of an individual like Mair. 

Murtaza Shaikh is the co-director of Averroes, an independent think tank analysing British Muslim policy ideas across political lines. 

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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