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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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White supremacists are embracing genetic testing – but they aren't always that keen on the results

Users of far-right site Stormfront are resorting to pseudo science and conspiracy theories when DNA tests show they aren't as “pure” as they hoped.

The field of genomics and genetics have undergone almost exponential growth in recent years. Ventures like the Human Genome Project have enabled t humanity to get a closer look at our building blocks. This has led to an explosion in genetic ancestry testingand as of 6 April 2017 23AndMe, one of the most popular commercial DNA testing websites, has genotyped roughly 2 million customers.

It is perhaps unsurprising that one of the markets for genetic testing can be found among white suprmacists desperate to prove their racial purity. But it turns out that many they may not be getting the results they want. 

Stormfront, the most prominent white nationalist website, has its own definition of those who are allowed to count themselves as white - “non-Jewish people of 100 per cent European ancestry.” But many supremacists who take genetic tests are finding out that rather than bearing "not a drop" of non-white blood, they are - like most of us a conglomerate of various kinds of DNA from all over the world including percentages from places such as sub Saharan Africa and Asia. Few are taking it well.

Dr. Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, of UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics and the research institute Data and Society respectively, presented a research study (currently under peer review for publication) at the American Sociological Association a week ago, analysing discussion of GAT on Stormfront forums. Panofsky, Donovan and a team of researchers narrowed down the relevant threads to about 700, with 153 users who had chosen to publish their results online. While Panofsky emphasised that it is not possible to draw many quantitative inferences, the findings of their study offer a glimpse into the white nationalist movement's response to science that doesn't their self perception. 

“The bulk of the discussion was repair talk”, says Panofsky. “Though sometimes folks who posted a problematic result were told to leave Stormfront or “drink cyanide” or whatever else, 'don’t breed', most of the talk was discussion about how to interpret the results to make the bad news go away”.

Overwhelmingly, there were two main categories of reinterpretation. Many responses dismissed GAT as flimsy science – with statements such as a “person with true white nationalist consciousness can 'see race', even if their tests indicate 'impurity'".

Other commentators employed pseudo-scientific arguments. “They often resemble the critiques that professional geneticists, biological anthropologists and social scientists, make of GAT, but through a white nationalist lens", says Panofsky. 

For instance, some commentators would look at percentages of non-European DNA and put it down to the rape of white women by non-white men in the past, or a result of conquests by Vikings of savage lands (what the rest of us might call colonialism). Panofsky likens this to the responses from “many science opponents like climate deniers or anti-vaxxers, who are actually very informed about the science, even if they interpret and critique it in idiosyncratic and motivated ways".

Some white nationalists even looked at the GAT results and suggested that discussion of 100 per cent racial purity and the "one drop" rule might even be outdated – that it might be better to look for specific genetic markets that are “reliably European”, even though geneticists might call them by a different name.

Of course, in another not totally surprising development, many of the Stormfront commentators also insisted that GAT is part of a Jewish conspiracy, “to confuse whites by sprinkling false diversity into test results".

Many of the experts in the field have admitted to queasiness about the test themselves; both how they come to their results and what they imply. There are several technical issues with GAT, such as its use of contemporary populations to make inferences about those who previously lived in different places around the world, and concerns that the diversity of reference samples used to make inferences is not fully representative of the real world. 

There are other specific complications when it comes to the supramacist enthusiasm for GAT. Some already make a tortous argument that white people are the “true people of color" by dint of greater variation in hair and eye color. By breaking up DNA into percentages (e.g. 30 per cent Danish, 20 per cent German), Panofsky says GAT can provide a further opportunity to “appropriate and colonise the discourse of diversity and multiculturalism for their own purposes". There's is also, says Panofsky, the simple issue that “we can’t rely on genetic information to turn white nationalists away from their views."

“While I think it would be nice if the lesson people would take from GAT is that white nationalism is incoherent and wrong. I think white nationalists themselves often take the exact opposite conclusion."