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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. 

Arsène Wenger. Credit: Getty
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My biggest regret of the Wenger era? How we, the fans, treated him at the end

Arsenal’s greatest coach deserved better treatment from the Club’s supporters. 

I have no coherent memories of Arsenal before Arsène Wenger, who will leave the Club at the end of the season. I am aware of the Club having a new manager, but my continuous memories of my team are of Wenger at the helm.

They were good years to remember: three league titles, seven FA Cups, the most of any single manager in English football. He leaves the Club as the most successful manager in its history.

I think one of the reasons why in recent years he has taken a pasting from Arsenal fans is that the world before him now seems unimaginable, and not just for those of us who can't really remember it. As he himself once said, it is hard to go back to sausages when you are used to caviar, and while the last few years cannot be seen as below par as far as the great sweep of Arsenal’s history goes, they were below par by the standards he himself had set. Not quite sausages, but not caviar either.

There was the period of financial restraint from 2005 onwards, in which the struggle to repay the cost of a new stadium meant missing out on top player. A team that combined promising young talent with the simply bang-average went nine years without a trophy. Those years had plenty of excitement: a 2-1 victory over Manchester United with late, late goals from Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry, a delicious 5-2 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur, and races for the Champions League that went to the last day. It was a time that seemed to hold the promise a second great age of Wenger once the debt was cleared. But instead of a return to the league triumphs of the past, Wenger’s second spree of trophy-winning was confined to the FA Cup. The club went from always being challenging for the league, to always finishing in the Champions League places, to struggling to finish in the top six. Again, nothing to be sniffed at, but short of his earlier triumphs.

If, as feels likely, Arsenal’s dire away form means the hunt for a Uefa Cup victory ends at Atletico Madrid, many will feel that Wenger missed a trick in not stepping down after his FA Cup triumph over Chelsea last year, in one of the most thrilling FA Cup Finals in years. (I particularly enjoyed this one as I watched it with my best man, a Chelsea fan.) 

No one could claim that this season was a good one, but the saddest thing for me was not the turgid performances away from home nor the limp exit from the FA Cup, nor even finishing below Tottenham again. It was hearing Arsenal fans, in the world-class stadium that Wenger built for us, booing and criticising him.

And I think, that, when we look back on Wenger’s transformation both of Arsenal and of English football in general, more than whether he should have called it a day a little earlier, we will wonder how Arsenal fans could have forgotten the achievements of a man who did so much for us.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.