From Orlando to the UK: The Toxic Political Discourse

The assassination of Jo Cox shocked not only the United Kingdom, but the world. Jo Cox, a British Member of Parliament for the Labor Party was murdered on Thursday, June 16. The murderer shouted ‘Britain First’ (a right wing neo-Nazi group who are pro-Brexit) as he shot and stabbed her to death. Besides being a terrible tragedy to her family, her two small children, her constituency, the British Parliament – it is a low point in politics. This was a political assassination. This was not just the work of some lone, deranged, anti-social, mentally unstable individual. Her murderer, Thomas Mair was part of a neo-Nazi, right wing group in the UK – he is seen posing with them in photos, who are against immigration, banning refugees and in general wants to keep Britain for Britons only.

Just a few days before, on June 12, forty-nine people were gunned down in an Orlando nightclub Pulse, it’s an LGBTQ club, the shooter Omar Mateen, besides being an obvious homophobe and therefore targeted members of the LGBTQ community, is allegedly to have ties to ISIS, Al-Qaeda, he was also a closeted gay man and some reports even say he had links to Hezbollah too, the Lebanese Militia who are in a mortal fight with ISIS in Syria. To this day, the public have not heard the 911 call placed for this mass shooting, no security camera or cell phone footage have been released showing what happened before, during and after the massacre (how did Mateen get in the club? How did he get by the bouncer? What did he do after he got in? How did he get in with an assault rifle dangling off of him since they are too large to conceal? How did he carry that much ammunition on him without getting thrown out of the club?). The public has been forced to believe what’s been told to us by the Corporate Media. The FBI and other authorities have access to information but the public don’t. The public, rightly so, has a million questions, but anyone asking the more pointed questions are accused of being insensitive during a difficult time. In other words, the public discourse on the worst mass shooting in America, has been politicized and conversations policed.

The only things we know for sure are Omar Mateen was born in New York City, he was 29 years old, son of Afghani immigrants who came to this country over 30 years ago. He is a Muslim. He was a follower or sympathizer of ISIS and finally, he was a radicalized Muslim, which means he’s a terrorist. The words ‘radicalized’ and ‘Muslim’ are on some sort of loop repeat, it gets tossed out every few sentences from whoever is reporting at the moment. For those that are slightly more objective, they work the mentally illness angle. Mateen was Afghani descent, a radicalized Muslim, a terrorist AND he was mentally ill.

The assailant of Jo Cox is a middle-aged white male, loner, with a history of mental illness. This is how all the headlines read when news of Jo Cox being gunned down and then stabbed and kicked to death in broad daylight was reported. The ‘T’ word (terrorist) was not uttered. As more information filtered out, it turned out that he wasn’t really such a ‘loner’ as there are photos of him posing with members of Britain First  – so he did get out of the house to socialize. His neighbors reported him being helpful but that he largely kept to himself and never talked about politics. The reaction was “you would have never thought he’d do such a thing.”

The actions of Thomas Mair are the actions of a terrorist. He gunned down and stabbed an innocent woman in broad daylight, he knew that she was a Member of Parliament, she was targeted for her progressive politics and her ‘In Campaign’ for the Brexit. After he shot her three times, he proceeded to stab her and kick her until an ambulance came. This is the definition and actions of a terrorist, yet the media was reluctant to call him one. The western media has associated the word ‘terrorist’ to mean ‘Muslim’.

The mental illness angle is concerning as well. There is already enough shame and stigma attached to mental illness sufferers. The majority of mental illness sufferers are not violent, they only person they harm is themselves. Next, exactly which mental illnesses Omar Mateen and Thomas Mair suffered from was never clarified. Mair ‘allegedly’ suffered from OCD and washed his hands many times a day. Being OCD doesn’t make one violent. The words ‘mental illness’ is being tossed around like a blanket term for mentally disturbed people who commit violent acts. Being mentally ill doesn’t automatically absolve people of their moral judgments, it doesn’t mean one no longer knows right from wrong just on the account of having mental illness.

In the case of Thomas Mair, it’s being reported as an isolated incident, an antisocial loner who decided to attack a progressive Member of Parliament. It wasn’t politically motivated and it’s not nothing to do with the Brexit campaign. That he targeted a vocal MP with a progressive track record, who helped get the bill of accepting unaccompanied Syrian refugee children passed and is part of the ‘Stay’ campaign screams political assassination. Jo Cox represents everything on the British right hates: pro-immigration, pro-EU, wants UK to accept asylum seekers and refugees, against cuts to public services including the NHS. Outside of politics campaigns for an end to violence against women and is a strong supporter of the Palestinians.

Omar Mateen, the fact that he was a Muslim and the son of Afghan immigrants is enough for the corporate media and authorities to announce that this is an act of Terror, it’s Islam waging a war on the liberal values of the West – which incidentally, the normally conservative Fox News jumped on this bandwagon too. They are usually the ones gay bashing and condemning LGBTQ people as immoral. But for the sake of ratings and getting Donald Trump elected president, they’ll be fake-tolerant to LGBTQ people in the short term.

The actions of Omar Mateen are the actions of a terrorist – not his religion or ethnicity. His hatred are his own, his homophobia are his own. Mateen, in the dead of night, went to a prominent gay nightclub in Orlando with an assault weapon and proceed to kill 49 people and injured scores of others. It is his actions that make him a terrorist, not his religion or race. His possible associations with radical Islamist groups are important but to this day we don’t really know exactly what his associations are, is he part of Al-Qaeda? Did he pledge allegiance to ISIS while at the same time being a closeted homosexual and fights for the Hezbollah at night? No one brings up Thomas Mair’s religion or which church he belongs to. He is just some ‘loner’ with ‘mental illness’.

In the US, the Republican Party, over the past 50 years has flirted with, openly and surreptitiously, with the extreme right. It has flirted with racism via the back door. Nixon’s ‘The Silent Majority’ – which refers to the majority of mostly white ‘silent’ Americans who are not participating in Anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, those who do not support rapid Civil Rights reforms and the resulting social changes, especially the integration of public schools; these poor white people – the majority of them really, have been bullied into silence by the 1% of loud, liberal, anti-America people. They’ve been bullied into silence because they don’t want to be called racists for raising legitimate concerns about all this unpatriotic activity (anti-war protests) and rapid social change (integration). It is these people in which Richard Nixon asked for support for his candidacy as President of the United States and he won. Everyone at the time as they do now saw it for what it was, dog whistling racism. Donald Trump has revived ‘The Silent Majority’ meme for his presidential campaign but Trump’s silent majority are the people who are anti-immigration who don’t dare say for fear of sounding xenophobic and racist; but there is one difference, the anti-immigration crowd isn’t silent, cowering there in the corner (neither were the original ‘Silent Majority).

Ronald Reagan followed it up with ‘memes’ such as the ‘welfare queen’ – the black single mother who deliberately has a lot of children with the sole purpose of claiming welfare. He busted the air traffic controller’s union and thus began a precipitous increase in general union busting activity by business and corporate elites. He marginalized AIDS sufferers and by extension the LGBTQ community in the 80s by simply refusing to utter the word AIDS or even acknowledge it was a problem. Reagan shut down state operated mental institutions instead of properly funding them and staffing them with qualified mental health professionals, the people this hurt the most are the poor and marginalized.

Bill Clinton enacted criminal justice reform which gave rise to mass incarceration of black and brown people, Hillary Clinton referred to underage offenders as “predatory killers who need to be brought to heel”. People of color, especially black and brown people have been criminalized by the system on the account of their race. Post 9/11 – a new group of people and a whole religion has been added to the list, Muslims and Islam. It became acceptable even encouraged to surveil, spy on, engage in casual snooping on our Muslim citizens. All Muslims, as a foreign policy, in the name of national security, are fair game. Anyone who attends mosque is suspect, especially observant and devout Muslim men. Muslim men and women cannot go anywhere and not draw attention and hatred. Opposition to the invasion of Iraq is considered unpatriotic, in fact any dissenting opinion of the foreign policy of George W. Bush was considered an act of treason. With much of the Middle East and North Africa experiencing conflict and instability, Donald Trump has proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the country, even those who are American citizens traveling abroad may not return to the US if they are Muslim. The Republican Party has not repudiated the platform, they didn’t exactly adopt it, but they didn’t repudiate it.

The election of President Obama, our first black president should have been seen progress, progress in the right direction, but this sent the the right into an existential meltdown. Birther conspiracies started left and right – which was led by Donald Trump at one point. The right wing members of the Republican party convinced themselves that Obama was not a legitimate president, as he wasn’t born in this country so they don’t need to accept his authority. Obama is here to take their guns away. Obama is a socialist, and when that didn’t work Obama now became a ‘Hitler-type’ of dictator – without understanding that one can’t be a socialist or communist and be a fascist at the same time.

The liberals aren’t blameless either. As jobs disappeared and towns fell into disrepair and ruin, the liberal elites on either coasts didn’t help the disenfranchised either. They sat there in their comfortable air conditioned offices and made fun of poor southerners as ignorant and stupid, with missing teeth and talk in funny accents – perhaps best encapsulated with a comment uttered by Obama to a group of donors in 2008 “they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Obama specifically was referring to small town Pennsylvania, but that sentiment can be applied across all the disenfranchised people in America. Obama was right about the anti-immigrant bit, the immigrants are the least of the reasons why their jobs are gone, but he’s wrong about the “trade” part. It is because of free trade that these people don’t have jobs and have been economically disenfranchised. Free trade isn’t ‘free’, it’s paid for with the jobs of the American working class.

Politicians cannot contribute poison and toxicity in the political discourse and not expect someone to act on them. The UK is experiencing similar growing pains. They have a big decision to make on June 23 to see if they will Leave or Stay in the EU. The debate for staying or leaving have turned toxic; the debates have broken down to mutual accusation and hatred. Those who propose staying are the business elites with business interests in the EU, they are unpatriotic, anti-Britain, they want EU migrants and refugees to flood their borders and take their jobs and live in Britain indefinitely and sponge off of the generous NHS and welfare system. The Leave campaign are painted as racists, xenophobes, neo-nazis and ignorant people who don’t understand how commerce and business works. Not many have put aside their biases and talk about the real issues which pertain to leaving and staying. There are real and legitimate concerns about unregulated immigration and migration which do not devolve to xenophobia and racism. There is legitimate concern of the disenfranchised British working class and how to bring about gainful employment for them and would leaving or staying contribute or hinder that effort. There is a gain and loss list of leaving and staying and a constructive debate should discuss are the gains really worth the losses, are there unanticipated losses or gains that have been overlooked? These are all legitimate questions that need to be asked, without all the toxic side noise.

As in the United States, we haven’t had a real debate on immigration, on what to do with undocumented immigrants who’ve been in this country for most of their lives, race relations, institutional racism, police brutality and how it relates to institutional racism, the gender gap in pay, LGBTQ rights, the income inequality where the top of 1% have taken all the gains from the ‘recovery’ (very dubious application of this word) from the recession. Why we need a single payer health plan and not this convoluted bureaucracy called Obamacare. Obamacare is fine for the short term but the long term goal should be a single payer health care plan. Jobs lost to NAFTA and other free trade agreements need to be replaced with jobs with similar quality and compensation. Those “bitter people” who cling to their guns and bible have a very good reason to be bitter, dismissing them as a lot of toothless ignorant hicks isn’t going to make the problem go away. The political discourse have not discussed any of these issues in a manner that is inclusive of all perspectives and points of views.

Donald Trump is busy building a wall and deporting Mexicans and banning Muslims from entry into the US to talk about much else. Hillary Clinton is playing the gender identity card in all of her discussions about issues so any disagreement results in a charge of sexism if you are a man, or if you are a woman, then you “don’t support other women” and according to some, there’s a special place in hell for that.

6 thoughts on “From Orlando to the UK: The Toxic Political Discourse

  1. Really great post, thoroughly enjoyed reading. And can’t disagree with anything you’ve written here. I am thoroughly disturbed by the level of both toxicity in the media discourse and of hatred and sectarianism in the popular mindset. Also, in regard to the Omar Mateen case, it’s curious that his ex-wife has said the FBI told her *not to mention* to the media that he had mental health issues.


    1. About Mateen – we don’t know if he has mental illness or not. And I also like to make a distinction between being mentally disturbed – I.e fucked up in the head and those that are mentally ill. One doesn’t necessarily follow the other. All issues now have become reductionist. Only talking points exist not the substance.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree. Thomas Mair is no isolated psycho. He was part of an organized political movement. I also agree with you when you say the Republicans have poisoned the well with decades of racist dogwhistle. It makes it difficult even to discuss these kinds of violent events with any degree of clarity.

    Liked by 1 person

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