Racism and xenophobia are resurgent in the UK, and the centre-left is partly to blame

David Wearing writes: “I’m not a racist, but…..”; “I haven’t got a racist bone in my body”; “it’s not racist to have concerns about immigration”. We’re all familiar with Britain’s broad repertoire of phrases for denying or downplaying prejudice. But with a fivefold increase in reported hate crimes since the Brexit vote, it is no longer tenable to sweep this issue under the carpet. We have to be honest. This country has a problem.

It is frequently said that, because a majority voted for Brexit, racism and xenophobia cannot be a significant part of the picture. This is consistent with the popular misconception that these forms of prejudice are restricted to the margins: a few far-right boot-boys, 1950s throwbacks and a handful of the socially maladjusted. It is a profoundly naïve assumption.

The proportion of people admitting racist views to pollsters is 29%, and given the social taboo around racism, the true number is likely to be higher (recall, for example, the UKIP councillor who said she had a problem with “negroes” because there was “something about their faces”, while simultaneously insisting that she was “not a racist”). A quarter of Britons say immigrants, including any British-born children, should be “encouraged” to leave the country – echoing the standard ‘send them back’ demand of the far right. A further 30% of those polled could not say that they definitely disagreed with that position. These figures are dismaying, but will only shock those who have never experienced racism, and the widespread complacency about it, for themselves. [Continue reading…]

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Will young reformers of Islam please stand up?

Tania Rashid writes: I recently completed a short documentary about Islamophobia in America’s heartland, Texas. I got to know members of a gun-toting anti-Muslim group called the Bureau on American-Islamic Relations, or B.A.I.R.

I recall standing in the middle of them preparing for an “Arab rising.” Each practice shot they let out had me thinking that I could be an apparent target. One of them yelled “don’t mess with white people,” and proceeded to show me how he would complete a mass killing if he saw a group of Muslims.

 

I thought of my father, the most secular Muslim I know, who was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and interrogated for hours before a flight to Arizona. Could these men shoot me or other innocent people in my family?

But as much as I was repulsed by the group and their violent response to Muslims, it made me wonder: Were they all that wrong to feel so scared? [Continue reading…]

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Srebrenica: Why every life matters

In the West, the top three watershed geopolitical events of the modern era are commonly seen as the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the al Qaeda attacks in the U.S. in 2001, and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The 1995 Srebrenica Genocide, has largely been forgotten and outside the Muslim world its significance never widely grasped.

Yet as Brendan Simms noted in Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, from 1453 to the Present:

In the Muslim world, the slaughter of their co-religionists in Bosnia contributed substantially to the emergence of a common consciousness on foreign policy. According to this global discourse, Muslims were now on the defensive across the world: in Palestine, Bosnia, Kashmir, Chechnya and elsewhere. A large number of Arab, Turkish, Caucasian, central Asian and other Mujahedin – in search of a new jihad after Afghanistan – went to Bosnia to fight. It was among European Muslims, however, that the Bosnian experience resonated most forcefully. ‘It doesn’t really matter whether we perish or survive,’ the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina [Dr. Mustafa Cerić] remarked in May 1994, ‘the lesson will always be there. And it is a simple one: that the Muslim community must always be vigilant and must always take their destiny in their own hands. They must never rely on anyone or anybody to solve their problems or come to their rescue.’ This ‘Zionist’ message echoed across the immigrant communities in western Europe, especially Britain. ‘Bosnia Today – Brick Lane tomorrow’ warned the banners in one East London demonstration. Some of the most prominent subsequent British jihadists such as Omar Sheikh, who masterminded the kidnapping and murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl, and the Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg – were radicalized by Bosnia. In other words, the new Muslim geopolitics of the mid-1990s was a reaction not to western meddling but to nonintervention in the face of genocide and ethnic cleansing [my emphasis].

A decade later, when Nadeem Azam interviewed Cerić (who in 2003 in recognition of his contributions to inter-faith dialogue, tolerance and peace, was awarded UNESCO’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny peace prize) he reiterated his message on the necessity of Muslim self-reliance.

What are your feelings about the future of Islam in Europe?

Not very good. The rise of fascism combined with an officially-sanctioned tendency to be unreasonable when it comes to discussion about Islam are bad omens. I am not a soothsayer but I can see the reality of a day when the treatment of a Muslim in Europe will be worse than that of serial killer: we are, I am afraid, on the verge of seeing a situation develops whereby it would be a crime to be a Muslim in Europe. The events of 11 September, 2001, have made things worse. May Allah protect us.

But having such feelings does not depress me. It actually should motivate us and make us even more resolute in our efforts. More importantly it should make us think of planning and organising. If the day comes – like it did in Bosnia – you might be unable to control events around you but you should at least be ready to do what is needed to be done by a Muslim at such an hour.
[…]
The message of the four year-long war we fought is a simple one: that the Muslim community must always be vigilant and must always take their destiny in their own hands. They must never rely on anyone or anybody to solve their problems or come to their rescue; they must always rely on God and the faith, goodness and compassion within their communities. This is very important. Our strength will always be reflective of the strength of our communities.

Today, Cerić’s fears are clearly all the more well-founded as across Europe xenophobia and Islamophobia relentlessly grow and in the United States a presidential candidate gains the strongest boost to his campaign by promising a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims.

The lesson that Srebrenica taught many Muslims in the West was that even when they are in no sense foreign or culturally set apart, they are still at risk of exclusion and elimination.

Last month after the EU referendum in the UK, a resident of Barnsley, South Yorkshire (five miles from where I grew up), when asked to explain why he had voted for Brexit said: “It’s to stop the Muslims coming into this country. Simple as that.”

Among opponents of the war in Iraq, a widely accepted narrative has long been that the antidote to the unintended consequences of so much ill-conceived Western meddling in the Greater Middle East over the last 15 years is to simply step back and disengage. This sentiment, in large part, is what got Barack Obama elected in 2008. Let the region sort out its own problems or let closer neighbors such as the Russians intervene, so the thinking goes. The U.S. has much more capacity to harm than to help.

Yet as the killing fields of Syria have grown larger year after year, the message from Srebrenica merely seems to have been underlined: the magnitude of the death toll in any conflict will be of little concern across most of the West so long as the victims are Muslim.

After Donald Trump called for Muslims to be shut out of America, Michael Moore declared: We are all Muslim. And he promoted the hashtag #WeAreAllMuslim.

Expressions of solidarity through social media are easy to promote and of debatable value, yet the isolation of Muslims in this instance, rather than being overcome, merely seemed to get reinforced. #WeAreAllMuslim was mostly deployed as a sarcastic slur shared by Islamophobes.

The global trends are strong and clear, pointing to a future marked by more and more social fragmentation as people withdraw into their respective enclaves where they believe they can “take care of their own.”

We live in a world in which we are getting thrown closer together while simultaneously trying to stand further apart. It can’t work.

At some point we either embrace the fact that we are all human and have the capacity to advance our mutual interests, or we will continue down the current path of self-destruction.

* * *

Last year, Myriam François-Cerrah, a British journalist who is also a Muslim, took a group of young people from the UK — all of whom were born in the year of the genocide — to Srebrenica where they learned lessons that arguably have more relevance now than they have had at any time since 1995.

 

The events immediately leading up to the genocide are recounted in this segment from the BBC documentary, The Death of Yugoslavia:

 

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Refugee who fled Boko Haram for Italy killed by ‘ultra’ football fan

The Guardian reports: A Nigerian refugee thought to have fled the terrorist group Boko Haram with his wife has died after being attacked by an “ultra” football fan in a small Italian town.

Emmanuel Chidi Namdi, 36, died of injuries he sustained when a local man, who had reportedly been racially abusing Namdi’s wife, attacked him in the town of Fermo, in central Italy.

Amedeo Mancini, 35, allegedly referred to the 24-year-old woman as a “monkey”, and attacked Namdi when he attempted to defend her, according to Italian media reports. Namdi fell into a coma and was pronounced dead on Wednesday.

Namdi and his wife, identified by her first name, Chimiary, were being hosted by Fermo town’s parish while they sought asylum. They are believed to have fled from Boko Haram and travelled through Niger and Libya before boarding a boat to Italy.

Father Vinicio Albanesi, who was hosting the couple, said they had previously lost a two-year-old daughter, and that Namdi’s wife suffered a miscarriage during the journey to Italy.

At an evening vigil on Wednesday, Chimiary cried out to her late husband: “Why do you leave me in this wicked world?” [Continue reading…]

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Dutch Pegida leader and expelled German deputy hunt migrants on Bulgaria border

The Telegraph reports: The former frontwoman of Germany’s Pegida anti-Muslim movement and a leader of its Dutch offshoot have travelled to Bulgaria to hunt down migrants attempting to cross the border from Turkey, it has emerged.

Tatjana Festerling called on the “men of Europe” to travel to Bulgaria and join local vigilantes attempting to hunt down migrants.

Ms Festerling, who came to international notoriety earlier this year when she called for asylum-seekers to be shot if they attempted to cross the German border, was expelled from her post as Pegida’s deputy leader two weeks ago.

She boasted on her Facebook page on Friday of spending a day with the “Bulgarian Military Veterans Union”, a paramilitary group of vigilantes who patrol the border searching for illegal immigrants. Ms Festerling said she was accompanied on the trip by a leader of the Dutch offshoot of Pegida, Edwin Wagensveld.

She posted pictures of herself and Mr Wagensveld posing alongside men in military-style uniform, their faces masked with balaclavas, holding up a banner which read “Fortress Europe”. Requests for comment made to the Dutch branch of Pegida have not yet been returned. [Continue reading…]

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How patriotism brings people together — and divides them

Adam Piore writes: It started with one man quietly sipping a Tom Collins in the lounge car of the Cleveland-bound train.

“God bless America,” he sang, “land that I love …”

It didn’t take long. Others joined in. “Stand beside her … and guide her …” Soon the entire train car had taken up the melody, belting out the patriotic song at the top of their lungs.

It was 1940 and such spontaneous outpourings, this one described in a letter to the song’s creator Irving Berlin, were not unusual. That was the year the simple, 32-bar arrangement was somehow absorbed into the fabric of American culture, finding its way into American Legion halls, churches and synagogues, schools, and even a Louisville, Kentucky, insurance office, where the song reportedly sprang to the lips of the entire sales staff one day. The song has reemerged in times of national crisis or pride over and over, to be sung in ballparks, school assemblies, and on the steps of the United States Capitol after 9/11.

Berlin immigrated to the U.S. at age 5. His family fled Russia to escape a wave of murderous pogroms directed at Jews. His mother often murmured “God Bless America” as he was growing up. “And not casually, but with emotion which was almost exaltation,” Berlin later recalled.

“He always talked about it like a love song,” says Sheryl Kaskowitz, the author of God Bless America, the Surprising History of an Iconic Song. “It came from this really genuine love and a sense of gratitude to the U.S.”

It might seem ironic that someone born in a foreign land would compose a song that so powerfully expressed a sense of national belonging—that this song embraced by an entire nation was the expression of love from an outsider for his adopted land. In the U.S., a nation of immigrants built on the prospect of renewal, it’s not the least bit surprising. It is somehow appropriate.

Patriotism is an innate human sentiment. It is part of a deeper subconscious drive toward group formation and allegiance. It operates as much in one nation under God as it does in a football stadium. Group bonding is in our evolutionary history, our nature. According to some recent studies, the factors that make us patriotic are in our very genes.

But this allegiance—this blurring of the lines between individual and group—has a closely related flipside; it’s not always a warm feeling of connection in the Cleveland-bound lounge car. Sometimes our instinct for group identification serves as a powerful wedge to single out those among us who are different. Sometimes what makes us feel connected is not a love of home and country but a common enemy. [Continue reading…]

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A climate of fear: Brexit vote triggers eruption of racism

The Guardian reports: In a room in St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, south London, on Thursday morning, more than 80 people, spilling into the corridor, talk about their experiences since the referendum result.

They are mainly from South America, holding Spanish passports, still members of the European Union, legitimately in the UK. Half a dozen had been expected. Barristers María González-Merello and John Samson hold a free weekly legal advice clinic for Spanish-speaking cleaners who work for government departments and major companies in the city. This was different.

“We called an emergency meeting because we’ve had so many people telling us about incidents [of apparent racism and xenophobia],” González-Merello says. “One woman had a cut in her pay packet, and when she complained she was told if she didn’t like it she should go back home. Another man was waiting for the night bus at 2am to go to work when a stranger said: ‘Haven’t you heard the news? You should have left.’”

At the meeting, packed with babies, toddlers and anxious adult faces, one woman says she has worked for an employer for six years. On the Friday of the referendum result she was offered a new, less attractive, zero-hours contract.

Another young woman says she and her friends, all with Spanish passports, regularly visit a Watford nightclub. Last weekend they were refused entry. “Is this because of Brexit?” they asked. The answer was yes.

González-Merello, who has lived in Britain for 20 years, says she was talking to her son on a bus in Spanish and a man said: “You fucking foreigners, you are always making a noise.”

Victims such as her, she says, are now self-policing, taking care, for instance, not to speak in a language other than English in public. Her 12-year-old son recently asked: “Mama, are you going to be deported?”

“It’s the hurt and humiliation,” she says. “And the concern that we don’t know where it may end.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump wants us to follow the Brits into a corner of isolation

Timothy Egan writes: In committing economic suicide, Britain is trying to close the door and hide from the world. It felt good, no doubt, to tell those overbearing bureaucrats in Brussels to bugger off. We’ll stick with our bangers and mash without any interference from Europe! But the Brexit vote was also a drunken swing at those “others” remaking the image of a lost England. To hear the haters tell it, “Polish vermin” and brown-skinned hordes have overwhelmed the little island nation.

Trump wants us to follow the Brits into a corner of isolation — by race, religion and trade. His philosophy, the rant of a besotted boob making things up in public, is anti-American at its core. In rejecting our former colonial masters, we threw off monarchy, the class system and a state religion. We opened our doors to all nations, all religions, all opinions.

The New World can certainly learn much from the Old World. But the sun never sets on a stupid idea. And this vote to stop the spinning globe and get off at 1952 is among the stupidest. Britain is cracking up now because it followed the crackpots. The United States could make the same mistake — rejecting free trade, and rejecting a welcome mat for free people.

Today, about 13 percent of Britain is foreign-born. What’s disruptive, especially in the timeless tableau of rural England, is that the number of immigrants has more than doubled since 1993. That’s what caused some of the open hatred in the campaign to leave the European Union. Trump is playing with that same fire now. [Continue reading…]

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After a campaign scarred by bigotry, it’s become OK to be racist in Britain

Aditya Chakrabortty writes: On chaos of the kind Britain now faces, history is clear: some people always get hurt more than others. Just which groups stand to suffer most this time round is already becoming worryingly clear. Take a look at the hate reports that have come pouring in over the past few days.

In Huntingdon, Polish-origin schoolkids get cards calling them “vermin”, who must “leave the EU”. They come with a Polish translation, thoughtfully enough. From Barnsley, a TV correspondent notes that within five minutes three different people shout, “Send them home.” On Facebook, a friend in east London tells how, while trying to sleep on a hot night, he hears a man bellowing outside his open window: “We’ve got our country back and next I’ll blow that fucking mosque up.”

None of this is coincidental. It’s what happens when cabinet ministers, party leaders and prime-ministerial wannabes sprinkle arguments with racist poison. When intolerance is not only tolerated, but indulged and encouraged. For months leading up to last week’s vote, politicians poured a British blend of Donald Trumpism into Westminster china. They told 350m little lies. They made cast-iron promises that, Iain Duncan Smith now admits, were only ever “possibilities”. And the Brexit brigade flirted over and over again with racism. [Continue reading…]

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UK after the referendum: ‘There is a poisonous anti-foreign sentiment in the air’

The Guardian asked Eastern Europeans and ethnic minorities in the UK to share their experiences after the EU referendum result:

I feel scared after the referendum. In my workplace I have heard people saying things, such as: “Pack your bags and get the fuck out.” Followed by, “If you want I can give you a suitcase.” This referendum has not led to communities coming together in any way – the opposite has happened. Now I feel worried about me and my daughter’s future in Britain.

When I was growing up in Poland I experienced racism because my father was from the Middle East. I don’t want my child to feel the same sense of exclusion I did. Three years ago I decided to move permanently to the UK because it’s such a multi-cultural place. Since coming here I have joined classes to improve my English and learned about the country’s culture and history. My whole family used to love England, but now I feel disappointed. I had no idea so many people hated us so much – me and my family have never done anything wrong in England: we have never claimed benefits and we pay taxes, we respect English culture.

I have never had any problems in the UK until now. I feel like an unwanted guest and I have now decided it is time for me and my family to move on. We don’t feel safe any more. It’s very weird how this country has turned completely against us.
Anonymous, 31, Somerset

My blood ran cold when I heard we were leaving. I live in a small town in the north-east that voted 65% to leave. The Brexit campaign made me feel like an alien, an outsider, like being brown was now bad in England. I was excluded from the debate because I was up for debate – somehow I had become up for national debate.

Recently I spoke to a mum I know from my daughter’s school who has just recently moved from London. She says she isn’t happy here as the people are not very open and friendly.

Having been born and bred in England, my nationality, my birthright, has been suddenly called into question. I am fearful for my six-year-old daughter living in a place where people are being told on the street to “get back to your own country” or to “start packing”.
Sam, 34, Middlesbrough

The result has left me feeling like an outsider. As a child, I grew up in a predominantly white, working-class area, and ignorant comments were almost made on a daily basis to me. As a mixed-race child of Oriental and European descent, I felt like I had to prove myself. My mother was put off teaching me her native language as a teacher told her it would stop me from progressing and “confuse” me. I was ashamed to show off my culture.

Seeing the active persecution of ethnic minorities and immigrants, I’m scared that those feelings of isolation and alienation that I experienced as a child will come back. But on a bigger scale, to the point I fear for my safety. I walk down the street now and I’m worried that people think I’m an outsider and that they want me gone.

I’m scared to go to my home town to visit my parents. I’m scared of how people will treat my white father for being married to my Oriental mother. I am scared that she may be attacked. I feel safer being in Manchester, but there is this poisonous anti-foreign sentiment in the air.

Brexit has allowed some people to believe that their intolerance and racism is now justified. I was in Manchester city centre and a woman glared at me in disgust. Whether or not it was to do with Brexit, I am now vigilant and cautious when I used to be carefree and happy. It all builds up and as an ethnic minority I don’t know if people accept me anymore. I used to be proud of this ethnically diverse country. Now I feel scared of it.
Khristi, 23, Manchester

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A lesson from Brexit: Stop ignoring Syria

Joyce Karam writes: The political earthquake that Great Britain witnessed last Thursday with the victory for the Brexit camp setting the stage to the UK’s exit from the EU, is not only a product of David Cameron’s mistakes and Europe’s struggle with its own demons, but has its roots 2,000 miles away in the raging war, the counterterrorism nightmare and the humanitarian disaster called Syria.

The Syrian war is the elephant in the room when it comes to the rise of identity-politics, and the protectionist wave across Europe and in the United States. The unprecedented refugee influx, the largest since World War II coming primarily from Syria, and the country’s transformation into a hub for every Jihadist group and extremist recruitment machinery, has sent shockwaves through Europe and is feeding a political rhetoric of hate and racism across the continent.

This rhetoric won’t necessarily go away if Syria is resolved, but it will only grow if the conflict is left to spread and fester. [Continue reading…]

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Brexit ‘most important moment since Berlin Wall’ says France’s far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen

 

BBC News reports: France’s National Front leader Marine Le Pen has called the UK’s Brexit vote “the most important moment since the fall of the Berlin Wall”.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight, the far-right leader said her party has been given a boost by the result.

Ms Le Pen – one of the contenders for the French presidency in 2017 – said she would call a referendum if elected.

A number of other far-right leaders in Europe say they would like to hold their own referendums on EU membership.

In her first broadcast interview since the UK’s Leave vote in the referendum, Ms Le Pen commended “the courage of the British people who didn’t allow themselves to be intimidated by the threats, blackmail, and lies of the European elites”. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Emboldened by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, nationalists across the continent are daring to dream big, saying they, too, should have the chance for an up-or-down vote on the unloved bureaucracy in Brussels.

From Finland to Denmark to the Netherlands to Austria, far-right politicians are salivating at the idea of exiting a club they blame for unwanted immigrants, economic squalor and a loss of sovereignty.

And nowhere could the possibility pose a greater threat to the E.U.’s future than in France, where the far-right National Front party is surging in polls a year ahead of presidential elections.

That is part of the challenge facing E.U. leaders as they gather Tuesday for an unprecedented summit to start divorce talks with one of their own.

Allowing Britain to walk away with generous terms could energize anti-E.U. forces elsewhere. But too harsh a response could also blow back on Europe, fueling a continent-wide recession that would drive angry voters into the embrace of populists. [Continue reading…]

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Racism is spreading like arsenic in the water supply

Randeep Ramesh writes: One of the genies uncorked by the referendum of the EU has been low-lying fascism and extreme nationalism. This is not to say that all leavers were racists. Far from it. But one of the political forces that have been unleashed is a form of dangerous nativism that unchecked will threaten us all.

It’s clear from the barrage of reports that a form of bigotry in everyday conversation is being legitimised. It is not racist to worry about high levels of immigration but a climate of fear is being created in the name of leavers. There are reports of schoolchildren terrified of being deported. “Polish vermin”, “Paki cunt” and “send them home” seem to be becoming something that immigrants and non-whites once again have to endure.

Monday night’s BBC news report featured a neo-Nazi in a balanced piece about the fallout for eastern European immigrants of Brexit in Leeds. Outside a Polish shop, in an interview a heavily inked Lee described himself as a “nationalist” and a “fascist”. He openly displayed his swastika tattoo and talked of a “sense of relief” after the Brexit vote. It was, said Lee, time to “take our country back”.

For the leave campaigners, it must weigh on their conscience that their slogans have been easily adopted by the far right. That’s the trouble with words, you never know whose mouth they have been in. Seven years ago the country had an impassioned debate over the right of the British National party’s Nick Griffin to appear on Question Time. Griffin did appear. His cause died a political death, eviscerated by his fellow panellists’ fury.

The aftermath of the Brexit vote threatens to reanimate that corpse. It is increasingly clear that the language of extremists is becoming part of the British street. Words are weapons-grade material. They can be made into political bombs. How long before “send them back” becomes a line in a manifesto that suggests voluntary repatriation for the last wave of European migrants? [Continue reading…]

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Cameron condemns xenophobic and racist abuse after Brexit vote

The Guardian reports: David Cameron has condemned “despicable” xenophobic abuse after the EU referendum as figures suggested a 57% increase in reported incidents.

The country would not stand for hate crime, the prime minister told MPs.

“In the past few days we have seen despicable graffiti daubed on a Polish community centre, we’ve seen verbal abuse hurled against individuals because they are members of ethnic minorities,” Cameron said.

“Let’s remember these people have come here and made a wonderful contribution to our country. We will not stand for hate crime or these kinds of attacks, they must be stamped out.”

Police believe there has been an increase in hate crimes and community tensions since last week’s referendum. Initial figures show an increase of 57% in reported incidents between Thursday and Sunday compared with the same days four weeks earlier, the National Police Chiefs’ Council said – 85 incidents were reported compared with 54 during the earlier period.

“It’s no coincidence this has come off the back of the EU vote,” said a police source. [Continue reading…]

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Racism and paranoia are threatening to engulf stable societies. It’s time to fight back

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, writes: The murder of British MP Jo Cox last week has forced the world to look at itself anew. This week, social movements will hold events to remember Jo’s life in many cities, including Ottawa. Members of parliaments in Canada and everywhere have been asked to “stand together to stem the poisonous rising tide of fear and hate that breeds division and extremism.”

We all need to hold ourselves to this same challenge. It feels like the world is entering a frightening new phase. No one is immune, anywhere.

Jo Cox dedicated her life to the struggle against injustice and intolerance. I did not know Jo myself, but so many across Oxfam did and were touched by her. So many people were inspired by her compassion, commitment and energy for change. She was clearly an incredible woman.

Jo was a passionate feminist, a woman after my own heart. While working in Oxfam she got involved in a discussion about how women can best become genuinely empowered. “Education,” said one person. No, said Jo, the answer is politics. Support women as they seek political power — the rest will follow. Everything I have ever experienced, working with women in Africa and across the world, tells me she was right. [Continue reading…]

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