Jo Cox: Minority communities pay tribute to slain UK MP

Groups and activists pay respects to politician who fought for human rights of Syrians, Palestinians and Muslims.

Handout image of Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox
Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, was killed in her constituency [Reuters]

Minority communities in Britain are in a state of deep shock and mourning after the murder of Jo Cox, an MP who regularly spoke up for their human rights.

As the nation reeled from the first assassination of an MP in more than 20 years, tributes for the 41-year-old mother of two flowed from the groups she worked with – from Syrian refugees and Palestinian rights activists to youth campaigners and Muslims.

Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, was stabbed and shot on Thursday on the streets of Birstall, a West Yorkshire village in her constituency, fewer than five miles from where she was born.

In her political life, Cox campaigned for diversity; victims of the Syrian conflict; child refugees; Palestinians affected by the blockade of the Gaza Strip; and Muslims who suffered Islamophobia. She also worked with anti-slavery charity Freedom Fund and Oxfam.

“She was a tiny woman with a massive voice,” Razia Jogi, a lawyer with strong links in the large Indian Gujarati community of Cox’s constituency, told Al Jazeera on Saturday.

“She united in life and she’s still uniting in death,” added Jogi, who attended a memorial service in the northern English town of Batley on Friday evening.

“She took on plights which weren’t particularly glamorous, that nobody really wants.”

‘Building communities’

The memorial service was held at the Indian Muslim Welfare Society in Batley, and attended by hundreds of people of all faiths and backgrounds.

Speaking at the service, Sayeeda Warsi, a Conservative politician, said that Cox “gave a voice to the voiceless” and “hope to the hated” – and that she would often cross party lines to galvanise support for the causes she championed.

“I worked quite closely with Jo on and off with community programmes and projects,” Abdul Wajid, who runs youth groups and workshops within the Batley community, told Al Jazeera.

“She was very visible in the community. She would make it her business to attend as many activities as possible,” added Wajid, who also works locally as an associate clinical psychologist.

“She was very approachable, accessible, she was an empathetic listener – she would listen; she might not agree but she would listen.”

Inside Story: Has politics in the UK become too divisive?


Wajid said that Cox was focused on “building communities” and dedicated to overturning the image of Batley as a breeding ground for “terrorism”, after a few arrests were made against suspects in the area.

As condolences poured in, Thomas Mair, the 52-year-old man suspected of killing Cox, appeared in court. When asked his name, he responded: “My name is death to traitors, freedom to Britain.”

Reports have suggested that during the murder, the suspect shouted “Britain First”. Britain First is a far-right group in England that describes itself as a “street defence organisation”.

One of Cox’s final campaigns was for Britain to remain in the European Union; her death came one week before the June 23 EU referendum.

“She was against right-wing extremism,” said Wajid. “She really felt that Prevent, the government’s counterterrorism strategy, was focusing on so-called Islamic terrorism, and that it was polarising communities.”

Global causes

Two months before her death, in April, Cox made an impassioned speech in the House of Commons on Syria, urging the British government to accept child refugees.

“Those children have been exposed to things no child should ever witness, and I know I would risk life and limb to get my two precious babies out of that hell hole,” she said.

The Syrian Association of Yorkshire said that Cox was one of the few MPs to speak out against the plight of the Syrian people.

“She called for a no-fly zone to be enforced and urged the UK government to take a firmer stance against [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad. She also campaigned in parliament to support unaccompanied children refugees and called for aerial food-drops for civilians in the besieged areas,” said Zaki Kaf Al-Ghazal, a spokesman for the group.

UK leaders pay tributes to Jo Cox

“She was an exemplary individual who was loved by those who met her, and will be remembered for her brazen humanity. Jo has left a great legacy behind and will never be forgotten.”

According to her website, Cox was also an active member on parliamentary groups working on Palestine.

“I had the privilege of sharing the platform with Jo Cox on a number of occasions,” said Hugh Lanning, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. “She was a passionate advocate for Palestine – speaking up on child prisoners, the siege of Gaza, the right to boycott and many other issues.

“Her murder is a tragic loss – most to her friends and family, but also to the causes she so brilliantly supported. She was a bright star who will be much missed.”

Shuja Shafi, head of The Muslim Council of Britain, said that Cox’s campaigning “meant that she positively affected the lives of many people abroad and here in the UK as well”.

Follow Anealla Safdar on Twitter: @anealla

Source: Al Jazeera