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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Monday, June 20, 2016

Jo Cox and the EU

Most of what you’ve been hearing about since June 12 pertains to the mass shooting in Orlando.  Clearly we are upset about that horrible tragedy.  But we want also to give attention to a not-totally-unrelated event in northern England on June 16.

This Thursday, June 23, people in the U.K. will vote on whether to remain in the EU or leave.  The EU is an association of 28 European nations enjoying free trade among each other and whose citizens can move freely among the countries, living anywhere they choose at any time.  Nineteen of these countries, obviously not including the U.K., also use a common currency, the euro.

There is dissatisfaction among some U.K. citizens over belonging to the EU, such that when he ran for re-election to Parliament in 2013, the current Prime Minister David Cameron promised that Parliament would authorize a public election over whether to stay in it.

This hardly sounds like an issue that should spawn violence.  But as the voting date has approached, two vociferous camps have emerged and campaigning has been raucous and nasty.

Still, the nation – and many others – was shocked last Thursday, when Jo Cox, a Member of Parliament supporting the Remain camp, was shot and stabbed in front of the public library in her town of Birstall.

Violence.  What is it about these days that political disagreements seem to be spurring such deadly violence?  The gentleman who murdered Jo Cox on Thursday was known to have mental problems, but still, outright killing is extreme.  Tommie Mair even used a sawed-off shotgun to do this in a country where almost all guns are outlawed, and most police don’t even carry them.

We have to talk first about Jo Cox herself.

An extraordinary person.  She is from Birstall in Northern England, just north of Leicester and south of Nottingham.  The region is a factory community; it includes a large Muslim population, apparently mainly from India, as workers were needed for factories.  Jo Cox’s father worked in a factory.  She apparently always presumed she would do the same.  But she had the opportunity to attend Cambridge and she was the first member of her family to attend university.  She spent 10 years as an aid worker, affiliated with Oxfam, the Gates Foundation and the Freedom Fund, this last an organization that fights modern slavery.  The Wall Street Journal explains that in Parliament “she pushed for international action to help Syrians who had been caught up in fighting there .” She was also a vocal proponent of the UK staying in the EU.

She lived simply, with her husband and two children on a houseboat, and, according to The Economist magazine, she commuted to Parliament on a bicycle.  Ms. Cox was on her way to conduct constituent appointments at the local library in Birstall when she was attacked.  A witness reported that the attacker shouted “Britain first” as he struck her.  In Mr. Mair’s court appearance, the prosecutor stated that he had said, “Britain first, keep Britain independent, Britain always comes first.”  Perhaps coincidentally, “Britain First” is actually an organization committed to banning Islam in the U.K.  The group denied responsibility, however, although they are concerned that immigration is the root of many of the U.K.’s current problems.  When asked to state his name during his court appearance Saturday, June 18, he replied, “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”

Thus, we seem to face three forces here.  First, the awful killing of a highly regarded public servant, popular in her community and respected in Parliament.  A bright, relatively young woman, age 41, who obviously had much to say and do toward the benefit of the people she represents.  Second, a raucous, divisive campaign about whether the U.K. should Remain in the EU or Leave it; indeed the groups in support of each side are “Remain” and “Vote Leave”.  Polls show sentiment is almost evenly divided and oscillates from one preference to the other, so it is not at all clear which will come out ahead in the vote.  Campaigning was suspended altogether from Thursday after Jo Cox’s death through Saturday.  Third, there is the immigration issue.  Being part of the EU means that immigration into the U.K. from Europe is relatively easy.

This last issue, immigration, even strikes us as bearing some resemblance to at least one of the factors in the Donald Trump campaign in the U.S.  Trump’s supporters tend to blame immigrants for some of our problems, similar to the U.K. citizens who blame immigrants for whatever distress they are feeling.

While we have no answers to any of this, we can offer you a prayer concerning the U.K. vote, published by the Church of England back in April.  It is obviously directed at this specific issue, but its themes can apply to many topics of public debate:

God of truth, give us grace to debate the issues in this referendum with honesty and openness. Give generosity to those who seek to form opinion and discernment to those who vote, that our nation may prosper and that with all the peoples of Europe we may work for peace and the common good; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

And among the myriad tributes to Jo Cox, here is one offered at a prayer service at a church in Birstall last Thursday and published on the website of the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales:

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