Yesterday, 16 June, was Bloomsday: an annual celebration of the life and work of James Joyce. In the early afternoon, Jo Cox, the Labour MP for West Yorkshire, was murdered on the street by a British nationalist. Cox, 42, was a backbench MP and a mother of two young boys. She was pro-immigration and fought in Parliament for support for Syrian refugees. (By contrast, Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, spent the morning in Westminster launching an anti-European Union poster campaign featuring Syrian refugees arriving at the Slovenian border.) Cox was a supporter of Remain, which wants Britain to stay part of the European Union. Her attacker was not. Tommy Mair – the 52 year-old man who stabbed, shot and kicked Cox to death – reportedly shouted ‘Britain first’ before and during the attack. Britain First is a far-right political organization, which wants to leave Europe. Their slogan is ‘Take our country back!’
In the ‘Cyclops’ chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), Leopold Bloom enters Barney Kiernan’s pub where he encounters The Citizen. The Citizen is a belligerent drunk, a religious zealot and an Irish nationalist who mocks Bloom’s Jewishness, casting him as a poisonous, weak and untrustworthy outsider (or, more simply, a foreigner). Despite the monstrous anti-Semitism and xenophobia directed at him, Bloom maintains his composure. He counters aggression with openhearted inclusiveness. ‘Force, hatred, history, all that,’ says Bloom: ‘That’s not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it’s the very opposite of that that is really life.’ Asked what he is referring to, Bloom replies simply: ‘Love’. His definition of love is ‘the opposite of hatred’.
The referendum on Britain’s membership to the E.U. increasingly seems like a referendum between stark opposites – not Leave or Remain, but hatred and love. Love: openness and tolerance towards our neighbours. Hate: suspicion and anger towards the outsider. Which will win out on the 23rd? In recent days, bookies have slashed the odds on Britain leaving the E.U. How do those who support Remain countenance the forces of hate that oppose it? How do we arm ourselves ideologically when the other side use actual weapons? Like Bloom, we should continue to call for love, even in the face of unspeakable, senseless hatred. In a statement made yesterday afternoon, Jo Cox’s husband, Brendan Cox, said his wife would want people ‘to unite to fight against the hatred that killed her’.