Random Ramblings

On Language

I went to the Imperial War Museum a few weeks ago, to visit their revamped WW2 exhibition. I was at a concert in the evening, so thought I would pay it a visit beforehand. I didn’t get any further than the Holocaust exhibits – and couldn’t manage to get through all of these.

This was partly on the grounds of time, as I was conscious I was going to start rushing through the displays, which didn’t seem appropriate, and partly because I needed time to process the words and images I was seeing.

The exhibition is brilliantly done. And truly horrible.

I spent most of my time reading the displays about the rise of the Nazis and their policies and communication strategies following their election in 1933.

So it was interesting to see the furore over Gary Lineker’s comments this week. This is what he said.

From what I saw at that exhibition, and from what I know from my previous work as a history student ,(albeit a long time ago), there is nothing in that tweet that is inaccurate.

Firstly, the number of refugees we take is far less than other European countries, whether calculated on a percentage or number basis. The data is out there, it is very clear, if you don’t believe me go and have a look for yourself.

FWIW, I used to be a school governor, and went to an event for Portsmouth school governors about refugees / asylum seekers, and how they were being integrated into the local education systems, the challenges being faced, and what was being done to mitigate these. We were all asked to guess how many people were granted asylum in the UK in that year (it would have been in the first half of the last decade, one of 2013/2014/2015 probably). Every single one of us overestimated the number whose asylum applications were accepted (I think I was relatively close – I guessed at 50K when the actual number was around 19K – bear in mind I am typing this from memory so the numbers may be inaccurate!). What I do remember clearly is that most estimates were in the 100K – 300K range, wildly above what was really happening at this time.

There is an interesting subtext here – why were we all overestimating the numbers by such a high degree? Could it have anything to do with the way we get our news information, what is reported, what misinformation gets spewed out, isn’t challenged properly and subsequently becomes ‘fact’?

I guess dull stories and numbers don’t sell papers.

Lineker’s second point was around language. He wasn’t as some have tried to suggest, saying that the current government are Nazis. Read the tweet again. Why perhaps, do some people want to suggest that he is saying this? To create more anger to sell more papers, get more clicks perhaps. Or maybe for some other reason.

But what is similar is the way that in 1930s Germany – and before – the language used by politicians and their associated media created a situation where certain sectors of society were marginalised and positioned as an existential threat. In Germany, this was a starting point to the dehumanisation of communists, homosexuals, and the disabled, along with Jewish and Roma people. Here in the UK, some of the language used by our Home Secretary and other politicians, (not exclusively in the Conservative Party I should add), has, whether deliberately or not, been incendiary in it’s nature and has helped to increase, rather than decrease, tensions in this area.

They all need to tone down the rhetoric and actually look for ways to fix this issue properly rather than play to the gallery of elements of their core support (or target support in the case of the Labour Party). Hopefully Sunak’s recent deal with the French Government is the start of this process.

Language is so, so important. We all have to be incredibly careful how we use it. As a writer I can sit at my computer for hours trying to find one word to improve a particular line in a poem. Politicians and the media don’t have that luxury of course – they have deadlines to hit. But this isn’t an excuse to be careless or reckless with the words that they use.

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