Monday, 3 March 2014

Operation Sovereign Language

Scott Morrison in full flight (AAP)
Immigration Minister (and good Christian) Scott Morrison's now discredited first press conference regarding the Manus Island riot and subsequent death in custody was telling in a number of ways.

Firstly, it answered that age-old question about how many spin doctors it takes to outright lie to the public and generate synonyms for "operational reasons" (66 apparently - and they're not doing a very good job).

Secondly and far more disturbingly, Morrison demonstrated how callously and calculatingly this government uses language to dehumanise and stigmatise those who come across the seas. 

Here's a couple of terms used by the Minister you might be a little confused about:

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
    1. Defensive shields and protective gear for guards
    2. Offensive truncheons and shields used by contracted security guards to likely beat clients (see transferees)
  • Transferees
    1. Clients (vis-à-vis the aforementioned contracted security guards)
    2. Illegals (vis-à-vis the Murdoch press and DIBP)
    3. Human beings fleeing horror and violence in search of a better life, formerly refugees

    It was well reported Morrison insisted the term "illegal arrivals" be used to refer to refugees when he became minister. Because you don't want a whimp.

    It is an important reminder of the power of language (or what little of it politicians have left intact). Orwell's Politics and the English Language is one of the finest works on the subject, presciently observing that "political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible."

    More recently, Don Watson has has keenly observed the known knowns and known unknowns of the decay of language in his books Death Sentence and Weasel Words.

    But it is absolutely vital to place this dehumanisation of language in its real context. Throughout history, language has been used as a "defence of the indefensible"; to acquiesce in unspeakable horrors.

    The Third Reich referred to the Jews (and the Russians and the Slavs and the Gypsies and the Africans etc) as untermenschen with the resulting state sanctioned mass murders and atrocities which the world is yet to truly deal with (how do you even visualise six million??)

    Closer to home, Niall Ferguson tells of how General Sir Thomas Blamey informed his troops the Japanese were a cross between "the human being and the ape" that had to be "exterminated" for the good of civilisation. The language of dehumanisation transformed the enemy into an alien to be wiped off the face of the earth. Such language helped perpetuate atrocity after atrocity and "man's inhumanity to man" throughout the twentieth century.

    We should be extraordinarily skeptical whenever politicians such as Scott Morrison speak, for when they do, they do with an acid tongue designed to dehumanise and stigmatise (and gain the ascendency in Western Sydney).

    "Transferee" is designed to shroud the human face of those who suffer for years in atrocious conditions, forlorn. Unfortunately it is only in death that a name might be put to the number and the words "deep sympathies" emanate from the acid tongue of the aforementioned Immigration Minister.

    At some point, our nation will be forced to apologise for its treatment of refugees who have sought our shores. Like the forced adoptions of Aboriginal children, or those of single mothers or of child migrants or state wards, the Prime Minister of the day will make a statement before Parliament admonishing the behaviour of the "leaders" of the past. The vast majority of Australian will applaud him or her; a dissenting minority will stay tough and intransigent, arguing that back in the day, they didn't know any better.

    Well, we do know better. We are better than this. You don't have to be a bleeding heart, lefty pinko inner-city latté swilling Socialist Alternative hipster to know that.

    You only have to be a human being.

    And I hope you're that.

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