This brilliant article deserves to be shared far and wide. The disgusting tactics of shock jock Katie Hopkins are one thing, placing her in the same league as the bigoted criminals most refugees are trying to escape from. I hope that most of us could not relate to Katie if we tried, and of course that most of us would not even try.
Lady Anelay on the other hand, appears to be reasonable and fair. But she has what could be called “Disconnection Syndrome”. Her protected and comfortable life is so far removed from the perspective of those living through events and circumstances, that she cannot properly represent the reality people face. The older I get, the more fascinating I find this disconnection between the privileged minority and those living with violence, poverty and oppression. If I ever decided to do a research degree, it would be on this topic.
From The Guardian, Zoe Williams,
“Katie Hopkins calling migrants vermin recalls the darkest events of history”
The bodies have yet to be counted; from the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean only 28 have so far been saved. There may have been 700 on board. The scale of the loss is extraordinary, but the manner of it entirely ordinary. These deaths are the result of politics; not complicated coups in faraway places, but bland decisions in beige EU meeting rooms resulting in the decision to halt search adn rescue operations. In a statement to the House of Lords last October, the Foreign Office minister Lady Anelay justified the move and Britain’s support for it thus: “The government believes there is an unintended ‘pull factor’, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths”.
This move was never going to stop the flight of refugees – people fleeing chemical weapons and public beheadings, political oppression, civil war and starvation do not emigrate to a place because they’ve heard good things about its coastguard services. Nor do they change their minds when they read that the safety features have had their funding cut.
The rationale as Anelay described it made no sense at all; yet at a deeper level it makes perfect sense. Because we scarcely ever talk about migrants except in terms of what they’re worth: how much they grow the economy or take from it, how much wealth they create in student fees or investment, what they do to wages with their pesky hard work and willingness to be exploited.
Political parties talk about migration as something to attract or repel, a tango between economic and political expediency. Human beings have no innate value in this worldview: there is no pride in representing the country that is safe and generous enough to offer a haven. Refugees, arriving with nothing, are worth nothing.
The controversialist Katie Hopkins, writing in the Sun 48 hours before the latest mass drowning, suggested using gun boats on migrants; her idea proved unnecessary, of course. Why waste the money when you can let people die by doing nothing, for free? But Hopkins’ phrasing was interesting: “These migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit ‘Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984’, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb.” The following morning, as an LBC shock jock, she rolled back her position slightly, suggesting the best way to solve the refugee crisis was not to shoot them once they were in the water, but to “burn all the boats in North Africa”.
The news that 700 would-be illegal migrants have died after their boat capsized off Libya has brought the issue of migration into Europe to a head. But what can be done about it?
A rather niche debate is underway about whether “Katie Hopkins” is a construct of its owner – like Mrs Merton, an entertainment turn spun out for money – or whether Katie Hopkins is a real person with an antisocial personality disorder. With more urgent questions and so many people dead, this distinction shouldn’t detain us. The fault is with those who broadcast her: this is serious stuff.
This characterisation of people as less than human, as vermin, as a “virus” (as she did elsewhere in the article) irresistibly recalls the darkest events in history. It is eerily reminiscent of the Rwandan media of 1994, when the radio went from statements such as “You have to kill the Tutsis, they’re cockroaches” to, shortly afterwards, instructions on how to do so, and what knives to use.
It is no joke when people start talking like this. We are not “giving her what she wants” when we make manifest our disgust. It is not a free speech issue. I’m not saying gag her: I’m saying fight her. Articulate the fellowship, the human empathy, that makes these deaths important. Stop talking about how many children were among the dead, as though only children matter. Start talking about everybody’s life as cherishable, irrespective of anything they might produce.
As the Hopkins column moved about social media, there gathered that peculiar sense of shame in objecting to it. A representative from Save the Children suggested we should channel that anger in a useful way, and give a donation. Others, scores of others, were of the opinion that if we ignored her she would go away. It’s a mixture of social embarrassment and moral nuance.
Are we validating the cockroach-view by engaging with it? Are we feeding off the suffering of others for a luxurious, meaningless ding-dong between people who manufacture conflict because they’re so far removed from what real peril feels like? With so much fresh loss, so much more that every one of us could have done, so much collective guilt, isn’t silence the only respectful response? I didn’t take to the streets in October last year when Anelay made her statement. I didn’t even write to my MP. I’ve never been to Calais to show solidarity with the refugees who are being beaten up there by French police. What right have I to say any of this is wrong?
Compassion is such a rich part of the human experience and yet such a shaming thing to express, because you will always fall short of what your own words demand from you. You will never do enough. It makes you wonder how the concept of human rights was ever born. How did anybody ever overcome the knowledge of their own failings for long enough to establish universal principles that they knew they would probably never do enough to propagate?
Because, fresh from the memory of “barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind”, people knew what the world looked like when nobody stood up to defend “the innate dignity of all the members of the human family”. People knew that insufficient was better than nothing. People knew that you don’t respect the dead by staying silent about what killed them.