This week we commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day when we hopefully, paused and reflected on those genocidal acts of terror committed over 70 years ago. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, much of the world said “never again” yet we have not inherited a world free of genocide; just a cursory glance of history shows us the stark truth http://endgenocide.org/learn/past-genocides/. The names of Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur are a stain on our collective memory and in years to come may well be joined by Syria.
What relevance does this have now? Haven’t we all moved on from this?
Well, it is instructive to look at the role of language in the buildup and execution of many genocides. This report highlights the dehumanising impact of language. Whether that’s the “parasites, plague, cancer, tumor and bloodsuckers” in Hitler’s description of the Jewish people, “microbes and worms” of Cambodia or “cockroaches” in Rwanda, identifying certain people as less than human may well make it easier to eradicate them.
As I said earlier surely we have moved on? Really? I know that JUST Lincolnshire is not alone in ‘flinching’ with the recent description of refugees and migrants as a “bunch” and “swarm” let alone Katie Hopkins description of sea-bound migrants as “cockroaches”.
You see, this is really important, the language we use can signify what we do and don’t find acceptable in how we behave towards others. I am not advocating the view that such language always descends into physical violence, ethnic cleansing and genocide; it patently does not. However, I am saying that such language continually erases the ‘line in the sand’ as to what may be acceptable and moves it surreptitiously forward. JUST Lincolnshire encourages us all to become more generous, compassionate and open in the language we choose to use (and it is a choice).
Let us not fall into the trap that some in the media and public-office would lead us into of lazy stereotypes and unfounded myths. We can be better than that! That is why JUST Lincolnshire were pleased to partner with Boston College on Holocaust Memorial Day and witness many young people committing themselves to a more open, generous and compassionate view of the world.
It almost goes without saying (but not quite!) that this is relevant here in Lincolnshire. Yes, by all means, we can disagree, we can hold different views and adopt different lifestyles but let us do so in a way that affirms, respects and empowers each other.
“Wars are not fought for territory, but for words. Man’s deadliest weapon is language. He is susceptible to being hypnotized by slogans as he is to infectious diseases. And where there is an epidemic, the group mind takes over”. Arthur Koestler 1978