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When Words Are Weapons

November 4, 2022

The fate of those seeking sanctuary from poverty, conflict and injustice – including climate injustice – is all too often informed by constructions of ‘race’, influenced variously by either judicious or disingenuous use of language. Witness how loaded the term ‘migrants’ has become – liberally applied in ‘fortress’ Europe to justify prejudice, oppression and violence. Weaponising language for political ends – propaganda – is not a recent phenomenon, but, as LIDC Communications Coordinator Charine John argues, we must be vigilant lest we become complicit.


A Black man has his documents checked by border control official

Photo: Moayad Zaghdani/Unsplash

In June, the tiny enclave of Mellila on the border between Spain and Morocco was the site of horrific carnage meted out by Moroccan border guards. Their brutality left many dead and more dying . While we react with justified outrage at the violence transmitted to our TV screens from Ukraine, scarcely any voices were raised in protest at the sickening scenes that took place in Mellila.  Why? We can in part plead ignorance. Indeed, this is partly true, as the world has become accustomed to looking away as the bodies of black and brown people, or from non-Judeo/Christian cultures, are brutalised. Were it not for the dogged reportage[i] by the BBC’s African Eye Team, many of ‘us’ would remain ignorant of what took place in Mellila this June.


On 19 October, under pressure to explain why she had repeatedly breached security protocol by sending official government documents to her personal phone -six times in less than two months – UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman tendered her resignation to Liz Truss,  only to be controversially reinstated by Rishi Sunak when he took over as Prime Minister following Truss’ resignation. Since her re-appointment, Braverman has found herself fighting for political survival. It is no surprise that she is playing to the rightwing anti-immigrant gallery,  and in so doing has resorted to using terms such as ‘invasion’ to describe irregular migration into the UK, despite the fact that figures from the Migration Observatory at Oxford University show that seventeen EU countries received larger numbers of asylum applications per capita last year. On 3 November, a member of parliament of France’s right-wing National Rally party shouted ‘go back to Africa’ at a Black French-born MP, Martens Bilongo, during a discussion on immigration. The rise of populism since Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory has given succour to racists and right-wing extremists globally. Words dictate actions. Those of us who do not want to live in a world of injustice and oppression have a duty to actively oppose expressions of racism. We lose our humanity if we fail.


[i]Trigger warning: contains upsetting scenes


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