The language of demonisation


by Rumbold
15th June, 2009 at 8:57 pm    

Justin highlights the importance of language when dealing with highly-charged subjects by flagging up a quote on the linguistic shift from ‘refugee’ to ‘asylum seeker’:

“Also a threat to the fictionally homogeneous ‘community in Britain were ‘asylum seekers’, those seeking to stay in the country on the grounds that they were persecuted in their place of origin. The term ‘asylum seeker’ had gradually replaced ‘refugee’, shifting the emphasis from what a person was fleeing to the demands he was making on the country he arrived in. It was safe to call people ‘refugees’ as long as they remained elsewhere in the world (as, for example, those displaced by the 2004 Asian tsunami); but as soon as they arrived on British shores they became ‘asylum seekers’.”

I hadn’t thought of that before reading this, but it now seems clear.


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  1. mervino

    The language of demonisation http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/4852 RT @pickledpolitics…subtle influencing of public opinion


  2. pickles

    New blog post: The language of demonisation http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/4852




  1. Amrit — on 15th June, 2009 at 9:27 pm  

    Excellent post – it’s good to see the importance of language and communication being highlighted.

  2. marvin — on 15th June, 2009 at 9:43 pm  

    I don’t think Chicken Yoghurt has thought much either.

    Asylum seeker is somebody who is claiming for refugee status. A very significant proportion of asylum seekers are schooled by immigration lawyers to to say that they will be killed if they they return when this is not the reality. This has created an immense amount of cynicism, where the EU convention of human rights is being abused by people in order to stay in the country.

    A refugee is the status that has an asylum seeker will gain upon successful application. This is where the state has decided from the available evidence they are indeed fleeing persecution and not falsifying their claim.

    The whole system is fucked anyway. We continue to deport the innocent and decent ones who should be allowed to stay, and to keep in the worst, time and time again.

    But I am glad the lefties, and Rumbold, are dealing with the real crux of the issue; and encouraging people to use nice compassionate words (when you have no idea if it’s a terrorist or a victim of terrorism) instead of factually correct ones.

  3. Refresh — on 15th June, 2009 at 9:56 pm  

    Marvin you clearly need your sump draining.

  4. dailyhater — on 15th June, 2009 at 10:21 pm  

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1192689/AMANDA-PLATELL-These-disgusting-footballers–sports-star-CAN-proud-of.html

    “The fatal stabbing of 16-year-old Ben Kinsella by three black thugs shone another frightening light into the world of our growing criminal underclass.”

    Seems like the Mail’s hatred for non-Muslim ethnics is still high, just mostly covered

  5. Leon — on 15th June, 2009 at 10:46 pm  

    Chomsky is instructive on the use of language in political discourse. This is no surprise…

  6. Ravi Naik — on 15th June, 2009 at 11:55 pm  

    Jason is wrong. Asylum seeker and refugee have precise meanings: A person who is seeking to be recognized as a refugee is an asylum seeker. So technically, they are refugees elsewhere, but when they arrive to this country they have to go to a lengthy process to become refugees, and therefore are considered asylum seekers.

    The reason why the term “asylum seeker” is negative is because of the media exposure to cases of fraud.

  7. Shatterface — on 16th June, 2009 at 12:54 am  

    I’d say an ‘asylum seeker’ wants to be here (positive, active) while a refugee wants to be anywhere other than where they came from (negative, passive): it’s the tabloid-invented prefix ‘bogus’ that turns ‘asylum seeker’ into a negative term.

  8. justforfun — on 16th June, 2009 at 8:17 am  

    Ravi well put & Shatterface

    “Asylum seeker” as a phrase at least reminds people that this country still can give ‘asylum’ to people, and even if in practice the time comes when it is never given, at least as a word it will act as a thorn in our consciousnesses as something to aspire to.

    Rumbold – good to see this area picked up on – I think the whole nature of governing has been transformed by the use of words and making words meaningless. Its pernicious and leads to the mess we are in.

    However what really gets my blood pressure up – better than any pill – is the lack of the definite article in front of ‘Government’. This give the Government a sense of being on a higher, more authoritative and permanent plane and implies we are its servants and not the other way around. Its a a fatalism in front of authority that really riles and depresses me. Its something one finds in India also – a fatalism when taking about ‘government’. ‘Government’ this ‘Government’ that – where the poor peasant is a supplicant and has already resigned himself to being crushed and accepting of the current state of things.

    The loss of ‘the’ in front of government was invented by the New Labour project and in the early 90s was a sign one was in on the heist. Anyone under the age of 25 probably thinks it was always like this.

    Anyway try It –

    “Government want to know everything about you”

    “The Government wants to know everything about you”

    “God knows everything about you”

    “The God knows everything about you”

    The use of ‘the’ implies that there can be other governments and this one is not permanent.

    justforfun

  9. persephone — on 16th June, 2009 at 9:33 am  

    i do not like the word asylum beung used because of its association with madness.

    Would prefer sanctuary seeker which reverts to refugee if the application is valid

    In similar vein, how about replacing the title Politician for Expenses Seeker which, when they are proven innocent, is then changed to Politician

  10. Shatterface — on 16th June, 2009 at 9:45 am  

    ‘Sanctuary’ makes me think of Charles Laughton as The Hunchback of Notre Dam.

  11. Shatterface — on 16th June, 2009 at 9:46 am  

    Or ‘Logan’s Run’

  12. persephone — on 16th June, 2009 at 10:07 am  

    The Hunchback of Notre Dam – that was a good film.

  13. Ravi Naik — on 16th June, 2009 at 10:31 am  

    I like the term “sanctuary seeker”.

  14. chairwoman — on 16th June, 2009 at 10:41 am  

    Me too.

    As long as it doesn’t involve touching specific church altars at all times.

  15. Ravi Naik — on 16th June, 2009 at 10:46 am  

    As long as it doesn’t involve touching specific church altars at all times.

    Heh. :)

  16. MaidMarian — on 16th June, 2009 at 7:11 pm  

    Marvin (2) – ‘We continue to deport the innocent and decent ones who should be allowed to stay, and to keep in the worst, time and time again.’

    This surely is what the question of language is really getting at. I would suspect that most people out there would want policy to reflect, ‘deserving,’ and, ‘undeserving.’ Simple as that. Hence, for example the Gurkhas, despite not having a really strong claim for immigration, are seen as OK because they are (rightly) deserving. Binyam Mohammed creates great division because there is not much agreement on whether he is deserving or undeserving.

    Language is a false issue here – if there is a perception of ‘deserving’ the language will flow from that. Immigration is about as close as it gets to a need to legislate for motive, which in all fairness to government is treacherous territory.

  17. Rumbold — on 16th June, 2009 at 7:22 pm  

    Marvin:

    “We continue to deport the innocent and decent ones who should be allowed to stay, and to keep in the worst, time and time again.

    But I am glad the lefties, and Rumbold, are dealing with the real crux of the issue; and encouraging people to use nice compassionate words (when you have no idea if it’s a terrorist or a victim of terrorism) instead of factually correct ones.”

    Hang on, I don’t see a contradiction between the two. We can both try and improve the system, and use language in a better way. Language is not the only thing that matters, but if you started to call doctors ‘life-stealers’ every time you talked about them, they would be seen a worse light.

    Thanks for that Ravi. I never knew there was a legal difference.

    Justforfun:

    Yes- what was it Blair said: something about Labour “being the political wing of the British people.” They recognise no boundaries because they know none. They believe their cause is just, ergo, everything they do is just.

    Very droll Chairwoman.

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