What I’m reading: Language and Power

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Critical discourse analysis is the study of language as social practice. The analysis is mostly leftist and oppositional. In Norman Fairclough’s book Language and Power (2015), he argues that language has been changed by a neoliberal, globalist and capitalist society in order to suppress resistance and individualise issues that are caused by social ills. This book will be particularly helpful in revealing how conservative media outlets in the United Kingdom, the United States and France control and constrain the audience (Fairclough 2015).

There are many ways media may control and constrain the discourse, especially in public, one-way communication such as TV broadcasts and newspaper articles, either by suppressing certain voices or placing more emphasis on ‘powerful’ voices (Fairclough 2015 and Bell 1991). One important way of suppressing certain voices is by creating a standard language and making anyone who does not speak that standard language seen as either less educated or less reliable (Fairclough 2015). Though Fairclough uses the example of Standard British English and Received Pronunciation (2015), this happens in the United States as well; African American Vernacular English [AAVE] is seen as non-standard and inferior. For French, the standard is the French spoken in France and not its former colonies; television news broadcasts will often put subtitles under people speaking non-standard French, though they may be perfectly understandable.

One way that capitalism has been particularly invasive and insidious is its use of social justice and change type language in order to sell a product. Most recently, Colin Kaepernick as the face of Nike and Kendall Jenner’s tone-deaf ad for Pepsi, the former hailed and the latter panned, has made consumerism a form of political discourse (Fairclough 2015). By building a certain ‘image’ of their company, these multi-national companies can hide behind language of resistance whilst creating more consumers for their products.

Social change in general has taken a blow by the creation of centre-left parties that have taken on neoliberal, capitalist ideals and deemphasising their pasts as socially progressive, anti-capitalist parties. Hence New Labour and New Democrats in the United Kingdom and the United States respectively and Emmanual Macron’s République en Marche (The Republic on the Move) in France. By erasing their more socialist pasts (or, in the United States’s case, completely switching ideologies after the Southern Democrats jumped ship after the Civil Rights amendment passed), these parties have capitulated to the idea that capitalism is the only way forward and so must work within that parameter (Fairclough 2015).

Fairclough’s book is going to be very helpful in dismantling the ways the news media has constructed the language surrounding the plight of the refugees and asylum seekers in the critical period of 2011-2016, and the current language of immigrants in general.

photo: Bruce Emmerling

What I’m Reading: The Language of News Media

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Allan Bell’s book The Language of News Media was published in 1991, which means that it does not cover the explosion of the Internet, but the language used by news media actually has not changed much since the 1990s, so this book is still valuable. Media is organised in many different ways depends on type of media, but there are some similarities, such as the editors and journalists who generate and modify language (Bell 1991).

One spot that has weakened with the advent of the internet is something Bell calls disjunction and isolation (1991). Since news can be accessed anywhere with a decent digital signal, the audience can be both local and world-wide, and news can be accessed almost instantaneously.

Most helpfully, Bell writes about how news media manipulates time and location (1991). This is especially true in regards to the advent of ‘fake news’, where so-called bad actors use old pictures, or take video or audio out of context, or even completely edit video and images to prove some other point.

Media has become a globalised commodity and Bell’s explanation of how the traditional news media is structured is helpful, if outmoded. However, the language he describes is still used, even if it’s at an accelerated pace.

photo: Matthew Galbraith 

What I’m Reading: Les disparus

europe-2069532_1920.jpgI am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Les Jours is an independent French media source bankrolled by subscribers and investors. (Full disclosure, I am a subscriber.) Each ‘obsession’ is a long-form multimedia article that can be read on any type of technology. It is almost an online magazine, with each article being called an episode and filled with photos, sounds and other information. The obsession that I chose to read, amongst others, was Les disparus: sur la trace des migrants morts en Méditerranée (The vanished: following the path of dead migrants in the Mediterranean). The first episode is available to read, and is in French. I chose three particular episodes on which to focus: episodes five, ten and twenty. I am solely responsible for the translation, and regret any errors.

Released over a span of seven months, Taina Tervonen describes efforts to identify dead or missing migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from objects left behind from sunken vessels. She also describes the European Union’s reaction to the crisis–mostly negative and unhelpful.

In episode five, Après les tragédies, l’Europe refermée (After the tragedies, Europe shuts down), Tervonen visits the island of Lesbos, where many asylum seekers washed ashore, dead or nearly so. She writes that “in October [2015] alone, there was a peak of 220.579 people” arriving from the Mediterranean (Tervonen 2018). Instead of helping Greece and Italy, the European Union decided to reinforce border controls and not much else (Tervonen 2018). This may have been the simplest measure, but it did not reduce the flow of people. The people of Lesbos, according to Tervonen, were “abandoned by Europe, whilst also suffering under austerity imposed by Brussels” (2018). Showing a strong front against refugees and asylum seekers may assuage the minds of xenophobes within the EU, but does nothing to help the people aiding refugees and asylum seekers.

Tervonen writes that at the height of the crisis, in September 2015, the EU entered into negotiations with Turkey “to limit and organise the influx of migrants” (2018), and then also with some African states to propose development aid in exchange for better border controls. She writes, “for the first time, development was officially conditioned on border control” (2018). Numbers, whilst reduced, did not fall to zero; however, the European Union has made those seeking refuge and asylum more and more uncomfortable, meaning they make more dangerous choices in crossing.

Tervonen describes the effects of the ‘better border controls’ in episode ten, L’Europe délocalise le tri des migrants (Europe outsources the sorting of migrants). The European Union sorts exiled people into two groups, refugees and economic migrants, and for the most part, that sorting happens in Greece and Italy (Tervonen 2018). However, after 2016 negotiations, that sorting started happening in Libya and Niger, the former a country with no central government and the latter incredibly poor and unable to handle the amount of people that are trying to cross through.  The refugee camp in Agadez, Niger is run by international organisations, and concerns itself with the sorting of ‘real’ refugees and ‘fake’ asylum seekers (Tervonen 2018), as if people leaving their country are doing so for some sort of amusement. There are many steps and interviews at these camps, where there is not enough food or sanitation for the numbers that keep arriving. Also, the development aid is slow to come, angering people in the city (Tervonen 2018).

In episode 20, Le jeune homme et la mer (The young man and the sea), Tervonen updates the story with new measures from Europe. They are cruel and Kafkaesque, and do not help the countries from which people flee. The conditions in Libya, a country that deals with the sorting of asylum seekers, are “well-known and regularly denounced in NGO and various UN agency reports” (Tervonen 2018). There is a system of voluntary returns, but as Tervonen writes, ‘voluntary’ is a laughable concept when you’ve been starving in a camp or prison in Libya and Niger (2018). As of July 2018, Tervonen writes that there are “at least 6500 people detained in official prisons and multiple thousands in clandestine ones, according to the UN” (2018).

The European Commission put forth three possibilities for a continued system of sorting: asylum centres in Europe organised by Frontex and the European bureau of asylum; asylum centres in Northern Africa organised by the UNHCR; finally, countries neither EU or NATO, in Europe or in Africa, with no real oversight by any organisation (Tervonen 2018). The extreme right in Europe does not like the first option, and the second and third options are places where asylum seekers are being treated poorly.

Though the numbers of new arrivals has lowered, there are still thousands in camps waiting for some word. A legal route is nearly impossible; the EU is only concentrating on “border surveillance, on sending people back and [so-called] control centres” (Tervonen 2018).

This control is only one way, of course. As Tervonen (2018) writes, sitting in the Gambia in Palma Rima, enjoying the sun: “There are so many White [Europeans], like me, who travel without issue from one continent to another, without any risk except for a pick-pocket or a hangover.” Europeans do not give the same rights to those to whom they have caused harm, and it is most obvious in these countries that must support tourism but are not allowed to seek something better, or receive help from those countries that used them in the past.

photo credit: Kreative Hexenküche

What I’m Reading: The refugees who gave up on Britain

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Kate Lyons, writing in the Guardian in 2018, followed an Afghan father and his son as they made their way to Britain and then back again. She details his time in the United Kingdom, weaving information about the refugee process throughout. According to Lyons, “more than a million people arrived in Europe by sea in 2015, of whom 50% were estimated to be Syrians and 20% Afghans” (2018).

The refugee process in the United Kingdom seems designed for the asylum seeker to fail. There are two interviews for refugees, a screening interview and the substantive interview (Lyons 2018). Since most asylum seekers do not have “documentary evidence proving the danger in their homeland”, the interviews are the only way to verify their claims (Lyons 2018). Caseworkers and interviewers tend to latch onto small inconsistencies in the interviews to deny claims, according to Lyons (2018). Of course, asylum seekers tend to be suffering PTSD and depression, and may not be able to be coherent during interviews. Along with the fact that only 30% of interviews have an interpreter, it is no wonder that only 32% of initial asylum claims were granted in the UK in 2017 (Lyons 2018).

This article followed one family and their failure to be granted asylum. Using human traffickers, jumping lorries and sneaking into a country may be illegal, but it is because of stringent rules regarding asylum seeking that people are forced into these desperate measures.

photo: Michael Gaida

What I’m Reading: How Europe’s far right fell in love with Australia’s immigration policy

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Australia’s immigration policy is based on racist French rhetoric from the 1970s. In Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s 2017 article, he writes that Tony Abbott’s [former Prime Minister of Australia] argument in regards to refugees seeking asylum was that they were all trying to cheat the system. Abbott’s speech was a fascist diatribe for some, and a heroic nationalist stance for others (Polakow-Suransky 2017).

Australian refugee policy is to warehouse them offshore, where they cannot access the legal protections and welfare benefits accorded to asylum seekers (Polakow-Suransky 2017). For European far-right political leaders, Australia’s policy is seen as a glittering gold standard. By invoking fear of the “coming horde” (or David Cameron’s “swarm“), far-right political parties are gaining strength across Europe.

Many far-right politicians, Polakow-Suranksy argues, have been inspired and perhaps emboldened by Jean Raspail’s 1973 book The Camp of Saints (2017). Whilst the book advocates violence, Australia’s policy is close enough.

For Australia and Europe, asylum seekers have been rebranded in the wake of terrorist attacks in both continents. No country wants to let in terrorists, so it is easier just not to let anyone in. By making people smuggling illegal, people who use people smugglers to escape horrific circumstances (Polakow-Suranksy 2017).

As far as Australia’s actual policy, asylum seekers are sent to Manus and Nauru Islands, where they are held in deplorable conditions. Many decide to return home to dangerous situations. According to human rights lawyer Daniel Webb, refugees are asked to choose where they want their human rights violated: the country they are fleeing or on these resettlement islands (Polakow-Suranksy 2017).

Europe has a responsibility to aid countries that are producing refugees and asylum-seekers, mostly because the wars, famine and economic collapse can be directly traced to colonial history. The current policies are doing nothing to stop the next war or environmental crisis that will create another human asylum crisis.

 

photo: geralt

What I’m Reading: Five myths about the refugee crisis

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Daniel Trilling’s article, published in June 2018, reminds us that the refugee crisis of 2015 is not only still with us, but just as pressing as it has been. The article is part of the Guardian’s Long Read series, a set of articles about various news-worthy events and societal observations. Trilling, in this article, delineates the beliefs people still have about the refugee crisis and “deconstructs the beliefs that still shape policy and public opinion” (2018).

List articles are always popular and fast reads on most websites. They are highly ‘click-bait’ worthy, meaning that people will choose to read list-based articles first. By separating his article into five myths, Trilling manages to break down the complexities of the refugee crisis into something that is accessible for readers.

The first myth that Trilling debunks is the idea that the crisis is over. Though he mentions that arrivals have declined (2018), he makes sure to stress that “the underlying causes have not changed.” Europe, despite having freedom of movement throughout much of the continent through EU, EEA and Schengen agreements, has shut its borders to non-Europeans in militaristic fashion (Trilling 2018). Making legal routes more difficult for migrants and refugees means that these people will be more likely to turn to dangerous methods, which creates an endless cycle of legal crackdowns to desperate, illegal behaviour (2018).

The second myth is the separation of refugee from economic migrant, as if the reasons for asking for asylum and trying to find better opportunities are disparate and completely different from one another. Trilling points out that what it means to be a refugee “is political, and subject to a constant struggle over who is deserving and who is not” (2018). Economics of a country are affected by any number of calamities, forcing people to make the difficult decision to leave their homes in search of a place where they are free to find a better existence. Until such time as these issues are addressed, there will always be both refugees and economic migrants, and for Trilling, there is no separating the two (2018).

Trilling discusses empathy fatigue in his third myth, and opens with the very powerful line “Empathy matters, but it always has limits, and it should not be a precondition for people to access their rights” (2018). Humans were never prepared to learn about all the terrible things happening around the world at any given moment, but our media is set up to sell tragedy constantly. The refugee ‘crisis’ was certainly media fodder for a time, but like most media coverage, it was intense for a while, and then sputtered out like a dying candle. There is, according to Trilling, a point of being overwhelmed and the could be a point of hostility (2018). Also, when media covers only the crisis, it tends to gloss over any underlying causes (Trilling 2018), choosing instead to focus on the spectacle. And in his last point in this myth, Trilling correctly writes that media have become “commodities by profit-making companies” and therefore subject to market forces like any other commodity (2018).

How the crisis might be a ‘threat’ to European values is Trilling’s fourth myth. There are two visions of Europe currently being espoused during this crisis: one of Europe being a White Christian continent trying to stay both White and Christian and the other of a tolerant, open society committed to fighting oppression (Trilling 2018). Both of these are hyperbolic.  Trilling argues that the former denies the diversity of Europe and denies the fact that many refugees are fleeing places where they have been fighting oppression, and the latter, whilst aspirational, erases the centuries of imperialism and racial supremacy enacted on the very countries that are now seeking both aid and where refugees see no option (2018). There has not been an honest reckoning with the past and the damage Europe has done to the countries whose people are fleeing.

The final myth is that there is no changing the current crisis and that it is just history repeating itself. However, the history of European displacement and the current displacement of people are not the same. As Trilling states, the current displacement of people “points to a dangerous weakness in liberal democratic societies” (2018).  The people being displaced are people that the government does not want, and those who are seeking asylum are continuously bending and breaking rules to get out of immediate danger (Trilling 2018). The history of the flight, displacement and expulsion of people is ingrained in history. However, our current times are unique because we are all “connected to a global culture and global networks of communication” (Trilling 2018).

Trilling leaves the reader with questions that are at once rhetorical and searingly important. These answers must be answered in both legal fashion and on an ethical plane as human beings.

photo credit: skeeze

Dolce et Decorum Est…

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs 

And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots 

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling, 

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; 

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, 

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . . 

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, 

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, 

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. 

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace 

Behind the wagon that we flung him in, 

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, 

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; 

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, 

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory, 

The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 

Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen

Thought to have been written between 8 October 1917  and March, 1918