Katie Hopkins’ diatribe against refugees in the UK Sun newspaper is genocidal language. We should not dismiss it as merely viciously mean-spirited, jaw-droppingly unbalanced, and nauseatingly repulsive. It is undoubtedly all those things. But it is also more. It is genocidal language.
Some commentators have advocated simply ignoring her, but this ‘do not feed the troll’ attitude does not suffice. Because her article is example of the process of rhetorical dehumanization that is a well-established precursor to violence and genocide.
A consistent precursor to genocide is the dehumanization of the target population in media and political rhetoric. Indeed, dehumanization is identified by Genocide Watch as one of the ten stages of genocide itself.
What is dehumanization? Target populations are rhetorically constructed as a uniform threat purely identified by negative, sub- or non-human characteristics. In particular, two common themes in such dehumanization rhetorics are depiction of target groups as animal; and depiction of target groups in medical terms as plagues, pestilence, or cancers.
In a review of dehumanization propaganda in pre-genocidal contexts, the University of Melbourne’s Nick Haslam found the following commonalities: ‘A consistent theme… is the likening of people to animals. In racist descriptions Africans are compared to apes and sometimes explicitly denied membership of the human species. Other groups are compared to dogs, pigs, rats, parasites, or insects.’
In Rwanda, for instance, Hutu militant radio stations and print media consistently referred to the Tutsi as inyenzi (cockroaches). Anti-Semitic propaganda in Nazi Germany consistently represented Jews as spiders, rats, and louses. In Darfur, Black Africans were routinely referred to as ‘dogs’.
In addition to animals, disease and pestilence are common themes in dehumanizing rhetoric. Again, in Nazi Germany, Jews were routine depicted as a ‘plague’, as cancer, as bacteria, as ‘world-poisoners’.
How does Hopkins characterise migrants? Her piece is replete with exactly such language. They are ‘a plague of feral humans… spreading like novovirus’. They exist as ‘festering sores’ on our towns and cities. They are, yes, inyenzi: they are cockroaches. They are, crucially for our understanding of dehumanization, a uniform threat: We should not feel sorry for those who die in the Mediterranean because there are also ‘aggressive young men’ at Calais and ‘the two populations are the same’. This is what all refugees are: aggressive, feral young men.
To be clear: I am not denying that there are serious challenges in the management and control of migration, both economic migration and political asylum seekers. There may indeed be arguments for taking strong measures to discourse migration.
Hopkins says we need to to ‘take emotion out of this’. But beyond a few derisory comments about British taxpayers and lorry drivers, there is no engagement with any argument in Hopkin’s piece.
Instead, in a manner that would surely have met with Goebbel’s approval, her piece is one emotional tirade of vitriol and violence with no semblance of fact or reasonable argument. The purpose of the piece is, quite explicitly, to depict and construct migrants in a way that legitimizes violent action against them and to inure against their death and suffering. This is Hate Speech. This is genocidal propaganda, and nothing more.