The Newspeak of Manston
The word ‘Orwellian’ gets used far too often by those who have read little Orwell, or have misunderstood the political thinking of the man who wrote the much-cited Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, reducing the writer to the role of vapid prophet and seer of the modern age, this phenomenon reaching its nadir with Endemol’s Big Brother.
The idea of the surveillance state and invasion of privacy were drawn from living examples that would persist through much of the 20th Century, but Orwell was a writer interested in the uses and abuses of the English language, and the novel’s most profound and resonant invention is Newspeak.
Nineteen Eight-Four ends with a short essay on ‘The Principles of Newspeak’, in which he writes, “The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible.”
The practise of twisting the English language to make appalling things sound neutral, palatable for the masses, far predated Orwell’s novel, but it’s something that continues in the present day, often hiding in plain sight, in words that seem neutral, banal.
In recent coverage of the death of a young refugee at Manston, most likely caused by an outbreak of diphtheria, the BBC and all major outlets referred to Manston as a “processing centre” or “facility”, curiously sterile terms for a place where countless refugees are being detained without having committed a crime.
Aerial photos on those same news items show it for what it is; a series of grey, windowless hangars, bunched together in rows. Descriptions of conditions within the “facility” are disturbing.
Small rations of almost inedible food, overcrowding, not enough beds, and people sleeping on the floor. An outbreak of diphtheria, for which the rest of us would be treated or vaccinated, is inevitable in such an environment.
In a recent tweet, I described Manston as a concentration camp, for in my view that is precisely what it is.
One person immediately replied saying Manston is “atrocious” – but that to call it a concentration camp was disgusting, because of the Holocaust.
As someone who knows which badges he would have worn, and with an understanding of history that goes back further than the 1940s, I believe that Manston meets the definition of a concentration or internment camp that goes back to our imperialist past.
Its refugee detainees, who have fled wars, genocide and persecution are being held without charge in large hangars unfit for human habitation, with outbreaks of disease and now the death of one young man, are referred to as “migrants” and “asylum seekers”, as if they are greedy chancers, othering and dehumanising them further still for the readers and viewers at home.
Across the UK Government’s immigration policies, and the way these are reported in our news media, further examples of the modern Newspeak have become commonplace.
In a departure from international law and basic decency, refugees are described as “illegal”, and the Rwanda plan – which is people trafficking by any other name – was described by Welsh Secretary Simon Hart as “a humane step forward”, while Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies blames Manston on the “lefty lawyers” who blocked it.
The rare example of them showing their true colours was when then Home Secretary Theresa May introduced the “Hostile Environment” to UK governance, making it harder for refugees to seek legal routes to the UK, something further exacerbated by Brexit, instigated by Cameron and fulfilled by Johnson, Truss and now Sunak.
When only a few weeks ago our current Home Secretary Suella Braverman visited Manston, she did so in an RAF chinook helicopter, rather than catch a train or get driven from London to Dover.
To the best of my knowledge she didn’t go into any of those hangars, nor did she speak to any of the estimated four thousand people being kept inside them under her command.
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