As Co-Chair of Faith Network for Manchester I know that not all Jewish groups or members of the government will agree with me, but speaking personally, I think Gary Lineker was perfectly within his rights and perfectly correct, to say what he said about the language being used by some government ministers in relation to refugees and asylum seekers coming to the UK, especially in small boats.
I do not want to minimise the seriousness of the situation and the unscrupulous behaviour and methodology of the smugglers, which I believe needs to be stopped. They are endangering the lives of far too many who are already refugees for whatever reason.
I also cringe when I hear any modern situation, wherever in our world, compared with the Nazis, their policies, their actions and their regime. We have not yet seen anything quite of that nature since. But …….. we have seen too many genocides since then and we need to be careful that we do not create any of the likely steps that may lead to hatred of other groups, hate crimes, victimisation of others because of ‘the ethnic, racial, religious or other group they are in’.
Language matters. The words we use do influence people and can have long lasting effects. If our politicians use careless, inappropriate, divisive language, I believe that we, as people of faith or not, ordinary people, have a moral responsibility to call it out. If we may have a position of influence, then maybe we even more responsibility to call it out. That was one of the reasons that the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day was “Ordinary People”.
Gary Lineker has not accused anyone – government ministers, MPs, other leaders – of behaving like the Nazis or compared their policies to the Nazis. I don’t believe he would, I am sure he does not think they are and I am sure he is far more measured in the words he chooses to use.
What he has done is spoken out and highlighted that the language being used is wrong and is dangerous. Anywhere and anytime that language used, especially by leaders and politicians, denigrates the rights of others, suggests that some people are worth less than others, makes scapegoats of our fellow human beings, I believe is a desecration of God and of humanity. I believe that we are all created in the image of God, that every single human being is of infinite worth and value, all of us, whatever we believe, wherever we are born, however we live our lives.
Any of us who have been involved in any of the genocide memorial events in recent years must be aware of the real harm that language can cause and the potential damage it can do. The Remembering Srebrenica books of recent years highlight the 10 steps to genocide. The classification of ‘us’ and ‘them’ is the first step; discrimination using the law, political power and custom against and to refuse the rights of another or other groups is the third step. It is frightening how easily this can then lead to some of the other steps.
I want to say at this point that I am certainly not suggesting that the government is leading us along this path, and I am even more certainly affirming that I believe that this is not their intention. What I am worried about is that the language used can and may create the conditions for more prejudice, for more hate crimes, more racism and less understanding, cohesion and peace in our society.
So thank you Gary for saying what you said. I urge the BBC authorities to use some common sense and to live up to its ideal of fairness, promoting knowledge and understanding. And I urge the government ministers and other MPs to be responsible and more careful in the language they use. It is not sporting or right to use divisive and harmful language that disrespects our fellow human beings. Thank you to our sports presenters for affirming ‘Kick it Out’ not just on the sports field but also in the language that is acceptable in our society, especially from our leaders.
If you are interested in joining in with this conversation, we are holding an online Interfaith Dialogue on Monday 20th March, 8pm-9:30.
For more information and to book your place visit: https://thepoweroflanguagedialogue.eventbrite.co.uk
Rabbi Warren Elf MBE