‘Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse.’
I doubt there’s a Tory alive who doesn’t read the opening passage of George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language without a thrill of recognition. But this piece isn’t about the Orwellian irony (a great man of the Left, an inspiration to British Tories.) It’s about language, racism and child abuse.
‘Our civilization is decadent’. From Wednesday’s Telegraph: “More than 1,400 children were sexually abused during a period of over 16 years by gangs of paedophiles after police and council bosses turned a blind eye for fear of being labelled racist.”
Rotherham council had carried out three investigations into the widespread child abuse taking place in the town. Those reports were suppressed or ignored, because to confront their findings would have required a political reboot for those officials.
Don’t like the thought? Wipe out the language, the words that describe it. Orwell: ‘the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes’. The Telegraph again: “Tuesday’s report concluded that by far the majority of perpetrators were Asian men, and said council officials had been unwilling to address the issue for fear of being labelled racist.”
The children weren’t abused by random groups of people with no discernible common characteristic. The inescapable inference, for anyone who cared to look – and plenty of people looked, quickly, before turning their heads to stare in the opposite direction – was that the grooming, abuse and rapes were carried out mainly by Pakistani-origin Muslim men.
Those of you reading this, who wish that our media were more explicit (a common theme on the comment sections of newspaper websites), should know that anyone who writes about anything tangentially related to Islam scrutinises their copy in great detail. Your enemies will use your language against you, should you construct a sentence which could carry an uncharitable interpretation, even if that interpretation is not your intent. To describe facts is held synonymous with the casting of a judgement.
Some Roman Catholic priests abused children: we’re adult enough (and we’re not scared of the priests) to tell the difference between the religion and the abuse, although we wonder if there might not be a culture within parts of the institution which wasn’t inimical to its practice. But change the religion, and the reporting practice alters entirely.
I’m writing this on Wednesday morning. The radio news is heaping blame on the Labour councillor, now Crime Commissioner, who was in charge of Rotherham children’s services at the time of the abuse.
Quite right, the man should resign from public life, along with everyone else involved in the great un-looking. But the focus is entirely on him. That’s a suppression, a dislocation. Rotherham council didn’t look. Rotherham police didn’t look. But the way this story is being reported by the broadcasters – our broadcasters, the ones we pay for; that is, by us: we’re still not looking.
Because language isn’t constructed only in the positive sense, by choosing words to pass on a political meaning. There are negative constructions – destructions – to be fashioned, by the deletion of relevant words. From 1984: ‘It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well’.
Language is ‘an instrument which we shape for our own purposes’. To report the abuse of children, without mentioning the adjectives which identify the perpetrators, is to shape the language for a malign purpose: either for self-protection (as I mentioned above), or to keep pushing the political agenda which – the slightest silver lining from this hellish cloud of northern revelation – must surely by now be on its last legs. The one that claimed we can build a tolerant and inclusive society without insisting on universal standards of behaviour, and that to judge behaviour by immigrants contrary to the common good is tantamount to being a racist. Enough.
Step No.1: look properly.
Step No.2: choose the correct words to describe what you see. Muslim men of Pakistani origin orchestrated the widespread abuse of vulnerable children. Northern Labour politicians covered it up.
Step No.3? Don’t underestimate the power of language to affect behaviour. In Rotherham, the abuse of children was intimately linked with the words which were used to describe it – and with the words that were left out. Especially with them.