Actual dehumanization

I didn’t know who Katie Hopkins was until just now. I’m catching up. She was once on The Apprentice, therefore she’s a “media personality.” She wrote a column for the Sun in which she called migrants such as the ones who drowned in the Mediterranean on Sunday “cockroaches.”

Now the UN High Commission for Human Rights has compared that to propaganda for genocide.

Well, yes. It is comparable. That’s what genocide propaganda sounds like. That’s how it works. It persuades people that certain kinds of humans are not human.

A column in which media personality Katie Hopkins described migrants as “cockroaches” and “feral humans” resembled pro-genocide propaganda, the United Nations has said.

In a strongly worded statement issued on Friday, the UN High Commission for Human Rights said tabloid “misinformation” about immigration was fed into a “nasty underbelly of racism” lurking beneath the migration issue.

“Under the guise of freedom of expression, [negative coverage is] being allowed to feed a vicious cycle of vilification, intolerance and politicization of migrants,” High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.

Ok, I thought. Has High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said anything about Raif Badawi? So I looked.

Yes, he has.

The strongest criticism came Thursday from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a former permanent representative of Jordan to the United Nations, who said: “Flogging is, in my view, at the very least, a form of cruel and inhuman punishment.

“Such punishment,” he said, “is prohibited under international human rights law, in particular the Convention against Torture, which Saudi Arabia has ratified.”

Ok then; back to Katie Hopkins.

In its statement the Commission argued that Ms Hopkins’s column, published in The Sun newspaper, used “language very similar to that employed by Rwanda’s Kangura newspaper and Radio Mille Collines during the run up to the 1994 genocide”.

Radio Mille Collines is one of the major reasons I’m not a free speech absolutist, or even the kind of near-absolutist who makes an exception for incitement to [immediate] violence. I make an exception for inspiration to likely violence. That’s not to say I think Katie Hopkins should be prosecuted, but I think she should fucking stop.

The Commissioner noted that both Rwandan media organizations were later convicted by an international tribunal of public incitement to commit genocide.

He noted that the media in Nazi Germany “described people their masters wanted to eliminate as rats and cockroaches” , adding: “The Sun’s editors took an editorial decision to publish this article, and – if it is found in breach of the law – should be held responsible along with the author.”

Do I think the Sun should be punished? By the state? No, probably not, but I think public opprobrium should come down on them so heavily that they gasp for breath.

The High Commissioner criticised “almost all” of the UK’s tabloid newspaper for fabricating stories about immigrants.

He called it demonization, which sounds right.

He added that migration was a valid topic for debate but that it should be discussed “on the basis of fact — not fiction, exaggeration or blatant xenophobia”.

“History has shown us time and again the dangers of demonizing foreigners and minorities, and it is extraordinary and deeply shameful to see these types of tactics being used in a variety of countries, simply because racism and xenophobia are so easy to arouse in order to win votes or sell newspapers.”

On Monday the Society of Black Lawyers reported The Sun newspaper to the Metropolitan Police over the column and called for it to be investigated under the 1986 Public Order Act’s incident [incitement?] of racial hatred provision.

Better to use the opprobrium, I think.


  1. says

    Tricky, tricky territory, but you’re absolutely right. Genocide isn’t a one step process. Speech that dehumanizes a marginalized people is incredibly dangerous.

    Actual free speech absolutists are rare to the point of nonexistence. If you push, everyone agrees to censorship in some form. I don’t think anyone, for example, would advocate that libel should be legal. Whether or not we should censor isn’t a question worth asking.

    What do we censor and how? This is the adult conversation we should be having about free speech. There aren’t easy answers.

  2. Helen Singer says

    R.C., I don’t think opinion, however heinous, should ever be censored. What would be more useful is to require news outlets and politicians to differentiate between opinion and fact.

  3. Lady Mondegreen says

    Better to use the opprobrium, I think.

    I dunno. If it were just the Katie Hopkins opinion piece and the occasional like-minded garbage, I’d agree, but–

    The High Commissioner criticized “almost all” of the UK’s tabloid newspaper for fabricating stories about immigrants.

    So not only are they publishing dehumanizing characterizations of vulnerable people and inciting racial hatred, they’re making up stories about them to further stoke hatred.

    Between the lying and the inciting, seems to me like there ought to be some serious consequences for that, and I don’t know if we can trust the public to penalize them.

  4. Ed says

    There are lots of people who are pretty close to free speech absolutists.

    It’s common at least in the US to hear the opinion that libel, slander and false advertising should have very high standards of proof and be defined fairly narrowly (for example, something like”Bob is a convicted felon” when he is clearly not or “cigarettes are good for you”).

    Beyond this the only illegal speech according to the almost absolutist should be direct incitement to violence (like shouting to an angry mob that they should go ahead and attack the person they’re mad at, making a threat, etc.). This kind of thinking used to be extremely popular among liberals including myself.

    Over the past 20 years or so,, more and more people (again, me included) are more sensitive to the harm done by hate speech, harassing speech and misinformation across the board, not just when they cross a strictly defined boundary. . I still don’t know where to draw the line in a lot of cases. It’s a dangerous and scary issue, but one that society has to deal with.

  5. says

    Exactly. Lots of people still do insist that only direct incitement of violence – which means not things like calling people cockroaches in tabloid newspapers or on Radio Mille Collines – should be regulated. I think Radio Mille Collines should have taught everyone that it’s not that easy.

  6. Beth says


    What do we censor and how?

    It is a tricky area! Lies are an easy target to supress, but consensus on what is a lie and what is not is much harder. Efforts to legislate things like religion, psychics and homeopathy (the latter is currently being seriously discussed) have a tendency to make things worse rather than better.

    Then, when you have such terrible language as the OP discusses, it does seem to cross a line. Public opprobrium can work though. Nigger can no longer be written in a newspaper. Fuck is still considered offensive, but you rarely see shit asterisked out these days. Goddamn hardly even counts as cussing.

    We could, collectively, decide we won’t tolerate such dehumanizing talk publicly, which seems to be occurring, at least here and there. That gives me some hope. What are other, intermediary steps that could be taken before prosecuting people for uttering such phrases?

  7. PatrickG says

    @ Lady Mondegreen:

    I don’t know if we can trust the public to penalize them.

    Well, trusting the public worked out just fine in Rwanda/Germany/Turkey/Cambodia/etc., now didn’t it? On a lesser scale, George Tiller might have something to say about Prayer & Action News and Operation Rescue. You know, if he hadn’t been murdered. By someone who proudly owned “incitement”. Just to name one fairly recent example.

    Don’t know if that needs a sarcasm tag. I’m fully in agreement with your statement, to be clear.

    It is a hard problem, but I agree with our bloghostess that absolutist/near-absolutist free speech advocacy does tend to be slightly myopic when it comes to consequences. I’m definitely indicting myself here, too, as I used to belong to that camp myself.

  8. says

    There’s a fine line between free speech and inciting violence, and Hopkins crossed it.

    I don’t see any difference in calling today’s migrants “cockroaches”, calling jews “rats”, calling black people “monkeys”, or Sarah Palin putting crosshairs on maps and saying “reload” The intent is to dehumanize and make it easier to hate, easier for those who do hate to speak and to act violently.

    Those who say the words may not commit the violence, but they most certainly know their words will result in it. There have to be legal consequences for saying them.

  9. latsot says

    As awful as Hopkins is, the UK media are at least equally to blame (I’d argue they more to blame than Hopkins herself) for all her hateful nonsense. I don’t just mean outlets like The Sun. If anything, the more liberal outlets are even more complicit.

    Hopkins has set herself up as a professional troll: professional with a capital P. According to an article I now can’t find, she has a team of people scouring news stories and (it’s presumed) coming up with the objectionable responses they can think of, which are then announced by Hopkins. Media outlets call her office for a rent-a-bigot quote. I wouldn’t be surprised if they called several times a day, regardless of whether they’re working on an article then building an article about whatever fresh horrible opinion she has on something.

    One article about her is by a reporter who followed her about for a day. She was due to appear on the wishy-washy mid-morning show This Morning to say blithering things about some issue of the day. She and her staff met with the producers and presenters (and presumably lawyers) of that show and they discussed what she’d be saying. The presenters then feigned outrage on screen at what they’d earlier agreed she would say.

    This is the very archetype of manufactured outrage. Her statements are cheap and guaranteed to sell so Hopkins caters to lazy journalists. They get to say awful things that they know will hurt people and blame someone else. It’s a great deal for them.

    I don’t know (or much care) whether Hopkins really holds the views she announces. It doesn’t make her any less horrible if she doesn’t. But the press ought to be even more ashamed than she.

  10. Dunc says

    Do I think the Sun should be punished? By the state? No, probably not, but I think public opprobrium should come down on them so heavily that they gasp for breath.

    It’s reportedly still very difficult to buy The Sun in or around Liverpool, because of some horrible lies they printed about the victims of the Hillsborough disaster 26 years ago (See the relevant section in the wiki article for details.) Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to have discouraged them.

    Reading The Sun should be less acceptable than public masturbation. The term “Sun reader” is a fairly well-known euphemism for “credulous, bigoted idiot”, but it doesn’t seem to discourage anybody either.


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