Monday, March 27, 2006

Render unto Caesar...?

A few weeks ago I attended a lecture by Irene Khan in the University of Edinburgh (as reported here by Bondbloke). One of the interesting points Irene made was the way in which the US and UK Governments used carefully selected terminology to make more acceptable certain of their ‘war-on-terror’ related actions which we (as decent human beings) otherwise would immediately (and hopefully unreservedly) condemn as fundamental violations of human rights. Her example was the use of the phrase ‘rendering’ to describe the alleged kidnap and transportation of terrorist suspects by the US authorities (and probably with the connivance of the UK authorities) for interrogation in countries which do not respect the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. And as Irene suggested, the verb ‘to render’ resonates of something that happens to dead animals – to meat – rather than to humans. Indeed, a simple google search of ‘to render’ directs one to the website of ‘Render – The National Magazine of Rendering’, a US publication that defines the activity in the following terms:

The rendering industry processes or "recycles" animal by-products such as animal fat, bone, hide, offal, feathers, and blood into beneficial commodities including tallow, grease, and protein meals.

Consequently ‘we’ – probably – both individually and collectively find it easier to de-link and divorce ourselves from just what is going on; certainly more readily than had the activities been described in phrases using words like ‘kidnap’, ‘forced transit’, ‘torture’. And finally, it is after all the US authorities that are doing this, not ‘us’ and not in ‘our name’.

But, sadly, this technique of deliberately using distracting, or misleading, terms to describe deplorable and shameful official actions has now arrived in Scotland. I refer to the use of the term ‘removals’ to describe the forced ejection of unsuccessful asylum seekers from Scotland, in some cases many years after they have settled in, and contributed to, Scotland. The appalling treatment meted out to those people – dawn raids, detentions and splitting-up of families – is something which has no place in a civilised society. It is, of course, welcome that the international opprobrium justifiably heaped on Scotland’s Government last year in response to the disgraceful actions in Scotland of officials acting under instruction from UK immigration authorities apparently has led to some re-thinking by UK Government. Such a review is long overdue. Let us hope that is delivers a better system than we have at present – mind you, it’s really hard to imagine a worse one. But when we come to the crunch, and when the revised arrangements are presented for public scrutiny here, in Scotland, can we please not have our sense of right and wrong, our senses of decency and humanity, betrayed by governments who use weasel words – ‘removals’ – to render (sic) more acceptable those activities which none of us (I hope) would ever wish to see done in our name. After all, we are responsible for what happens in Scotland. Sure, immigration is a reserved matter, but that doesn’t mean that we in Scotland can simply blame ‘them’ in Westminster.

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