THE BBC’s Reith Lectures were inaugurated in 1948 by the first director general of the BBC, Lord Reith. Reith maintained that broadcasting was a public service, and it should enrich the cultural and intellectual life of the nation.

The 2022 Reith lectures focused on Roosevelt’s “four freedoms”. They were breathtaking. In the fourth lecture, Dr Fiona Hill, who testified at Trump’s impeachment trial, spoke of her passion for studying Russian as a way of overcoming the fear that the Cold War instilled in her. Ages as I am with Dr Hill, I recognised this in my own motivation for studying German and trying to discern how peace was built after horrific wars, and how a nation came to terms with the horrors of its own history.

This week, the self-same BBC has, it would appear, taken leave of its collective senses, and took yet another turn under the guidance of its present highly-partial board, towards censorship of dissent towards the UK Government’s latest vainglorious attempts to make more bad immigration laws.

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The legislation introduced by the Home Secretary last week and the £500 million deal the Prime Minister brokered with France are part of the performative cruelty of declaring culture wars and open season on anyone who dares to leave a place where they have been abused or persecuted has led to this. The swirl of events surrounding a tweet sent by Gary Lineker, which led to his censorship and then Match of the Day going ahead with no presenters, is now a battleground in the culture wars the Conservative regime hope might prevent electoral wipe-out at the general election. And it’s all about words.

All wars – those of words and cultures and those with weapons – are deadly in intent. “Necropolitics” is the word the great Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe has used to describe this. A politics of death.

In all wars, but especially where a particular group of people are singled out for deportation and for varieties of eradication, there are various ways in which language and censorship of all forms of art – media, education, speech – take shape. Each specific context is different.

That’s why making comparisons is at one and the same time both necessary and difficult. Some generic characteristics have been identified carefully by scholars in a range of disciplines in arts, humanities and social sciences, others are highly specific and contextual.

When we speak of the “imprescriptability” of the Holocaust or African experiences of slavery we mean that this happened once and was such an atrocity that it defies any comparison. Therefore it must stand alone as a warning to us. This does not mean we must not study its causes and learn from it, or draw certain conclusions.

The National:

Across the world, schoolchildren and students learn lessons in history, geography, languages, art, politics, sociology, law and education about how it is that people can move to destroy a whole class of people by violence. There are a horrifying number of examples.

In the face of the worst of atrocities, new laws have been written so that “never again” might – at least in law – mean “never again”. That there might be some legal redress when it appears that a class or group of people are being treated as less than human, or reclassified in law.

In applying learning from many studies, most especially as instantiated in the many instruments of the United Nations – not least the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – organisations have sought to be clear about the dangers and the lines which must not be crossed.

Those who arrive in the UK by boat without regular documentation are the present receivers of the violence in the UK’s existing and proposed asylum laws. The debates are exposing the full violence of the asylum system but also remind us of the treasure that is the Refugee Convention.

Those refusing to be “bystanders” are acting knowing something of how the beginnings and stages of genocide show what could, if left unchecked, or unchallenged, lead to new, horrific circumstances and those of us who have worked with the UK asylum system for decades know it’s present violence.

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Language – my specialist subject in this context – is critical to how effect is shaped and wars are propagandised. Words can hurt immensely, and metaphors are used by all and have real impacts.

Marilyn McEntyre has a wonderful book – Caring For Words In A Culture Of Lies – which is soothing in these times of war. It looks deeply and with care at how we use language. When Gary Lineker speaks of refugees, he does so with care and understanding. And so do those weighing their speech, avoiding invective, but being precise. It is precise to say that in 1930s Germany under National Socialism, the language of the state classified some people as lesser humans, and used speech which scholars have long identified as dangerous, polarising.

Victor Klemperer – professor, linguist, and scholar in Germany in the 1930s kept a diary logging the use of words (as many of us linguists do today in these culture wars) – LTI – Language of the Third Reich. Klemperer’s book is instructive; not prescriptive. But such close, careful and reflective study of language helps us see when we are in dangerous waters again. And right now, we need to take a great deal of care and not least on platforms in which we are unstable and volatile.

These are debates which need university seminars, and essays, and research and careful lawyers to make clear determinations in the name of human rights. There are whole degrees and PhDs on precisely these subjects – and that’s just in the field of linguistics.

So hold fast to that which is good, and just and beautiful. Care with words, and for words, don’t just trust opinion trust education, and those who have studied deeply the questions before us.

After all wars, and after all genocides, the only route to peace, comes through education, and justice, and care for words, and healing, and new words and new laws.

It’s hard work for generations. And in this war, it’s our work to do now.

Alison Phipps is Unesco Chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts at the University of Glasgow