The BBC, it must be said, often has a rather peculiar manner of phrasing things. By way of example, take yesterday’s online BBC coverage of the ongoing influx of predominantly North African Muslim migrants into the EU via the Italian island of Lampedusa. How would you describe them? Economic migrants perhaps? Settlers? Colonists? Well, all of these terms, which I would contend contain at least a strong if not overwhelming element of facticity, are evidently beyond the pale of ‘polite’ BBC discourse, because although truthful, they smack far too much of what ‘Auntie’ might term ‘intolerance’ for its liking.
Such an accurate characterisation of this process would be certain to elicit something far shriller from the Guardian and other media outlets of its ilk: shouts of ‘racism’, with plenty of stigmatising baseless imputations being made with respect to the character and moral worth of anyone who dared name and detail this process of colonisation. For such a person, the Guardian possesses an arsenal of derogatory epithets, including ‘far-right’, ‘fascist’ and, should the breach of ‘moral’ decorum be deemed to be exceptionally excessive, ‘Englishman’. Granted, I was being facetious with respect to that last word, but I am certain that anyone who so chooses to consciously acknowledge the fact of their ethnic Englishness and not be ashamed of it would not be seen as a ‘right-thinking’ (dreadful phrase is it not?) individual. Anyway, I digress from my original subject to which it is now time to return.
Which geographical/cultural adjective or adjectival phrase might you use as a headline for an article dealing with boatloads of migrants issuing from North Africa and landing on the shores of Lampedusa? North African? African? Arab? Maghrebian? Muslim? If one were to employ the genitive, would they be North Africa’s, Africa’s or the Maghreb’s boat people? Well, the BBC was of the opinion that none of these characterisations would do, and instead judiciously selected a genitive phrase which spelt out where it clearly believes these people belong. Its full headline was ‘Italy is rocky shore for Europe’s boat people’. Note its elision of Europe and the EU as is its wont, for its output would seem to be guided by a desire to deliberately equate being anti-EU with being anti-European. These are of course two separate matters altogether. I, for example, am strongly pro-European and anti-EU. The BBC on the other hand, is strongly pro-EU whilst being viscerally anti-European (witness its constant demonisation of Poles and neighbouring Slavic and Baltic peoples when reporting on immigration).
So, the BBC has decided that the African colonists belong to the continent of Europe. I would beg to differ, but I shall perhaps refrain from employing a term that a certain Muammar Gaddafi has used to describe his people whom he exhorts to migrate to Europe: “locusts”. It must be said however, that I would laugh heartily were the BBC to use such a term in a non-ironic fashion in describing this mass migration.