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On Cecil and Swarms

Why do we care more about the death of a lion, than people dying in Calais?

Lucia Keijer Palau

Naked Politics Blogger

Near the back of an English GCSE notebook I threw away the other day was scribbled ‘to anthropomorphise = make a non-human thing human’. This, I think, was in the context of George Orwell’s Animal Farm where dictatorial pigs walk on their hind legs and preach that all animals are equal, but that some are just that little bit more equal than others. I never thought that my English Lang. GCSE would come in very useful post 2013, apart from maybe filling up some space on my CV. In the past week, however, both anthropomorphism and hypocrisy when it comes to human equality have seemed rather pertinent, above all in the figure of Cecil (and his brother Jericho – who is also a lion, in case you were wondering) and the anonymous ‘swarm’ at Calais, as David Cameron so charmingly puts it.

The case of Cecil is undeniably sad and wrong, yes. But the hype that surrounded his killing, from Mia Farrow posting his hunter’s address online, to talk of extradition seems somewhat excessive, especially, as Farai Sevenzo notes, given that Zimbabwe faces pressing issues such as high unemployment and food shortages, and that the name Cecil serves, in the minds of many Zimbabweans, as a reminder of British imperialism in the form of diamond digger Cecil John Rhodes, rather than of an all-important cat.

The individuality afforded to Cecil has, also, been noticeably lacking in much (though of course not all) media coverage of the so-called migrant crisis at Calais. The Guardian’s Nick Cohen notes that since the beginning of June, ten refugees have died on the roads around Calais, at the port or inside the Channel tunnel, including not only the ‘Sudanese man aged between 25 and 30’ who was crushed by a truck earlier this week, but also an Eritrean woman hit by a car last week. We are yet to see a headline calling for the persecution of her killer and their address certainly hasn’t been tweeted, at least as far as I’m aware. Reduced to pronouns and statistics – often because they are, quite simply, unidentifiable – these migrants bear stark contrast to Cecil in his glorified (and named) individuality.

Ultimately, it could be argued, to fight for survival and a better life are some of the most basic human instincts. Movement and migration are some of the most universal themes in human history. Migration in search of a better life is, also, something that we often have very little trouble glorifying: what is the American dream if it’s not moving and working hard for a better life? Some land and some rabbits to pet, as Lenny in Of Mice and Men (GCSE English again, yes), might put it. By virtue of the fact that we were fortunate enough to be born in Britain the quest for a better life – whilst more difficult for some than others – is not an impossibility. For many of those born in Eritrea, for example, it is not quite so easy. In terms of the ability to search for a better life – a universal human desire – it is a case of some humans simply being more equal than others.

The immigrant crisis is a structural, long term problem that will not be fixed by extra-sniffer dogs (David Cameron), sending the army over (Nigel Farage) or, funnily enough, by getting the French government to give compensation to holidaymakers (Harriet Harman). Long term structural problems need long term structural solutions; investment in target countries to limit push factors, a more open EU immigration policy so that all countries take a fair share of immigrants; Britain takes far far less than places like Germany and Italy, for example.

Another vague note at the the back of my English notebook was on Orwell and political language. It’s a paraphrase (I was too lazy to write the full quote out) from his ‘Politics and the English Language’, something along the lines of ‘political language, distort truth, validity to wind’. This is something we ought to remember amidst Cecil and the so-called swarms at Calais; the dehumanisation of immigrants distorts the human quest for a better life behind the death tolls.

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