Brendan O'Neill makes an excellent case for recasting the debate over human "trafficking." "[T]rendy NGOs and the liberal broadsheets-turned-tabloids," he argues are distorting the issue and creating a moral panic on which national governments can cash in. To be sure, human trafficking does occur, and strong measures should be taken to stop it. O'Neill drills in this point. His criticism is not that trafficking is a fiction; it is that "trafficking" is being too broadly defined. According to UNICEF's definition, both cross-border adoption and international union organizing constitute forms of "trafficking." The African family who sends its son or daughter to England to seek a better life is not a criminal cartel and deserves praise, not chastisement.

O'Neill also criticizes media coverage of immigration. He castigates journalists for painting a dark, other-worldly portrait of immigrants. (Note: in the British press this is not limited to sensationalized stories of immigrants as witch doctors and pimps, frenzied hangers-on who hunt swans in public parks for sustenance.) There is nothing conservative or trumped up about O'Neill's charge here. Even Edward Said would be in his corner, commending him for exposing a fanatical Orientalist depiction of the downtrodden.

So what is this getting at? I think O'Neill's argument is essentially an argument against the State's role as "victim-maker." Governments everywhere like to have "wars" on various social problems. This reinforces their power– and if it is a war to help "victims" of any sort– gives them a high moral ground. This double-edged sword, as history tells us, can be quite problematic when given to the wrong people and implemented in the wrong ways. Where do we go from here? O'Neill leaves us with a nice suggestion:

"If we really want to put an end to trafficking, then we should call for an end to all restrictions on immigration and for an open-door policy. In the meantime, please stop fantasising that trafficking is occurring everywhere, and stop labelling immigrants as victims who need the state kindly to take them back home again."

Daniel Corbett

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