WORDS, WORDS,WORDS AND STELLA
By Fr. Musaala Anthony.
‘Our morals, our values, our norms, our culture, our laws!’
These high-sounding words are heard in several quarters when Stella Nnyanzi’s name is mentioned.
Stella’s supposedly ‘vulgar language’ on social media including calling the head of State, ‘a pair of buttocks’, has stirred amusement in some quarters , but also a hornet’s nest of righteous indignation from guardians of ‘morality’.
Yet our moralizers miss the point.
Anyone can use words for any purpose. In this case the high-sounding words of moralizers seem pitted against Stella’s low-sounding words, she who is deemed ‘immoral’, and now possibly insane.
Yet behind each of set of words is a human being and a mindset and also, an ideology. Words are not as neutral as we suppose, they are loaded with feelings, intentions, schemes.
The Nazis who killed six million Jews, used high-sounding words like morality to do so. Nazi ‘morality’ was concerned with improving the human race and getting rid of ‘inferior’ breeds like Jews, blacks, gays etc.
The slave-traders and colonizers used words like ‘civilization’ to justify the oppression Africans. The supposed higher ‘morality’ of Europeans and Arabs found that Africans were primitive, and only fit for slavery and colonization. The morality, values , culture and laws of the ‘civilizing’ oppressor was imposed through language sometimes religious, sometimes secular.
The apartheid regime in South Africa, used words like ‘the law’ and ‘morality’ to craft an ideology of racial oppression.
ISIS today will happily kill you in the name of Allah. The ‘higher good’ of Islam, albeit in distorted form, requires torture and murder to be carried out without a second thought. Morality.
The Christian Crusades which began in the 11th century and the Inquisitions of the 15th century which exterminated millions in Europe, were all done in ‘good faith’. Heretics and non-christians could be tortured and killed by christians with good conscience, in the name of God, in exactly the same way as ISIS does today.
So high-sounding words, like morality, culture, values, the law, must be properly screened. They cannot just be thrown around without looking behind them to see who says them and why.
Low-sounding words like Stella’s are the same. What do they mean? Who is saying them and why?
“I agree with Stella’s message but hate her language ”
Yet it is her language which draws our attention. Her acidic rhetoric and anatomical analogies are what makes her discourses different and interesting. Her turns of phrase turns the mind to look around, shocking as they are.
So hating Stella’s language and liking her message is a rather weak position. It is like wanting to shower without getting wet, or wanting an ommlette without breaking an egg. Impossible.
The ruling political , cultural and religious class in Uganda, like everywhere else, use high-sounding words like ‘morality’, or interpretations of them, to legitimize their authority. Their authority must not be questioned. It is therefore a matter of importance to them how words are used and who says them when and where.
This is why the state for instance has several media outlets; to control who says what. Also that is why the state seek to enact laws to limit free speech, and which is why Stella is in the dock.
This is also why cultural leaders enforce certain patterns of speech and traditional linguistic usages. Cultural order must be maintained at all costs through them, and consequently also the power relations between kings, chiefs, elders and the governed must not be disturbed. Hence Stella’s tirades against cultural linguistic usages and norms.
This is also why religions have books of scriptures and books of doctrines. They determine meanings of words and consequently what people think. Religious leaders in particular are conservative about language and how it should be used or not, by their followers.
Blasphemy is the ultimate crime in any religion. It is the use of language in a contrary way to how it has become sacralized. Blasphemy is therefore also a possible weapon against religious tyranny.
Is this why religious leaders in Uganda are silent about Stella’s arrest?
Interestingly Jesus himself was accused of blasphemy!
The entire ruling class seeks to monitor and control meanings of words like ‘morality’ because these words are also repositories of power. Who controls them has power. When people refuse to accept established meanings and usages of words it bees a political act of empowerment.
That is why Stella’s language is so subversive. She refuses to accept received meanings of words and by implication rejects the established authority behind them which she deems is oppressive.
Who should decide what words mean, or how language should be used, especially in the midst of a political struggle for power by the people to attain their human rights, democracy and good governance?
It is the people themselves who must do that in as many different ways as possible, as the very first task in their liberation struggle. Use language to free your mind.
Stella teaches us that.
By Fr. Musaala Anthony
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