- Consider the nature of anger for a moment
Boys don’t cry. That is the deleterious advice offered to millions of young men growing up. As the toxic consequences of bottling up one’s natural emotions became more noticeable, the liberal world launched a robust campaign against this culture. Boys do cry. Tears aren’t feminine; just human.
There is a yet another kind of human emotion that we are expected to keep in check at all times. It is anger, which bursts out like molten rock from the core of one’s being, crashes against the bottleneck of our vocal cords, chilled instantly by a brain that’s been socially programmed do precisely that, and spills over the tongue as a thin, sour sentence served to the offender at room temperature.
While such regulation is vital in preventing conflicts and violence, it also blunts out righteous indignation. It implies that there would always be a wide chasm between what we feel, and what express.
Consider the nature of anger for a moment. Anger is not a programming error in our genetic software. It is the product of millions of years of evolution, generated by cooperative, purposeful firing of countless neurons. Anger is the engine of change. No rights movement was ever launched by happy people, swept along a stream of positive vibes.
The first thing you do when you’re feeling anguished, is utter a ‘gaali’, or a curse word. A 2009 study published in NeuroReport concluded that subjects immersing their hands in ice-cold water were better able to withstand the discomfort when allowed to yell an expletive.
Most of us use profane language liberally in our everyday social interactions, but find such language completely erased in mass media and mainstream politics. This result is that a politician, a news anchor, and an actor in a family-friendly movie, always seem surreal to us. Something doesn’t feel natural, even though it should.
And then there’s Khadim Hussain Rizvi.
I doubt if there’s a great degree of overlap between my readership and Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLYRA) followers. But one thing that we can agree on is that Khadim Rizvi is an orator and political organiser par excellence. It is no accident that a massive Islamist movement has spooled itself around one man, with an impressive pool of loyalists ever-ready to sacrifice themselves for his cause.
The tyrant would love for you to respectfully present a case for civil rights, to which he would smile and respectfully decline
Not many of us had heard of Khadim Rizvi before the November 2017 protest. This is probably because what stirs in the grass below is generally imperceptible to the English-speaking upper classes who, almost by nature, have their gaze fixed skywards. It wasn’t until this force landed fully-formed at the junction of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, that the bourgeoisie acknowledged his existence.
If there’s just one factoid you know about Khadim Rizvi, it is that he curses. A lot. Contrasted sharply against the diplomatic, stage-managed, ‘decent’ outlook of his mainstream political opponents, Khadim Rizvi spouts torrents of unfiltered verbal rage. He compares his opponents to indecent animals, and bombards his rivals with sexualised profanity.
In a state of similar outrage, a moderate politician merely stomps his foot and say ‘jahil’. ‘Jahil’ doesn’t cut it. ‘Jahil’ doesn’t even come close to expressing the atomic rage building up among working class. Yelling ‘jahil’ to communicate the full height of your outrage implies that you don’t even have the vocabulary to describe the searing-hot frustration of the common man. It demonstrates your emotional distance from the issue you claim to be selling solutions to, appearing dispassionate at best.
When Khadim Rizvi speaks, ‘passion’ is never a limited resource. His speeches never bear the markings of having been proofread and edited by a team of literary experts. His words seem completely improvised, and more importantly, entirely unfiltered. His thunderous tone and unrestrained profanity resonate with the heightened emotional state of his audience, who become convinced of his righteousness even before he has finished a sentence. This is a man who feels what they feel. He then offers them a target upon which to unleash their anger and their insecurity.
The upper class is not unfamiliar with cursing, but often finds itself encumbered with its own Victorian values. We associate emotional blunting and certain kinds of self-imposed restrictions, with virtuous self-discipline. Self-discipline is held as evidence of a higher moral ground relative to the ‘lower classes’. Think of 18th century Western women caging themselves in overbearing corsets, and men wearing uncomfortably tight trousers; not because they felt good, but because they signaled self-discipline (which the ‘lesser’ classes allegedly lacked).
The lower classes rarely buy these absurdities. Karl Marx and Winston Churchill were both exceptionally foul-mouthed men, and proved highly influential among their respective masses.
This is not a prescription for uncontrolled swearing, however. Excessive use of swear words takes away their edge. When you use the F-word routinely for frivolous problems like dysfunctional WiFi, it may feel insufficient to use the same word for a tyrant who abducts, tortures, and murders his political opponents. At the same time, there are many expletives that further marginalise already underprivileged group. These are usually curse words that denigrate female sexuality, demonise queer people, and mock people with disabilities (or alternatively-abled people). Such divisive swearing should best be avoided, though swearing in general may not necessarily be ‘immoral’ depending on the target of our unleashed emotions.
Power loves decorum. The tyrant would love for you to respectfully present a case for civil rights, to which he would smile and respectfully decline. If you lack the courage to say a dirty word, you most certainly don’t have the will to get your hands dirty in a fight for your liberties. ‘Civility’ becomes a de-radicalisation program.
What power fears is loud and uncensored outrage in the wake of unfairness. Open profanity signals emotional volatility; the threat of disobedience, boycott, dissociation, or – if left unaddressed for long – violent uprising.