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Language as an act of resistance

  • Published at 10:30 am February 21st, 2019
Book and words
Just words on a page? ABAK HUSSAIN

Why words are important

Experiences lead to thought. And thoughts lead to words. And these words combine in various ways to form sentences. And sentences come together to form language. And this language is information. And information is knowledge. And knowledge is power.

Logic would then dictate that an individual (or a people), who are restricted from using certain words or forced to use certain others, is essentially powerless.

That is the sort of importance language demands. This is the sort of importance we found language to have almost half a century or so ago when we found ourselves a people without a language -- at least, the language which had been infused into our identity, with which we could, to the best of our ability, translate our expressions for the outside world and which we used, to its fullest extent, to resist against forceful changes to how our tongue moved.

Yes, language demands to be important. Unfortunately, most of the time, we do not provide it with the importance it deserves. When faced with a language we dislike, we forget how important it is. We only think of ourselves. Someone says something that offends “me,” that’s why it doesn’t deserve to be aired. Something is offensive to “my” religion, to “our” community, to “my” nation, and so on and so forth.

So we think, sure, language is important, but, surely, there must be exceptions. It may be important, but is it the most important thing in the world?

In this day and age, this language is everywhere, all the time. Inside the physical copies of books which irk us, but no, that’s not where it stops -- this information has now slithered its way into web page after web page, untethered and uncontrolled.

So what do we (me, you, us, peoples, institutions, and governments) try to do? We try to control it. We ban book after book, URL after URL.

Get rid of all the porn sites! That’s disgusting! Do you not know how it has completely ruined our entire generation? Is there any surprise that there are so many rapes in this country nowadays?

(Even though there’s no evidence to suggest that pornography has any connection with such delinquent behaviour. Even though the most “conservative” of nations have the highest number of rape cases. Even though we should understand that it is because of advancements in technology that rape is a more difficult thing to get away with, and movements like the #metoo movement would never have taken off without it. Even though rapes were probably just as widespread, only women were even more scared of coming forward with it because there was and still is such a stigma attached to it. Even though what we need is more open discussion about sex, and sex education, instead of further repressing an already repressed generation.)

We need a law to fight this wretched uncontrollable bastardization of the language! This law will dictate what we can say and what we can’t! It will prevent things like hate speech.

(Even though a free and open society remains instrumental to a people’s wellbeing. Even though debate and dissent are crucial to the successful functioning of democracies, nurturing free thought and generating ideas which continue to improve life, take us down new paths, to create a culture that does not breed fear.)

If you have nothing nice to say, why say anything at all? It will weed out the traitors and terrorists from the ones who truly love this great and grand nation!

(Even though they tried to do that to us, remember, half a century or so ago? Even though we clamped our mouths shut, our hearts still screamed in agony, waiting to revolt, remember? Even though we should understand that a nation’s citizens cannot be condescended to, that we should respect them enough to make their own decisions. Even though a lack of education and understanding is what has no doubt contributed to an entire populace unable to differentiate between benefits for the self immediately versus benefits to all of us in the long run.)

Power comes from knowledge. And knowledge comes from information. And information is carried on through language. This language, it is comprised of sentences, words, thoughts. All of which try to, to their best and utmost ability, express the experiences we had.

And if this language is limited, removed, altered -- what then? It’s almost as if what you are, what you had experienced, your history, it never existed in the first place.

And when you cease to exist, then we can sit down and I can ask you (assuming we had any words, to begin with): Tell me, how important is language again? 

SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.