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#@%! your “temperate and dignified”

Thoughts on anger, power imbalances, "radical rudeness" and demands for civility in the Singaporean context.

This is a special issue emailed out to Milo Peng Funders.

In February 2020, the Ugandan feminist writer and anthropologist Stella Nyanzi was released after almost 16 months behind bars for writing a poem in which she fervently wished that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni — an authoritarian leader who has held his position since 1986 — had died either in utero or at birth. She emerged from prison not only unrepentant, but as irrepressible as ever: decked out in a tiara and a sash that read “FUCK OPPRESSION”.

The strength of the language was neither accident nor impulse. Nyanzi embraces ‘radical rudeness’, described as “a traditional Ugandan strategy for unsettling the powerful through the tactical use of public insult”.

I first learnt about Stella Nyanzi through the Egyptian-American feminist Mona Eltahawy, herself an enthusiastic proponent of the use of profanity as resistance. For her, the moment of change came when the Egyptian riot police detained her while she was covering protests in Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring. As she told Vice News, “when you're surrounded by riot police, and they break both your arms, sexually assault you, and their supervising officer threatens you with gang rape, you're like fuck all of you. What is there to be polite about?”

“I refuse to allow those who don't recognize my full humanity to expect politeness of me,” she said. “So I'm like fuck you and fuck your civility. I will not be civil to those who do not recognize my full humanity.”

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