By Ousman Jassey
The expulsion of the Gambia High School students for having fun shows how moral policing has seemingly turned The Gambia from God’s own country into Goofs’ own country. Their expulsion from school and jeopardizing their lives and future base on morality reason tells a lot about Gambian society’s Stone Age belief system.
For the rest of the world, it was a typical normal day and also having fun to make the day go by smoothly without stress. But it turns out to be a drastic day for few young Gambian High School students, who happened to be at the wrong party session and without knowing that their actions for having fun at their private time will change their lives forever and possibly thrashing their hopes of becoming intellectual professionals in the future. They are now judged by the moral scavengers of an anachronic era and decision was made to expel them from school. This is unbelievable.
This brings the question of what is morality.
Morality is defined by Strawson (1961) as “rules or principles governing human behavior which apply universally within a community or class”; it is a code of behavior that is innate and classified by a higher being. Morality is how groups of individuals interact with each other to create a society in which everyone can live freely and amicably. Breaking these rules set by this ‘higher figure’ is doing wrong and thus being immoral so creating an environment with a lack of harmony or unity. There is also a definition of morality based on the norms and values set by a religion or individual that must be adhered to.
With the above definition of morality, what did these innocent high school adolescents do that violated the rules of morality until it warranted them for such harsh punishment? Based on social media posting of a video, these students were only doing a dance style called “passa passa” or “freak dancing” (as it is known in some quarters in America). This is a form of dancing in which the dancers simulate the sex act while keeping their clothes on. This brings another question to mind and that is since these children performed this dance outside the school ground at a private place in their private time, did the school authorities have the right to punish them?
Many legal experts will challenge the right of Gambia High school officials to take any actions for behaviors of these students no matter how offensive the behavior seems to them, because it occurs off campus. When students are not in school, it is for parents to decide how students can behave and it is not for the school to be involved. The behaviors of these students did not endanger any life or property in the school and the only argument The Gambia High School authorities can present is that the students were wearing the school uniform and that represent the school image and therefore, it can have negative impact at school. This can be a very flimsy argument because the students did not break any conventional secular laws of The Gambia and as a result, this does not justify punishing the behavior. Also the negative consequences of their behaviors can only be a perception but not physical damage. If a disruption at school campus occurs because of these behaviors, school officials should deal with that base on its merit and not the action of these students, whose behaviors may or may not have inspired that disruption.
As The Gambia is transforming from the 22 years of dictatorship and oppression, the citizens are enjoying and the same time learning their way out in the new found freedom. Therefore, certain actions and behaviors may not be in line with our beliefs system and customary rules but that does not justify our so-called moral police to jump to such harsh punishment. What we failed to understand is that as Gambians found their way out in the new found liberty, several incidents will be popping up that are contradictory to our customary laws and beliefs. So this is the time our educators in particular and society as a whole should engage in intensive education of the public especially children and adolescents but not using punitive measures as first line of education. This will only brutalize and radicalize the society.
Unfortunately, the issue of moral policing has become a stark reality of the highly peaceful State of The Gambia. Despite high peaceful nature of the Gambians and seemingly liberal attitude, the conservative Gambian society is still blinded by the age-old Victorian morality. Adhering to the patriarchal dogmas, living within the moral stricture, fabricated by the socio-political and religious leaders, Gambians have failed to understand the definition of relationship between adolescents and modern day fun.
The hypocrisy of the society is visibly seen here, because Gambians occupying leadership positions, tourists and Gambians living in Diaspora can do actions worst than “freak dancing” but the so-called moral police officers are okay with that. What are their reasons for tolerating the behaviors of these groups but not that of the adolescents who are just blinded by emotional feeling of fun/party? Examples of such dirty behaviors are teachers at our school having romantic relationships with their students, some even impregnating their students. Married leaders in our society committing immoral acts, example the epidemic of adultery by the same self-declared custodians of morality. Many children have been born out of wedlock in The Gambia, some of whom have been abandoned with their mothers and many of our so-called moral police know this and what are they doing about it?
Perceiving every relationship and behaviors of opposite genders with sexual connotation, the Gambians society has essentially grown backwards over the years while there is modern technological revolutionization of the world societies. Right from the childhood, segregation of boys and girls is a common scenario that can be seen in the educational institutions and public spaces. The gender inequality which stems from the houses, endorsed by various institutions, perpetuates eternal vigilantism to promote the cultural ethos of the bygone era. By nurturing the gender bias, the society has objectified women, cornering them to be easily susceptible to the villainy of the “guardians” of morality. This is the main reason why these innocent students are victimized and robbed of their future by their educators who should help them to distinguish the right from wrong and make sound decisions.
It is important to points out the menace within the Gambian social institutions as it prefers women to stay inside the patriarchal Gambian society of modesty and domesticity. The danger of this mentality is that one does not realize how it affects society on the whole. Forcing one sect of people to compromise on their individuality just so, some others can be happy is nothing short of disastrous and dangerous.
Expelling these students vehemently over the “pseudo” morality rules violation is a gross mistake and a bit refutes the notion that The Gambia is a liberal country. With such decision by The Gambia High School authorities, I can confidently conclude that liberalism and freedom in The Gambia is like the oil smear on the surface of sewage. People are willing to adopt a few liberal and free ideas without fully understanding what they entail.
Having embraced the puritanical mind-set, many of the moral Gambians polices lean over the moral code, hesitating to think beyond what was being taught by the patriarchal system. However, they should be reminded that, if any positive thing dictator Jammeh left for Gambians youths, are the changes of the mindsets of how to view the old-aged Victorian Morality versus changing with the modern world advancements and that was why the youth came together in their thousands to vote against him. Therefore, the current Gambia national leadership and institutional authorities should note one thing, youth rising against dictator Jammeh would not be the end of the youth actions. They can rise again to anything they perceived as injustice to them.
The past two decades had seen this change of mindsets, with more young boys and girls coming out together in public spaces mostly online and express their view points. It is now known that such youth action has created resentment among particular societal groups, whom really resent the interaction between the opposite sexes. Their frustration and resentment had come out with this “freak dancing” incident, as we have seen strong public support from them for the actions of The Gambia High School authorities. However, they should also observe the opposition of another section of Gambians to the decision of the same school authorities. I hope this won’t be a starting point of moral confrontation between many of the so-called moral polices who will double up as voyeurs and stalkers on social media postings and progressive liberal youth population.
The inability of society to think about a healthy relationship between opposite gender is another issue that led to the moral policing. As every relation is perceived through only one angle, people could not understand mutual respect or friendship between two people belonging to opposite gender. If at all that is accepted, this “freak dancing” won’t create such storm among Gambian communities across the globe.
Also it is important to points out that most of the so-called Gambians moral polices are progressive outside but deep within their heart, they are very much conservative. For them, public display of affection and certain sexual connotation behaviors indicate an illicit relationship. With a tendency to regulate and impose moral code, they peep into the privacy of others. This is just basic hypocrisy which can lead to frustration among the youth population and it will bring the harsh reality regarding the progressive Gambian society into the limelight.
The objectification of women through popular media deeply installed a sense of authority among the moral cops. It is the superior claims of patriarchy perpetuated by the outside religious world that side-lines women to become an easy prey to the custodians of morality especially when an action involves sexual connotation between opposite sexes such as “freak dancing”.
Another important thing to take note of with regard to the actions of The Gambia High School authorities. The action might look as an isolated action by a specific institution but the reality is, it relates to the general philosophical view of the general Gambian population, (and I know many people will disagree with me in this). The truth is the customary laws kept the women in state of pity and they are still politically and religiously marginalized. This causes a lack of healthy relationship between men and women and the society’s imposition of moral view on sex creates frustration on any actions involving men and women. The superior mentality of men makes them think that they should be moral police of people’s behaviors in society.
The truth is even the actions of these students might not be in conformity of our Gambian customary laws, but the punitive measures taken by The Gambia High School authorities is too harsh and unnecessary. It does not help anything but creates harm and catastrophe for the students involved, their families, communities, and the nation at large. Such moral policing is an act which reeks of hypocrisy. With stringent morality in broad day light and surfing of pornographic sites and committing sinful acts in the darkness of night, the hypocrisy of the Gambian moral policing society is not a hidden fact. How many students have been impregnated by their teachers in The Gambia? I wish the government keeps this data then we won’t be debating about the behaviors of these students. With double standards in morality, how far the progressive state of The Gambia can claim its entitlement as God’s own country is to be seen.