You Do All Think Alike, Don’t You?
So The Independent tells us Blair went to Leeds ‘to appease the Muslim community.’ Meaning what? He went to Leeds and found all the Muslims in the world gathered in one place so that he could appease them? He went to Leeds and found all the Muslims in the UK gathered in one place so that he could appease them? No, apparently not. He went to Leeds to take part in ‘a consultation exercise with young Muslims in the city’ so that he could – appease all the Muslims in the world or the UK by so doing. How does that work? Why does a consultation exercise with young Muslims in one city appease ‘the Muslim community’? What is this chronic synechdoche thing? This assumption that any random assortment of ‘members’ of some ‘community’ or other can stand in for all the other ‘members’ of that ‘community’? How does anyone know that that happens, and who keeps track? Let’s see – what ‘community’ am I part of – atheists? Atheists will do, as a parallel to Muslims. Okay – if Bush went to Wichita for a consultation exercise with young atheists there, would that appease me? Would I feel somehow magically soothed or comforted or mollified? Well, no. If the vibrant young Wichita atheists managed to persuade him to reverse some of his policies, that would be good – but if they just talked to him and gave him some advice on atheist holidays, that wouldn’t do much to my opinion of Bush. So whence is this idea that by talking to some (unspecified number of) young Muslims in Leeds, Blair is appeasing ‘the Muslim community’?
And why do people buy it? And why do they accept the idea that they belong to one community and not bother with all the myriad other communities they could decide they belong to? Why don’t students belong to the student community? Why are Muslims – all Muslims – assumed to put their Muslimness before everything else? Why is everyone (nearly everyone) so intent on telling them over and over and over again that they are theMuslimcommunity? Why doesn’t anyone stop to think that it’s all rather patronizing and cloying and confining? Why do they keep hammering on it? I seriously wonder.
Blair himself, for instance.
“If I am asked to see the Muslim community, what I will get is the same great and the good of the community,” Mr Blair conceded. “That means we are [not] getting down to people in the community.”
The community, the community, the community – gee, do you think he used the magic word often enough?
Rushdie said it in that ‘Today’ interview a month or two ago: even to talk about ‘the Muslim community’ is to go down the road of a kind of communalism. Just so. Too bad no one listened.
Another interesting thing. At the beginning of the piece:
“We’re losing confidence and trust in you,” Mr Khan told him, unflinchingly. “With this foreign policy Muslims feel you are attacking them. We all used to vote Labour but not any more. You need to row back and take us with you.”
Toward the end:
Someone helping to divorce the concepts of terrorism and Islam would be a step forward, Ms Mather told the Prime Minister. “Every time there is a picture of the suicide bombers on the television, it is followed by people praying at a mosque.” Divorcing nationality from religion would also help, added another. “I’m Muslim but that has nothing to do with my Britishness, which is about being free to go out for a drink and to dance.”
With this foreign policy Muslims feel you are attacking them, and divorcing nationality from religion would also help, because I’m Muslim but that has nothing to do with my Britishness. Well there’s a coherent message for you. Which is not surprising – why should it be coherent? Why should any of these (unspecified number of) people agree with each other? No reason; they shouldn’t; but all this calling them ‘the Muslim community’ is a way of pretending or unconsciously assuming they should. (This kind of thing reminds me of an uncle of mine, who was a big noise in the public opinion polling business, who was always asking me what ‘my generation’ thought about various things. How the fuck should I know! What am I, an oracle? I know about three people, in a geographic radius of about two hundred yards; is that supposed to be a useful sample of our entire age group?)
Maybe none of that is the point anyway, maybe the point is just being seen to be listening, or something. But then – the newspapers really ought to report that Blair talked to some young people in Leeds, and let it go at that.