I had a thought earlier today [medium close-up of Nigel Hawthorne as Sir Humphrey after Hacker has told him he’s just had an idea – expression of delighted surprise: ‘Prime Minister!’]. Yes very funny; anyway, I had this thought.
A bit from Daughters of France, Daughters of Allah:
Amiri was the first Muslim woman I contacted in Paris, and she cried as we spoke on the telephone. That day she had received an e-mail saying, “Do you realize what you are doing to your own people?” It was, she told me, one of many threatening messages she had received, and they were not to be taken lightly.
The thought was just about the meaning of that phrase – ‘your own people.’ Specifically of ‘your own.’ I mentioned that the other day – the way ‘own’ can be used as a bit of rhetorical manipulation or coercion. It’s one of a long list of words that get used that way. ‘Community’ is one of the most popular right now, and ‘own’ is another way of saying ‘community.’ At least the way it’s used there it is. Your own people=your community – and don’t you forget it. Right? That’s the point, right? Choose this community, be loyal to this particular set of people, and not any of the other possibilities.
But there’s more than one community, and more than one ‘own.’ There are usually lots – especially for people who’ve had some education – which is one of many compelling reasons why everyone should have as much education as possible, throughout life: to keep increasing the number of possible communities. (Of course, that’s scary. I realize that. The more communities there are, the less mandatory any one community will be. The more there are, the freer we are to go from one to another, to belong to several, or many, to choose our allegiances with due deliberation, to leave if we want to. And that’s scary for communities and own people who don’t want to lose members, who don’t want to be left looking forlorn and unwanted because everyone has run off to the disco. That’s always been the threat of education. But there it is. That doesn’t mean good progressives should agree to limit access to education in order to keep people in the communities they were born into.) One’s own people may be other people interested in politics or science or movies or popular music or mountaineering, rather than or in addition to being people of the same religion or ‘ethnic’ background as oneself. But the assumption in that email is that there is only one meaning of ‘your own people.’
One way to force people to choose one ‘own people’ instead of others is via hostility. Start the Week had an interesting discussion of that last week, in talking about the movie ‘Yasmin.’ Someone pointed out that al Qaeda got what it wanted: it shoved a lot of Muslims back into the mosque because of the hostility towards them that September 11 triggered. Yeah. Victimization can work that way. People who could escape, or widen their horizons without escaping, may choose not to because they want to be loyal to people who are not being fairly treated. A good thing to do; an admirable, touching, moving thing to do. But also a very sad one. It would be better if the choice were not forced by such considerations, especially for the people whose decision to stay amounts to a kind of self-imprisonment.