Not so Fast

It’s great that the Home Office is taking on forced marriage. But in looking at their page on the subject, I was unable to help looking at things in the margin of that page, which prompted feelings of dread and nausea and revulsion. So I clicked one of the links and the feelings got worse. Is this just me? See what you think. The page in question is called (the nausea begins already) ‘Faith Communities’.

Multi-cultural communities are often multi- faith communities and this should be fully recognised in policies aimed at promoting diversity. Fostering understanding and respect between different faiths is vital in practically implementing community cohesion strategies.

Partly it’s just the language. It’s the irritating insistence on repeating the words ‘community’ and ‘faith’ as often as is humanly possible, or indeed oftener. As if anyone might be in danger of not getting the idea, that we’re supposed to think both are good things, really good things, really really good things. And then there is the absurdity of insisting on community and diversity at the same time. Well which is it?! But more basically there is the peremptory expectation of understanding and respect between different ‘faiths’. They don’t get it, do they. ‘Faiths’ are just the things that are not good at mutual ‘respect’ and ‘understanding’ because part of what is supposed to be respected and understood, part of what is supposed to be held as a matter of ‘faith’, is who the Big Guy is, who the Big Guy’s prophets or children or PR agents are, what the Holy Book is; and the ‘faiths’ in question have different answers to those questions. So hammering away at ‘faith’ at the same time as expecting them to understand and respect each other is – ludicrous, frankly. It is only to the degree that the ‘faith’ becomes attenuated and weak and not really doctrinally or dogmatically adhered to that mutual respect and understanding become possible.

And that of course is quite apart from the way that the whole idea simply ignores the existence of the faith-free, and of secularists. And then there’s the thing about community cohesion strategies. Oh how that does make the fjords seem to glimmer invitingly in the distance – the welcome antidote to and refuge from mandatory cohesion. I so don’t want to cohere. You know? Not unless I choose to anyway. Not unless I’m allowed first to consider (quietly, in a corner by myself somewhere, in silence and calm, without any social workers or parish outreach personnel or community cohesion officers gripping me by the back of the neck and squeezing) exactly what it is I’m expected to cohere to. Not unless I have time and ability and suitable conditions to examine every line of the contract before signing it. But that’s just what that passage doesn’t mention. It’s all very unconditional and demanding. It’s like conscription rather than like joining a club. As a matter of fact it’s like forced marriage as opposed to the voluntary kind. Ironic that the HO is opposing forced marriage on one page while demanding rhetorically-forced community cohesion on another page. The problem is the same. No, I want to see if I can stand the prospective spouse first; I want to be able to say no. No, I want to see if I can stand the prospective community first; I want to be able to say no.

And it’s the same with respect and understanding, as well as cohesion. All three of them are things that really shouldn’t be expected or demanded ahead of time, sight unseen, no matter what the content. They all ought to be things that are in our own gift to bestow or withold as we choose. We really have to be able to choose our friends and the people we respect because we actually do respect them, as opposed to having them thrust upon us by the Home Office or by the district nurse.

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