That Special Glow

I need a word to describe a category of word that (when used for rhetorical purposes) presumes to declare its own value in advance of judgment. Pre-emptive, or pseudo-hurrah, are the two I’ve come up with.

The one I have in mind at the moment is ‘family’. This is by no means the first time I’ve had hard thoughts about that word (there was the 2000 presidential campaign, for instance, when the Democrats completely dropped the word ‘people’ from their vocabularies in favour of ‘families’, so that working people became working families, as if they were all hired and paid in a bunch instead of one at a time), but they’re always being refreshed; at the moment it’s Faisal Bodi’s sinister crap about keeping families intact at the expense of the girls and women they push around that inspired this particular set of hard thoughts.

The community is bothered, both by the effect forced marriage has on the victims, and its unique ability to tarnish our image. We are also desperate for answers – but not the sort that take the form of edicts by government and voluntary agencies which have little or no empathy with our faith. Take women’s refuges. Not without cause do we view them with suspicion and mistrust. Refuges tear apart our families. Once a girl has walked in through their door, they do their best to stop her ever returning home. That is at odds with the Islamic impulse to maintain the integrity of the family.

Interesting use of ‘we’ there, too – who’s ‘we’? We in the community (community of course is another pre-emptive pseudo-hurrah word), except not quite all of us in ‘the community’ since ‘we’ clearly can’t include the girls and women who need refuge. So Bodi inadvertently lets slip the fact that he doesn’t consider ‘the victims’ part of ‘the community’ – which makes his ‘bothered’ feelings about the effect forced marriage has on the victims seem a little dubious. But never mind that for the moment; for now let’s just consider his worry over ‘our families’ (which ‘our’?) and their tearing apart and the threat refuges pose to the maintenance of their integrity. Let’s ponder that, and then ask so the fuck what? If a family is willing to trash a girl’s life despite her resistance, refusal, and finally escape, who cares if it ends up being ‘torn apart’ by her departure? (In fact – if she’s being forcibly married off she’s departed anyway, hasn’t she? Why is it okay and non-family-apart-tearing to force her to marry and live with a man she doesn’t want to marry and live with, but not okay and family-apart-tearing for her to leave and live somewhere else and not go back? We can probably guess why. Because it means she has taken possession of her own life instead of leaving it in the possession of the precious ‘family’. Well the hell with that.)

And that’s where the word comes in. The holy word ‘family’. It simply assumes – the way Bodi uses it there – that family is always and necessarily benign and benevolent and loving, so that it is always and necessarily a tragedy when a member departs and refuses to return. Well, that’s crap. Families vary, and a good many of them are quite damaging for at least some members of them. I would say that one which includes forcing a girl to marry against her will would be one of that kind. So the word comes in handy to distract the attention of the credulous by the little holy glow around the ‘family’. That’s the kind of work that pre-emptive pseudo-hurrah words are meant to do. They’re meant to cause us to forget to examine particulars – never mind families in general, what about the particular families in question, what are they like, how did they treat the girls who fled? – because we’re too entranced by the general.

So that’s a trick to watch out for.

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