The Community Community

Sometimes my head swims. The room goes dark, spots dance before my eyes, there is a howling sound in my ear, bats seem to dart back and forth overhead, my hair tangles, the milk curdles in the fridge, frogs and ravens knock on the door. In short, I can’t make sense of it all. It doesn’t add up, or compute, as the sophisticates say.

Look, I’ll show you.

Here, for instance, is the BBC on Livingstone.

In a statement, the Board of Deputies of British Jews said it regretted the guilty result, but said Mr Livingstone had been “the architect of his own misfortune” by failing to recognise the upset caused. It added it had never sought anything more than an apology and an acknowledgement that his words were inappropriate for the “elected representative of Londoners of all faiths and beliefs”…Mr Livingstone has said he was expressing his honestly-held political view of Associated Newspapers, but he had not meant to offend the Jewish community.

And here is the BBC on the Best Bakery case.

Twelve Muslims and two others were burned to death when the Best Bakery was attacked by a Hindu mob. The riots had been sparked by the death of 59 Hindus after a Muslim mob allegedly attacked a train in Godhra. More than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed in the riots. Human rights groups put the death toll much higher.

And here is the BBC in 2002 on Gujarat.

Ahmedabad today is perhaps the most communally sensitive city in the country. In 1969, nearly 2,500 people were killed there in the region’s worst violence between Hindus and Muslims since the subcontinent was split into India and Pakistan in 1947. A series of communal riots rocked the city in the 1980s and again in 1992 following the demolition of the Babri mosque by Hindu activists in the north Indian town of Ayodhya. There followed a decade of relative peace, barring a few months of sporadic anti-Christian violence in the state’s tribal areas three years ago. But the bloodbath earlier this year again raised the question of why Gujarat has become so susceptible to communal conflict.

This is what I don’t get: it seems 1) blindingly obvious and 2) widely accepted that communalism is a bad, dangerous, them-and-us idea, and at the same time, it also seems to be widely accepted that it is in some way sensitive and kind and good to keep referring to entities such as ‘the Jewish community’ or ‘the Muslim community’ (though not ‘the secular community’ or ‘the atheist community’ or ‘the socialist community’ or ‘the capitalist community’ – why is that?) or ‘the Sikh community’ or ‘the Hindu community’. But if communalism is a bad idea, at least in Gujarat, maybe that’s not so clever after all, not so sensitive and kind and good after all. Maybe it’s stupid communalism, instead. And yet – that never seems to occur to anyone. Everyone seems to be just deeply enamoured of the formula ‘the ___ community’ when the ___ represents a certain kind of adjective – but not a great many others. The ___ is nearly always either religious or ethnic or both – in other words, pure communalism. People don’t talk about the poet community or the Tory community, but they do talk about the Bangladeshi community or the Sunni community. Well – maybe, just maybe, if communalism is not a great idea in Gujarat, that’s because it’s not a great idea anywhere. Maybe this constant reification of one of the myriad attributes people can have, and the constant insistence that that one attribute enrolls one in a ‘community’ whether one wants to be enrolled there or not, is much more productive of group hostility than it is of anything else.

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