The fresh air of the explicit

And another thing. I replied to Taner’s “We do have proposals to this effect, and they come down to communities having a good deal of autonomy in regulating their own affairs…” with “But again, that treats ‘communities’ as if they were people. ‘Communities’ don’t have affairs; people do, one at a time.” Taner replied with “I find it perfectly sensible to talk about the interests of a corporation, the affairs of a university, or the internal rules of a bridge club. And so with communities.”

Ah yes – but there is a difference. It’s not ‘and so with communities,’ because ‘communities’ are different from corporations and universities and even bridge clubs. The difference is part of what makes them so risky, so difficult to deal with, so potentially and sometimes actually oppressive. The difference (the one I’m thinking of anyway) is that corporations and universities are specifiable, and precise, and explicit; they have rules and contracts, in writing; you know where you are with them. ‘Communities’ are not any of those things, they don’t have any of those things, you don’t know where you are with them. Communities are all about the tacit, the implicit, the understood, the unwritten – which means they are opaque to outsiders and unaccountable to insiders. This means that if you decide that ‘communities’ should be free to make and enforce their own rules, you’re left with no real way to call them to account, and you’ve left their members helpless.

And ‘communities’ are different from corporations and universities in having no real borders or definitions, too. ‘Communities’ are notional, and it’s really anybody’s guess who belongs and who doesn’t. Who decides who belongs to what community? Who decides who doesn’t belong? Is everyone allowed to decline to belong to any particular community?

The answer to that last question, at least, seems pretty obviously to be ‘no’ – especially in the case of ‘the Muslim community,’ which does not encourage leaving Islam. Some people are going to be considered to belong to some communities whether they consent or not – and they will be treated accordingly. Corporations and universities don’t operate that way. The ‘communities’ Taner has in mind are non-liberal and non-secular ones, since liberal secularism is exactly what he is departing from in this series of posts. But in that case, he is arguing that non-liberal non-secular ‘communities’ should have power over people who might very well have no desire whatsoever to belong to said ‘communities.’ This isn’t a contrived worry, either, to put it mildly – secular Muslims decidedly are subject to social pressure from ‘the Muslim community.’ If they don’t have the liberal state to turn to – they’re sunk. This ain’t no game of bridge.

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